As he releases his third album – this one triple – of grand old American lounge-lizard ballads His Royal Bob-ness has said that new bands are just fake when it comes to the blues.
He was performing yet another gig on his 6,000 date Never Ending Tour – this time a whistle-stop in Sweden to coincide with the belated presentation of his Nobel Literary Prize at a private ceremony in Stockholm.
In something reminiscent of one of his 1960s ‘truth attacks’, Bob, aged 75, turned his coruscating wit on bands making a living today.
He said: “Traditional rock ‘n’ roll, we’re talking about that. It’s all about rhythm. Johnny Cash said it best ‘Get rhythm. Get rhythm when you get the blues’.
“Very few rock ‘n’ roll bands today play with rhythm. They don’t know what it is. Rock ‘n’ roll is a combination of blues, and it’s a strange thing made up of two parts. “A lot of people don’t know this, but the blues, which is an American music, is not what you think it is. It’s a combination of Arabic violins and Strauss waltzes working it out. But it’s true.
“The other half of rock ‘n’ roll has got to be hillbilly. And that’s a derogatory term, but it ought not to be. Fast cars on dirt roads. That’s the kind of combination that makes up rock ‘n’ roll, and it can’t be cooked up in a science laboratory or a studio.
“You have to have the right kind of rhythm to play this kind of music. If you can’t hardly play the blues, how do you put those other two kinds of music in there? You can fake it, but you can’t really do it.”
Bob’s set list at the Waterfront Theatre in the Swedish capital was liberally sprinkled with Tin Pan Alley standards normally associated with Sinatra and Bing rather than the gravelly-voiced folk rock and country singer, including Autumn Leaves and All or Nothing At All.
But the fact that 30s, 40s and 50s Smoltz has become a staple of his act in the last couple of years, it hasn’t stopped him from taking a swipe at some of the most respected song writers in history:
“I didn’t really care what Lieber and Stoller thought of my songs. They didn’t like ’em, but Doc Pomus did. That was all right that Lieber and Stoller didn’t like ’em, because I never liked their songs either. “Yakety yak, don’t talk back.” “Charlie Brown is a clown,” “Baby I’m a hog for you.” Novelty songs. They weren’t saying anything serious. Doc’s songs, they were better. ‘This Magic Moment.’ ‘Lonely Avenue.’ ‘Save the Last Dance for Me.’”
“I just released an album of standards, all the songs usually done by Michael Buble, Harry Connick Jr., maybe Brian Wilson’s done a couple, Linda Ronstadt done ’em. But the reviews of their records are different than the reviews of my record.
“In their reviews no one says anything. In my reviews, they’ve got to look under every stone when it comes to me. They’ve got to mention all the songwriters’ names. Well that’s OK with me. After all, they’re great songwriters and these are standards.
“I’ve seen the reviews come in, and they’ll mention all the songwriters in half the review, as if everybody knows them. Nobody’s heard of them, not in this time, anyway. Buddy Kaye, Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh, to name a few.”
Bob’s bad-tempered but hilarious rant came hot on the heels of his attack on people who have been saying for decades that the man who has sold more than 100 million records simply can’t sing.
His Royal Bobness of Dylan ranted: “Critics have been giving me a hard time since Day One. Critics say I can’t sing. I croak. Sound like a frog. Why don’t critics say that same thing about Tom Waits? Critics say my voice is shot. That I have no voice.
“What don’t they say those things about Leonard Cohen? Why do I get special treatment? Critics say I can’t carry a tune and I talk my way through a song. Really? I’ve never heard that said about Lou Reed. Why does he get to go scot-free?”