Bob Dylan checks in at No. 18 on CMT All-Time Top 40: Artists Choice , a list of the most influential artists in history, chosen by country stars themselves. Each week, another honoree is revealed on CMT Hot 20 Countdown .
Often cited as one of the first commercially successful singer-songwriters, Dylan paved the way for artists of all genres to make music with serious artistic implications. Beginning as a folk artist in New York City’s coffee shop scene during the ’60s, he would eventually branch off into rock, country and many other musical styles.
Dylan’s work was akin to poetry and often incorporated political and social undertones. Songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Times They Are a Changing” and “Like a Rolling Stone” would become rallying cries of the Civil Rights and anti-war movements in America, as well as lasting pieces of pop culture.
“I don’t think you can underestimate Dylan’s influence,” said Cash. “With songwriters, everyone after him who wrote songs that were even remotely connected to the folk tradition, we owe a debt to Bob Dylan. His poetry, his unique approach to writing, his musicologist instincts — he knows everything that came before him and the debt he owes to them, which I think is really the sign of a great artist.
“But Dylan is completely original. ’Like a Rolling Stone’ is the greatest rock song that’s ever been written, but then at the same time, he can write the most beautiful song that’s rooted in Elizabethan folk music,” Cash added.
“He’s always writing,” Haggard observed. “He’s always writing and he doesn’t make any bones about it. I mean, if he was in this little ol’ room with us, he’d be over in that closet with the door shut. And we’d be trying to be quiet because we’d be pretty sure he’d be writing, and he would.”
According to Daniels, Dylan is to modern culture what Shakespeare was to the English Renaissance.
“He did the greatest job with English language,” said Daniels. “I compare him to Shakespeare — of course in a totally different vein — but people are so enthralled with Shakespeare because of the way he used the English langue. And even me, this blue-collar guy that don’t sit around and don’t read Shakespeare, I can understand that he has a very unique way of putting the words together and uses them, even in the gothic way they spoke back in those days, in a very unusual way.”
“For me, Bob Dylan is just the consummate songwriter,” says Rucker, who scored a huge country hit with “Wagon Wheel,” a song that’s credited to Dylan and Ketch Secor. “I always say that he’s such a country songwriter in the pop world because he writes those great little stories that are just awesome. His rhyme scheme is always something that just makes you smile and throws you for a loop,” Rucker added. “Bob’s always been about the song.”
Williams had to agree that in Dylan’s case, musical genres don’t apply.
“He’s someone who was a true folk artist in the ’60s and then at points in his career has been a true country artist with Nashville Skyline, who has done Christian albums and has done rock-inspired albums, who is just such an unbelievable songwriter,” she said. “He could write anything and someone could take it — Adele could take it, Garth Brooks could take it — and anyone can change them into the greatest songs ever.”
Check out the rest of the CMT All-Time Top 40: Artists Choice list, and find out who will be announced each Saturday at 11 a.m. ET/PT on CMT Hot 20 Countdown.