Dennis Bailey has this theory about Bob Dylan: People who love him tend to over-appreciate him. People who just don’t get him tend to under-appreciate him, lack any real understanding of his contributions to American music and generally just can’t get past his deteriorating voice.

Bailey is firmly in the former category. He’s a Bobster of the highest order and proves it when he straps on his acoustic guitar and harmonica rack and belts out one Dylan tune after another.

Best known around these parts for his work as a political consultant and campaign spokesman, Bailey is the lead singer in The Bob Band, which exclusively performs the music of Bob Dylan. He and the band perform Friday at Buck’s Naked BBQ in Freeport and on Saturday at The Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport.

Today happens to be Dylan’s 71st birthday. The fact is not lost on Bailey.

“To me, he’s just as important a musical figure as he was in the ’60s. There are very few recording artists who don’t keep a constant eye on what he’s up to,” he says.

Bailey put together The Bob Band about three years ago. He’s been in cover bands most of his life and has always wanted to delve into the Dylan catalog. “But no one ever wanted to do Bob songs with me. So I finally just put an ad on Craigslist.”

Within five minutes after Bailey posted his ad seeking like-minded players, Roy Fox of South Berwick answered. “This has always been my dream,” he told Bailey.

They later recruited Bryan Litchfield of Saco to play drums and Mary Maravic of New Market, N.H., to play upright bass.

The quartet knows about 70 Dylan songs, and Bailey leads them deep into the Dylan catalog. They do some obvious songs — “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Tangled Up in Blue” — but also some strange and borderline obscure tunes such as “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine,” “Odds and Ends” and “Drifter’s Escape.”

They even do a version of “Wagon Wheel,” which Dylan began writing during the “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” sessions but never finished. Old Crow Medicine Show finished the song and had a hit with it a few years back.

Most of the songs fall into the familiar category, but it’s hardly the stuff that non-converts would recognize — songs like “Shooting Star,” “Sweetheart Like You” and “Someday Baby.”

Last weekend at a club show at Essex, Mass., the band kept the dance floor full for much of its 90-minute first set. The crowd thinned out as the hour drifted past midnight, but not before the band had torn through edgy, rocking readings of “Tombstone Blues,” “Maggie’s Farm” and “Queen Jane Approximately.”

The Bob Band tends to attract big-time Bobsters, which is why Bailey commits himself to learning the least-obvious songs and adding to the repertoire all the time.

“There isn’t a night when someone doesn’t ask me for something we don’t do,” he said between sets last weekend. “The most requested song we get is ‘Hurricane.’ A lot of people who come are real Bobheads, so we don’t surprise them very much.”

The Bob Band bills itself as a tribute band, but Bailey is not interested in mimicking Dylan’s voice or mannerisms. He respects the material too much to degrade it with cheap imitations or cheesy costume changes. The Bob Band is no different than a blues band, a reggae band or a folk band. It plays a distinct style of music, which is Bob Dylan music.

The one thing Bailey does do that’s similar to Dylan is tell bad jokes on stage. Like this: “My old girlfriend was an artist. She gave me the brush-off.”

For Bailey, The Bob Band feels free and easy. In previous bands, he tired of arguments among the musicians about what songs to play. That just doesn’t happen with this group.

“I don’t think anyone has ever said, ‘Hey, we should do “Visions of Johanna,” ‘ and the other members say, ‘No way.’ There aren’t many Bob tunes we don’t like, and we’re constantly unearthing real gems,” Bailey says.

The band just added “Blind Willie McTell” to the set, and Bailey is itching to add “Every Grain of Sand.”

“We love doing the obscure ones. People are really surprised by them, and it’s like introducing his work to a new audience,” Bailey says. “People have various images of Dylan, no doubt a result of his various incarnations over the years. Some people expect us to be some kind of folk band playing ‘Blowing in the Wind,’ and are surprised when we rock out to ‘Tombstone Blues’ or ‘Everything is Broken.’ “

Because of Dylan’s stature, a lot of folks have low expectations. But The Bob Band is no joke. “We take Bob pretty seriously,” Bailey says. “When people hear us, they seem to like us. Even people who don’t like Dylan are surprised by his depth of songs and musical genres.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes


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