10 Examples of Bob Dylan Before Bob Dylan #3. Skip James

It is difficult to find any new words of praise on Bob Dylan. He remains one of the true icons of popular music. However, he is not a trailblazer. His roots and inspirations are easily found. No discredit against Dylan meant. He is every bit the icon as everyone says But here is the 1st of ten people who did what Dylan does just way before him. Introducing:


Skip James: A Different Voice

Skip James

As a live performer, you have an ultimate sense of control that can rarely be found anywhere else. A willing audience waits, crouched at your feet, waiting in the darkness wanting to be won.  No record company, agent, or manager can take can aid the artist here. It is the only place where the artist truly decides his fate. As Bob Dylan and Skip James prove, you don’t have to be a great singer to be a great performer. Both Dylan and James employed unconventional singing styles. Their styles polarized listeners. Either you liked them or you hated them. There was no in between. What set James and Dylan apart was their styles. Though unconventional, they won more than their fair share of supporters.

Nehemiah Curtis James, better known as Skip, was born June 9,  1902 in Bentonia Ms. As  with Mississippi John Hurt, James did one recording session in 1928 and disappeared from public view. With the Great Depression looming, James’ records did not sell, thus there was no great want to keep him around. Like many of James’ contemporaries, he would go through a renaissance in  popularity in the sixties.

Whereas Dylan’s singing voice could be describe as nasal, Skip James employed a somewhat high pitched that was both compelling and haunting. When combined with his equally stark and dark style of guitar playing, James, with only an acoustic guitar and his voice, could tie you in knots. You did not forget Skip James.


About his guitar playing, the Wikipedia entry for James states:

James often played guitar with an open D-minor tuning (D-A-D-F-A-D), resulting in the “deep” sound of the 1931 recordings. He purportedly learned this tuning from his musical mentor, the unrecorded bluesman Henry Stuckey, who in turn was said to have acquired it from Bahamian soldiers during the First World War, despite the fact that his service card shows he did not serve overseas. Robert Johnson also recorded in this tuning, his “Hell Hound on My Trail” being based on James’s “Devil Got My Woman. James’s classically informed fingerpicking style was fast and clean, using the entire register of the guitar, with heavy, hypnotic bass lines. His style of playing had more in common with the Piedmont blues of the East Coast than with the Delta blues of his native Mississippi.;

As for Bob Dylan, he began into a more abstract delivery for the Blonde on Blonde tour. He jumped more and more into the surreal.