Despite the "blues" title, this song is upbeat and has some amusing lyrics, such as:
I'm carryin' for good luck my black tooth
Don't ask me nothin' about nothin'
I just might tell you the truth
The song is a parody of traditional American outlaw songs.
Well, I might look like Robert Ford
But I feel just like a Jesse James
Robert Newton Ford was the man who killed the famed American outlaw in April 1882. Ford was a member of James' gang, but killed their leader to gain immunity from his own crimes and to collect the reward money.
So, in this song Dylan is saying that though he may look like a killer, he's actually the one being killed.
Dylan overdubbed his harmonica parts over his voice, giving him the freedom to improvise on the instrument.
In 1977, Peter Fonda starred in a Richard T. Heffron film titled Outlaw Blues
. In the film, Fonda plays a country singer named Bobby.
Dylan went through several titles for the song before settling on "Outlaw Blues." At times he called it "California," "Key to the Highway," "Sitting on a Barbed Wire Fence," and "Tune X."
Dylan has only played the song live one time, on September 20, 2007, at the Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, when he performed it with special guest Jack White of the White Stripes.