Hung as a Thief: The First Bob Dylan Appropriations — “The Drunkard’s Son” and “Little Buddy”

Fred Bals
8 min readAug 24, 2018

“Do you think there will ever be a time when you’ll be hung as a thief?”
“You weren’t supposed to say that.” ~
Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan, 1965

Whether you call it quoting, borrowing, sampling, reworking, or the dreaded P-word, preparing to write about Bob Dylan’s many appropriations is akin to grabbing your testicles when stepping into a mine field.

If they pick up the story, the media will ignore much of whatever you say in favor of eye-grabbing headlines prominently featuring “PLAGIARISM!” Dylan fans and critics alike will attack you. Even the Big Bubba of Rebellion himself could weigh in with an opinion. In a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone where he seemed to be channeling a dyspeptic bluesman, Dylan responded to a question about “not citing his sources clearly” with…

“Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff… Fuck ’em. I’ll see them all in their graves.”

Yet, wussies and pussies aside, from the teenager hand-copying song lyrics so he could impress girls, to the 70-year-old cribbing lines from an online study guide for his Nobel lecture, digging into Dylan’s sources can be a fascinating and enlightening exercise.

“Little Buddy”

“Little Buddy” by Bobby Zimmerman

In the Spring of 2009, Christie’s Auction House announced the upcoming auction of a poem titled “Little Buddy,” a work submitted to his camp newspaper in 1957 by 16-year-old Bobby Zimmerman, who would later become Bob Dylan.

“Bob Dylan’s social consciousness and artistry were evident in a poem he penned about a little dog who met a tragic end,” gushed the lead for The Washington Post. “It’s a very early example of his brilliance,” the article quotes a Christie’s “pop culture specialist,” who goes on to say, “It comes from the mind of a teenager (with) some very interesting thoughts kind of percolating in his brain.”

The verses memorializing the death of a boy’s pet bordered more on doggerel than brilliance, and rather than coming from the percolating mind of a teenager, they had come from the music of Hank Snow, the Yodeling Ranger, who recorded “Little Buddy” about a decade before Bobby Zimmerman started attending Herzl Camp on…

Fred Bals

Corporate Storyteller. Tech enthusiast. Mini Cooper fanboy. One-time chronicler of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour. Husband of Peggy. Human of Lily Rose.