Willie Nile celebrates Dylan, and no one has done it better
Willie Nile admits that doing an album of Bob Dylan covers was never something that was on his radar.
“It was the farthest thing from my mind,” he said. “I never ever even considered it.”
But when the New York rock icon did decide to work on the album that became Positively Bob, Nile decided to check in with a friend in the business about the idea of covering Dylan.
“Terrible idea,” he told Nile. “You can’t do the Beatles, you can’t do Dylan. It’s too definitive.”
“You’re right, I can understand that,” Nile responded. “But I can do something with this.”
He did. But understand this: it isn’t a by the numbers collection of covers. Nile and his gang of merry men (longtime band mates Johnny Pisano and Matt Hogan, James Maddock, Aaron Comess) have taken a great selection of songs and made them their own. And that was the idea from the time the Buffalo native was asked to perform at NYC’s City Winery for a 75th birthday celebration for Dylan.
“I took my guitar out and looked at the song list,” he said. “I thought, ‘What could I sing that would be fun for me that the audience would dig and that I could bring something to?’ I’m not just gonna do it by rote. I thought if I could bring something special, maybe add to it, and have fun doing it, then maybe.”
Nile had fun that night, and soon after he got the band together and hit the studio. Two days and no overdubs later, they had an album.
“The songs are great, and particularly pertinent to today’s world,” he said. “They’re masterpieces, and it was just a magical thing making them. It was a total labor of love done for the right reasons, out of respect and fun.”
And while the proof is in the final product, before the album had a release date, Nile had to bring in a couple of the toughest critics around to give their two cents.
“My daughter has two kids, two and four, and I’ve got a video on my phone of my two-year-old granddaughter singing the choruses to ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,’” Nile laughs. “And the four-year-old, when she asks him what he wants to hear, he says, ‘Johnny’s in the basement.’ (‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’) It’s priceless, and it’s turning another generation on to this music. Everything about it has been nothing but fun.”
In other words, this isn’t a tribute to Dylan. It’s a celebration of Dylan. And there is a difference.
“It’s totally a celebration,” Nile said. “It’s a celebration of Bob’s work. It’s not about me.”
But there’s no one better qualified to bring this music to a new generation than Mr. Nile, who is happy to do it.
“Something good comes your way, pass it down. It’s important.”
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