This story has been updated.
In the windup to Sunday night’s Grammy Awards presentation, Bob Dylan was the honoree at a Friday evening event (2-6) naming him the 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year. The event featured a mesmerizing lineup of performers, presenters, and attendees, including Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Beck, Willie Nelson, Jack White, Jimmy Carter, and Crosby, Still & Nash among many others.
During Dylan’s 30-minute acceptance speech, the usually-reclusive and many times calculating songwriter who it can be argued is the oldest living music legend still among us this side of Willie Nelson, laid out much praise for his fellow songwriters, while unceremoniously lashing out at others. Dylan breezily admonished 50’s-era songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, as well as R&B writer Marsha Ambrosius, though he never mentioned her by name.
Then Bob turned his ire to the country side of the world, criticizing both Tom T. Hall and Merle Haggard.
“Merle Haggard didn’t even think much of my songs,” Dylan said in his speech. “I know he didn’t. He didn’t say that to me, but I know way back when he didn’t. Buck Owens did, and he recorded some of my early songs. ‘Together Again,’ that’s Buck Owens. And that trumps anything else out of Bakersfield. Buck Owens or Merle Haggard? If you had to have somebody’s blessing, you can figure it out.”
However, Haggard has praised Dylan publicly, and at length. Just in November at a CMT function honoring Merle, Haggard said of Dylan, “Bob is real. That guy you see onstage is the same guy offstage. He’s a recluse. But he just wants to be himself, so sometimes that means he doesn’t want to be around anybody. But Bob Dylan writes every day, all the time. And when he’s not writing, he works his band’s fuckin’ asses off, from 1 to 5 every day. He’s probably our greatest living songwriter and he’s one of my favorite writers. And you know, the truth is, neither of us are the kind of guys who do a lot of rice-throwing.”
Dylan later spoke at length about Tom T. Hall and his song “I Love.”
Now some might say Tom was a great songwriter, and I’m not going to doubt that. At the time, during his interview, I was actually listening to a song of his on the radio in the recording studio. It was called “I Love.” And it was talking about all the things he loves. An everyman song. Trying to connect with people. Trying to make you think he’s just like you and you’re just like him. We all love the same things. We’re all in this together.
Tom loves little baby ducks. Slow-moving trains and rain. He loves big pickup trucks and little country streams. Sleep without dreams. Bourbon in a glass. Coffee in a cup. Tomatoes on a vine and onions.
Now listen, I’m not every going to disparage another songwriter. I’m not gonna do that. I’m not saying that’s a bad song, I’m just saying it might be a little over-cooked.
Continuing, Dylan praised Kris Kristofferson, his song “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” and said, “That one song blew Tom T. Hall’s world apart. It might have sent him to the crazy house. God forbid he ever heard one of my songs. If ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ rattled Tom’s cage and sent him into the looney bin, my songs surely would have made him blow his brains out.”
“Bob Dylan I’ve admired your songs since 1964. ‘Don’t Think Twice’ Bob, Willie and I just recorded it on our new album.”
Merle is likely referring to the Bob Dylan song “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” released on the 1963 Dylan album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Merle and Willie Nelson have been rumored to be recording together, along with Kris Kristofferson, on a Musketeers project that has been hinted about for years, but never formally announced. Merle could be referring to this, or something else involving Willie Nelson.
It must be noted that Bob Dylan regularly does and says things to throw people off guard and stir controversy. Whether those are his motivations here or there’s true animosity with Haggard or Tom T. Hall, is anyone’s guess. The fact that Haggard was so praising of Dylan so recently may mean this is Dylan’s strange way of returning the favor. Dylan and Haggard have also toured together in the past. But it has definitely made for a stirring pre-Grammy situation.