David Blue really doesn’t get enough recognition. He is often referred to as a Bob Dylan clone, somewhat unfairly; not everybody could be of Dylan’s caliber, but that didn’t mean Blue was without considerable talent . Both were Jews who had changed their names (Blue had been born Stuart David Cohen, Dylan Robert Allen Zimmerman). Dylan and Blue were actually friends in the Greenwich Village coffeehouse scene, and if Dylan was worried that Blue was his imitator in the vein of someone like Donovan, it did not hinder their association through the years.
Joni Mitchell once gave this concert banter about Blue, in 1967:
Three nights ago I went to a movie in New York City a Bob Dylan movie, the new Bob Dylan and Joan Baez live feature movie. And I’d never seen Dylan perform, you see, so I’d wondered why David Blue and Eric Andersen, although they were supposed to be imitators of Dylan, neither one of them were alike. And I found out that Eric is Dylan’s sense of humor and David Blue is his grouchiness.
Blue did look particularly Dylan-esque at times.
I first heard David Blue on one of those amazing double-albums from the Warner Brothers Loss Leaders series. Check out this informative website on the series here. The song was a condensed version of his composition “Atlanta Farewell.” It begins with a sad plea to the operator to put through a collect call. There’s almost a Mickey Newbury-ish quality to this song.
Blue put out several albums in the late 1960s and 1970’s which didn’t really go anywhere. He was never able to find his true audience, and to supplement his income he did some acting, work ranging from Wim Wenders’ The American Friend, with Dennis Hopper, to soap operas. Leonard Cohen, of whom David was also accused of imitating, spoke of him:
David Blue was the peer of any singer in this country, and he knew it, and he coveted their audiences and their power, he claimed them as his rightful due. And when he could not have them, his disappointment became so dazzling, his greed assumed such purity, his appetite such honesty, and he stretched his arms so wide, that we were all able to recognize ourselves, and we fell in love with him. And as we grew older, as something in the public realm corrupted itself into irrelevance, the integrity of his ambition, the integrity of his failure, became for those who knew him, increasingly appealing, and he moved swiftly, with effortless intimacy, into the private life of anyone who recognized him, and our private lives became for him the theaters that no one would book for him, and he sang for us in hotel rooms and kitchens…
Cohen spoke these words in a eulogy to Blue, who died from a heart attack in 1982 while jogging around N.Y.C.’s Washington Square Park . He was 41.
Apparently, Blue went for a jog with no I.D., and his body lay in St. Vincent’s hospital for three days before anyone who knew him went looking for him.
Blue appeared prominently in Dylan’s 1978 experimental concert/narrative film Renaldo and Clara, seemingly as himself, reminiscing about his early days in New York while playing pinball. Here he is talking about his arrival in the city, as well as helping Bob Dylan work out the chords for “Blowin’ In The Wind.”
Here are some of my favorite David Blue cuts.
Off of his eponympus debut album (1966).
From his 1972 album. “Fire In The Morning” has a string arrangement courtesy of Jack Nitzsche.
Judge for yourself whether Blue was a Dylan imitator or not. Who cares, anyway? A Song like “Looking For A Friend” has simple chords and even simpler lyrics, but for some reason it resonates with me. The guy was awful lonely.