Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Like Father . . .

By Mark Jordan

NOVEMBER 17, 1997:  You could hardly blame Wallflowers lead singer/songwriter Jakob Dylan for not wanting to talk about his father. As perhaps the most celebrated songwriter of the century, Bob Dylan casts a long shadow over all of us, not just his son. But the fact that Dylan the younger, despite his father's protests, chose to go into the family business well, combine that with those familiar sleepy eyes and a hint of the same smoky voice and the comparisons are inevitable.

So it was understandable when, some years ago, the word went out: Jakob hates talking about Dad. Quickly, this imposed silence coupled with Jakob's own shy and reserved tendencies forged a public perception of a hard-to-get-along-with, moody, even surly artist.

"I guess I've got that reputation because before I had my publicist tell people I don't want to talk about it, that's all anybody asked me about," says a surprisingly relaxed and charming Dylan from his Southern California home. "So when I said I don't want to talk about it, suddenly I was answering only two or three questions, rather than 90 percent of my interview being that. More than anything, it's just been distracting, and depending on what the questions are -- if they relate to me -- I can be polite about it."

If Dylan is a little bit more at ease talking about his legacy these days, it may be because after seven years in the music industry, he has finally come into his own as a recording artist. He is no longer the son of Bob, but the lead singer of his own band, with a multi-platinum CD, Bringing Down the Horse, and three Top 40 singles under his belt. Now the young man whose father was the voice of his generation is becoming a cultural icon for his own, popping up on award shows, gracing magazine covers, and strutting his stuff on MTV.

"I can't say I'm surprised [with success], only because I have a lot of ego involved in it," Dylan says. "But just because we've sold a lot of records doesn't mean I'm suddenly better that I was last year or anything. I've been chosen as a priority by the record company, and I've gotten my video played. And those are things that contribute to sales. Once you sell records, it doesn't make you think that you're a better artist. You're still doing the same thing you always did."

Dylan remains realistic about the whole thing because success didn't come easily to him or his band. Formed in Los Angeles in 1990 when Dylan was 21, the Wallflowers knocked around the area club scene for a few years -- with Dylan always being careful to obfuscate his familial ties -- before signing with Virgin Records and releasing their self-titled debut in 1992. The record sold a meager 40,000 copies.

After a tour in support of The Wallflowers, the band learned that the two Virgin executives who had brought them on board had been fired. Sensing no other support at the label, the band asked to be let out of their contract.

Almost a year passed before the band scored another deal, and during that time all the original band members save Dylan and keyboardist Rami Jaffee left. Currently the group is rounded out by drummer Mario Calire, guitarist Michael Ward, and bassist Greg Richling.

When the Wallflowers finally did get to make their next record, it was with then-unheralded Interscope Records and an old associate of Dad's, T.-Bone Walker, producing.

With a roots-rock sound that recalls Papa Dylan's landmark albums with the Band, Bringing Down the Horse quickly found a place on the charts with its classic-sounding first single "6th Avenue Heartache." But subsequent singles -- "One Headlight," "Three Marlenas" -- have shown the band is doing more than riding a retro wave. While there is plenty of Bob Dylan in Jakob's music (as there is in just about anyone's, post-1962) one can also hear his stated influences -- Elvis Costello, the Clash, Tom Waits.

"I grew up in the '80s, and I hopefully found what was good in the '80s ," Dylan says. "I would listen to Elvis Costello and read his interviews and find out what he was listening to, and I would go out and by those records."

By February, the band hopes to be back in the studio making their follow-up album. But all the attention Dylan has received as singer and songwriter seems to beg the question: How long before this becomes a one-man show?

"I like being in a band," Dylan answers. "I like seeing the same people every day, and there's a certain consistency that I get. I've got a job and everybody else does, too. Maybe the bass player's job seems more subtle to the outside, but to the people in the group it's actually pretty valuable. Amongst ourselves, I think we're all pretty important."

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