John Wesley Harding: A digital album shootout

Comparing digital audio versions of a classic Dylan album

Jim Esch
9 min readMay 6, 2023


The 1987 CD edition of John Wesley Harding

After Bob Dylan’s July 1966 motorcycle accident, he retreated into obscurity. Nobody knew what he was up to, really. Rumors abounded. A little over a year later, he was back in a Columbia recording studio in Nashville. The sessions took three days. On December 27, 1967, John Wesley Harding was officially released.

John Wesley Harding marked a turn in Dylan’s career. This post-Highway 61 Revisited, post-Blonde on Blonde album is dialed back, stripped down to a core trio: Dylan on acoustic guitar and sometimes piano, Charlie McCoy on bass, and Kenny Buttrey on the drum kit. Pete Drake appears on steel guitar on a couple of tracks. That’s it.

The album paved the way for Dylan’s Country & Western phase, which, came into full flower on Nashville Skyline. It also overlaps with the home recordings he was making in the Catskills with The Band, that legendary foray into weird Americana known as The Basement Tapes.

The songs on John Wesley Harding are minimalist, gnomic parables, peppered with assorted allegorical characters: John Wesley Harding, Tom Paine, Saint Augustine, the Joker, the Thief, Frankie Lee, Judas Priest, the Landlord, the Drifter, the Hobo, the Wicked Messenger, the Poor Immigrant.