Unfortunately, there’s no video of Bob Dylan performing The White Stripes’ “Ball and Biscuit” with Jack White at the Detroit State Theatre in March 2004. At that point, we were all still rocking Nokias, whose greatest feature was the game Snake, and not the ability to record video, for better or worse. We do, however, have audio of this historic moment, but prior to someone on Reddit stumbling onto it this week, the video of the audio had just 30 views. So, chances are you’ve never actually heard this one before.
Before their first encounter, White and Dylan were well interconnected. Dylan was White’s first concert (he saw him at the age of 10 and was disappointed by the lack of “Blowin’ in the Wind”), and his pre-White Stripes days were spent performing covers of Dylan’s 1962 self-titled debut at local Detroit coffee shops. Later, he and Meg covered Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee” on their 1999 self-titled debut, and to date, his original compositions also drip in the influence of the legendary songwriter. Have you heard Blunderbuss?
So, you can understand why White had cold feet the first time he met Dylan. White recounted their meeting in a 2012 interview with The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy:
“That was just by accident. I went and saw him play in Detroit and he said to me, “We’ve been playing one of your songs lately at sound checks.” I thought, Wow. I was afraid to ask which one. I didn’t even ask. It was just such an honor to hear that. Later on, I remember I went home and I called back. I said, “Can I talk to the bass player?” I called the theater. I was like, “Did Bob mean that he wanted me to play tonight? ‘Cause he said some things that I thought maybe – maybe I misconstrued. Was he meaning that he wanted me to play with him tonight? I don’t want to be rude and pretend that I didn’t hear or something like that.” So turned out yeah, we played together that night. He said yeah, come on, let’s play something, and we played “Ball and Biscuit,” one of my songs. It’s not lost on me that he played one of my songs, not the other way around.”
As you’ll hear via the recorded audio, below, Dylan kicks off the performance on piano and sings the opening verse (at that point in his career, you could still understand what he was singing). White joins in about a minute later with a slick guitar solo and handles the second verse with the same urgent passion he brandishes today. Ultimately, it devolves into a full-fledged blues-rock jam as White goes ape-shit with the support of Dylan’s backing band.
Over the following years, White and Dylan have grown to become close friends. They’ve shared the stage on several more occasions, performing Dylan songs such as “Meet Me in the Morning”, “One More Cup of Coffee”, and “Outlaw Blues”. As a member of The Raconteurs, White opened Dylan’s Neverending tour in 2006, and in 2011 White contributed to Dylan’s Hank Williams compilation album. When not collaborating musically, they enjoy sitting on the porch of White’s Nashville home and talking about things such as welding. Yes, welding. Per a 2012 feature on White that appeared in The New York Times:
“I’d never done it before, and he’d been doing it for a while, so he kind of gave me the lowdown,” [White] said. One day the two of them were sitting on White’s front porch, just enjoying the view, when Dylan turned to him and said, “You know, Jack — I could do something about that gate.” “That would be pretty cool,” White said, laughing. “I don’t know what kind of discount I’m going to get.”