Blonde on Blonde album art

6 Milwaukee Folk Musicians Tell Us Their Favorite Bob Dylan Song

On Saturday, May 27, Milwaukee musicians pay tribute to Bob Dylan for his 76th birthday (which was on May 24) by covering his seminal double album, Blonde on Blonde.

The show will feature performances by John Sieger, Peter Roller, Chrissy Dzioba, Matt Davies, Devil Met Contention, Alex Ballard, Jack Juraska and The Blinding Lights. The show starts at 8:30 p.m. and the cover charge is $7. All proceeds go towards the Alzheimer’s Association.

In advance of the tribute show, we asked the performers which Blonde on Blonde track most resonates with them. Here are their responses:

John Sieger
singer-songwriter, guitarist for Semi-Twang, The R&B Cadets, The Subcontinentals

“Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”

“The title alone is worthy of an award. You have a Jackie O reference that uses the word ‘pill-box,’ not to mention the savvy choice of fabric, leopard skin. Talk about overkill! The song itself is chock full of comedy gold. My two favorites are the one where his paramour is cheating on him with the garage door open and his surreal idea of perfect balance: a mattress on a bottle of wine.”

Peter Roller
guitarist, Alverno College music professor

“I Want You”

“I was an aspiring folkie living in New Jersey in very early ‘70s when I worked my way through Dylan’s first acoustic albums with a special fascination for The Freewheeling Bob Dylan. When I waded into the following electric albums, I was grabbed by the tastier guitar playing that first showed up on Blonde on Blonde. I learned that Dylan had moved his recording from New York City to Nashville and had the services of studio hotshots in that town, the clean but driving guitar fills on ‘I Want You’ hit me immediately.

“Not to overlook the volume of poetic lyrics, the likes of which had never been heard in a love song on AM radio. Dylan’s mix of chord structure and tight fills by backup musicians drove the song into my brain. The main non-stop fill employs the reigning folk-rock lick of the day, heard in everything from Byrds songs to the one-hit wonder ‘Red Rubber Ball,’ but it blends with Dylan’s minor chords in verse and chorus sections in a way that entranced me.

“Now that I am getting to play the folk-rock lick relentlessly for six verses and choruses I realize that Dylan (and probably producer Bob Johnson) had the sense to split up the near monotony with a contrasting bridge with chords and rhythmic energy straight out of a Motown song of the day. This is a powerful pop song with avant-garde love/lust lyrics that somehow made it into the Top 10.

“Icing on the cake for me, as a New Jersey teen, was to hear Bruce Springsteen and the early E Street Band pull out ‘I Want You’ a couple of different times in the days when they always did favorite covers for a never-ending encore set.”

In addition to the show at Linneman’s, Roller will be performing “I Want You” with Jack Juraska on WMSE 91.7 FM on Friday, May 26 at 10 a.m.

singer/bassist of The Blinding Lights

“Visions of Johanna”

“There’s a version on Biograph which has been really important to me since my teens. The lyrics are just so incredibly beautiful and mystifying. It has that perfumed mist around it, like so many of the songs on the album. It’s one of those Dylan songs where you keep finding new meanings in it over the course of decades.

“As a disillusioned young person the line ‘jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule’ really resonated (I think I would always picture some coarse American tourist). The self-hatred of youth, I suppose. And it captures all those intense feelings of romantic relationships at that age, lying in the dark. I’m still in awe. It’s so courageous, deep, and transcendent.”

Matthew Davies
singer/guitarist of Thriftones

“Visions of Johanna”

‘Visions of Johanna’ stands out to me particularly because of its reference to the visual art world—art history was my focus at university. The song seems to paint its own pictures in the mind of the listener.  It’s easy to use one’s own memories and apply the lyrics to them. For instance, we’ve all probably seen the light of a television flickering on someone’s face in the dark. I interpret his lyric ‘the ghost of electricity howls on the bones of her face’ as that sort of thing and can apply it to my own memory.

“The tone and feel of the recording also makes this song, and the whole record, so hard hitting. It’s gripping and emotional, seems so personal but at the same time so broad that anyone can derive meaning and make a connection to it.”

Alex Ballard
singer/guitarist of Sugarfoot

“Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”

“Each time we have done one of these Dylan albums, I seem to find a deeper meaning in some of the songs than I had previously. I think this is a common thing with Dylan’s songs—a surface meaning and finding a deeper meaning that you didn’t pick up on before.

“I’ve heard people ask Dylan about the deeper-than-surface themes in his songs and he seems to act as if they don’t exist or weren’t intentional. Nonetheless, I feel as though this has happened to me a number of times with some of his songs.”

Chrissy Dzioba
singer/guitarist of The Whiskeybelles

“Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” and “Just Like A Woman”

“Bob Dylan has always resonated with me as a songwriter. When I began writing songs, I was always self-conscious to perform them since I didn’t fancy myself as a singer at the time. Dylan has a way of singing what he has to say, and everyone listens. The first Dylan song I ever heard was ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’. I loved how much fun Bob and his band were having not just with the lyrics, but the complete pandemonium that the band brought to the track. He taught us that it’s okay not to take yourself too seriously.

“The other track that spoke to me (I can have two, right? It is a double album after all…) is ‘Just Like a Woman.’ I’m singing lead on this tune on Saturday. It is a tune about feminine vulnerability—not so much in a misogynistic way, but I believe it came from curiosity and heartache.”



Kevin is a freelance writer residing in Milwaukee. He’s contributed to The Shepherd Express, Third Coast Daily, Pop Matters and the sadly now-defunct A.V. Club Milwaukee. He looks forward to forging a deeper connection with the city’s impressive music scene during his gig as a Music Notes blogger. His talents include music criticism, riding a bicycle, drinking tasty beers and a crafty croquet swing. His weaknesses comprise Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, professional wrestling and his ever-growing record collection. He’s in desperate need to find more physical (and hard drive) space for the exceptional albums Milwaukee musicians keep churning out.