He may be a minor figure in the story of the blues, but he's an interesting one, and one the very young Bob Dylan met, and their repertoires connect in several ways.
Here's my entry on him in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:
Lipscomb, Mance [1895 - 1976]
In his 1965 book Conversation With the Blues, Paul Oliver makes the point that ‘if the blues, like any folk art or indeed almost any art form, is illuminating in terms of a whole group it is still sung and played by individuals... the individual tends to become submerged... and even when the assessment of the major figures is made, the minor blues singer is forgotten.’
To listen to much of Dylan’s work - which at least between his break with ‘protest’ and his conversion to Christianity in every sense put a consistent emphasis on the importance of the individual rather than the mass - is to feel that Dylan has not forgotten the minor blues singer at all. He has listened to the minor figures wherever the somewhat random process of recording folk artists has allowed. We know it from listening to his work.
(Where Dylan heard what; the influence of ‘minor figures’ and unknown ones; the communal nature of much blues composition and how this gells with post-structuralist ideas of the unfixed text and the death of the author: all these are big questions, much discussed throughout this book. They are also central preoccupations of Michael Gray’s Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan, Chapter 9, ‘Even Post-Structuralists Oughta Have The Pre-War Blues’.)
Dylan learnt and assimilated experience from the older songs and the older singers - singers who, in some cases, were ‘discovered’ or ‘re-discovered’ in the 1960s. Mississippi John Hurt is one example, the stylish and dapper Mance Lipscomb another.
Lipscomb was born 9 April, 1895, in Navasota, Texas - and eventually died there (on 30 January, 1976). He was ‘discovered’ in July 1960 by Mack McCormick and Chris Strachwitz and recorded - for the first time - a few weeks later in his two-room cabin, by which time he was in his sixties, though still with a strikingly youthful way of moving around in performance. He had almost a thousand songs he could perform.
Dylan met Lipscomb, and we can get an idea of the aura of the man, and thus a hint of the insights he could have given Dylan, from the description of him, and a transcribed conversational fragment, in Paul Oliver’s book. He was a ‘Texas sharecropper and songster with a reputation that extends widely in Grimes, Washington and Brazos counties... A man of great dignity and natural culture... a veritable storehouse of blues, ballads and songs of more than half a century... ’
This is Lipscomb talking (the spelling is as in Oliver’s transcript):
‘I been playin’ the git-tar now ’bout forty-nine years, and then I started out by myself, just heard it and learned it. Ear music... My pa was a fiddler; he was an old perfessional fiddler. All my people can play some kind of music. Well, my daddy... he played way back in olden days. You know, he played at breakdowns, waltzes, shottishes and all like that and music just come from me... Papa were playing for dances out, for white folks and coloured. He played Missouri Waltz, Casey Jones, just anything you name he played it like I’m playin’ . He was just a self player until I was big enough to play behind him, then we played together... ‘Sugar Babe’ was the first piece I learned, when I was a li’l boy about thirteen years old. Reason I know this so good, I got a whippin’ about it. Come out of the cotton-patch to get some water and I was up at the house playin’ the git-tar and my mother came in; whopped me n’cause I didn’t come back - I was playin’ the git-tar: “Sugar babe I’m tired of you, / Ain’t your honey but the way you do, / Sugar babe, it’s all over now...”’
In Glen Alyn’s I Say Me For A Parable: The Oral Autobiography Of Mance Lipscomb, 1993, Lipscomb talks of encountering Dylan (and of Rambling Jack Elliott first hearing of Lipscomb when Dylan played him a Lipscomb record) but specifies no dates. Lipscomb says Dylan followed him to ‘Berkeley University’ and then ‘from Berkeley to the UCLA… And when I went off a duty he was settin round me, an hear what I was sayin, an pick up a lot of songs. He could imitate. But he wadna playin no gittah. Then. Takin you know, learnin from his head.’ On 18 May 1963, Dylan appeared on the same bill as Lipscomb at the first Monterey Folk Festival.
Lipscomb must have been an invaluable contact for Dylan - the one a black Texan with a personal repertoire stretching back to 1908 and incorporating songs a generation or two older than that, the other a white Minnesotan would-be artist of the whole American people born in 1941. Not only could Dylan have gained a knowledge ready to work for him but also, in a specific and personalised testimony, a feeling for the intimacy of connection of words and music in the expression of a spirit and a theme.
Lipscomb’s repertoire included ‘Jack O’Diamonds Is A Hard Card To Play’ (he was field-recorded performing it in his home-town area the first time he ever recorded), which is a title-phrase picked up wholesale and retailed by Bob Dylan inside a piece of his own work that is not a blues. It is, in fact, from one of those poems he calls Some Other Kinds Of Songs . . ., published on the back sleeve of the album Another Side Of Bob Dylan. This long and generally inferior poem repeats several times, and then ends with, ‘jack o’ diamonds / is a hard card t’ play.’
Other songs Lipscomb recorded include ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, ‘You Gonna Quit Me’ (the Blind Blake song on Dylan’s Good As I Been To You, re-titled ‘You Ain’t Gonna Quit Me’ by Lipscomb), ‘Corrina Corrina’, ‘Mama, Let Me Lay It On You’, a song called ‘When Death Comes Creeping In Your Room’ - a title that strongly suggests it may prefigure Dylan’s ‘Watcha Gonna Do’ - and ‘Night Time Is The Right Time’. In the section called ‘Playing For The White Folks’ in the Glen Alyn book, Lipscomb claims that Dylan took ‘Baby Let Me Follow You Down’ from ‘his’ ‘Mama, Let Me Lay It On You’.
[Mance Lipscomb: ‘Jack O’ Diamonds Is A Hard Card To Play’, Navasota TX, summer 1960; Mance Lipscomb Texas Sharecropper & Songster, Arhoolie LP 1001, El Cerrito, CA, 1960. ‘Night Time Is The Right Time’, nia.; Mance Lipscomb Vol. 4, Arhoolie LP 1033, El Cerrito CA, nia.]