Blood on the Tracks is one of Bob Dylan’s most acclaimed and beloved albums. It’s a haunting portrait of his personal and musical lives coming together.
The record featured one of his biggest hits, Tangled Up In Blue, with a catchy guitar riff that is now legendary.
Today, we’re talking about the guitar Dylan used and where it fits in the album.
Let’s jump in!
How Did Bob Dylan Get Started?
Bob Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman in Minnesota. While briefly attending college in Minneapolis, Dylan fell in with the bohemian scene. Folk music was popular there, and Dylan especially became a big fan of folk legend and activist Woody Guthrie.
He adopted his stage name then as he began performing in coffee shops. Dylan dropped out of college early on and moved to New York. Guthrie was hospitalized then, so Dylan spent time with his hero while working on his music.
At the time, the protest movement was a strong cultural force. Singer-songwriters sought to end the war in Vietnam, create financial equity, reform the biased justice system, and protect the environment. Dylan became the voice of that movement with his rich, biting lyrics and unpolished voice.
In fact, Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016 for his lyrics.
In 2020, Dylan released his first album of original content in 12 years. Titled Rough and Rowdy Ways, the record included “Murder Most Foul,” a nearly 17-minute song about JFK’s assassination. At 80, the folk legend is still releasing music, touring, and even showing his artwork.
About Blood on the Tracks
In 1975, Dylan released his 15th album, Blood on the Tracks, said by many to be one of the rawest and most honest albums created due to its painful autobiographical content.
He’d recorded the songs in New York with a band, but the band couldn’t keep up with all the changes he was making on the fly. Therefore, Dylan decided to make it a solo project.
He played the album for his brother (and manager) David, who said it was too stark. He talked Bob into re-recording some songs in Minneapolis with session musicians. The final album includes tracks from both sessions, consisting of ten songs.
Though Blood on the Tracks received mixed reviews at first, it’s now one of the most revered albums of all time, namely for the candid, unpretentious songwriting.
So, What Guitar Did Bob Dylan Use for Blood on the Tracks?
The most famous guitar parts are played with a 1969 Martin D-28. In particular, you’ll hear it on the intro of Tangled Up in Blue.
However, Minnesota session player Kevin Odegard actually played that guitar on the album.
When they sold the guitar, bass player Billy Peterson included a signed affidavit that the Martin D-28 is the very one Odegard played.
About Martin Guitars
Martin guitars have a serial number stamped on the wood inside the sound hole. This identification number made it much simpler to verify the one sold.
You can also authenticate the model by the wood. The last year that Martin used Brazilian rosewood in this model was 1969. They switched over to Indian rosewood the following year.
Brazilian rosewood has long been a favorite for guitarists, primarily for how beautiful it looks on the fretboard. Some guitarists say its sound has a warmer tone, but there’s no evidence to support that.
Martin switched from the Brazilian rosewood in 1969 as supplies dwindled. In fact, in 1992, a treaty banned its exportation. The only exception is if the wood comes from a tree that fell naturally, and even then, a lot of documentation and paperwork is required. Guitar makers now usually use rosewood from India, Madagascar, and the Amazon region.
Musicians everywhere love Martin Guitars for their sound, which is warm, bold, and clean. Their guitars tend to be durable and often improve as their wood ages.
Johnny Cash used Martins beginning in the ’50s and ’60s and never looked back. In fact, they made three special edition models inspired by him. Eric Clapton also loves Martins, choosing an 000-49 model for his legendary MTV Unplugged performance. In addition, Kurt Cobain played one in Nirvana’s Unplugged episode.
Who Is Kevin Odegard?
Singer-songwriter Kevin Odegard was an unlikely choice to be part of Blood on the Tracks. He was 24 then and living in Dylan’s home state of Minnesota. Though Odegard worked as a brakeman, he also performed live in the area. His manager was Dylan’s brother David.
That connection led to Odegard performing at Bob Dylan’s cousin’s wedding, which definitely put him in the running when Dylan was recruiting session musicians. Odegard couldn’t say exactly why they invited him, but he eagerly said yes.
You can credit Odegard for the version of Tangled Up in Blue that we all know and love. Dylan played the song, and Odegard was somehow bold enough to tell him the tune was “passable.” Then the guitarist suggested some changes in the song, and Dylan was game.
Odegard remembers an amazing collaborative spirit in the room, everyone sitting in stunned silence while they recorded his suggestions for Tangled Up in Blue.
Is Blood on the Tracks a Breakup Album?
This is juicy terrain for Dylan fans and music conspiracy theorists. Many believe that, yes, it’s about Dylan’s divorce.
In his trademark oblique way, Dylan is tighter-lipped about it. He claims Anton Chekov’s short stories inspired the album. Being Dylan, we don’t know if he’s serious, joking, or attempting to conceal the autobiographical aspects.
He eventually admitted that he could see why some people would think it was a breakup album (hedging much, Bob?) He claimed that since his wife Sara filed for divorce two years later, this couldn’t be a divorce album. Yet, they were already separated by the time he recorded Blood On the Tracks.
Perhaps the most telling version comes from Dylan’s son Jakob, lead singer of the Wallflowers. When asked about listening to his dad’s music, he talked about grooving to it. But not Blood on the Tracks, he said, because it reminds him too much of family conflict.
Blood on the Tracks is a Musical Masterpiece
Even if you’re not a Dylan fan, you’re surely a fan of musicians and writers that Dylan touched. Blood on the Tracks is a masterpiece, aching and clever. And singer-songwriters still learn a lot from it.
The guitar you hear on the album, especially Tangled Up in Blue, is an integral part of the record. And not just for music and guitar nerds, but for anyone who loves stories of how happenstance can bring people together to make history.
Were you surprised to hear Dylan didn’t play the famous Martin D-28?