Sunday, July 4, 2010

Roots of Bob Dylan (1): "Bob Dylan" & "Freewheelin'" (1962/63)

This is Vol. 1 of my series Roots of Bob Dylan 1962 - 1966. Here I will discuss the original songs from "Bob Dylan" and "Freewheelin'" plus some important outtakes.

Please read the
that also includes credits and a list of the most important literature and online resources used.

The complete series:

Bob Dylan (1962)

- Song To Woody

Dylan borrowed the melody from Woody Guthrie's "1913 Massacre" (1945, here at YouTube ). Of course the melody used by Guthrie is a variant of an older tune. Harvey (p. 99/100 ) discusses two possibilities: "One Morning In May" (or "The Soldier And The Lady", see the Traditional Ballad Index) and "Sweet Betsy From The Pike". Neither of them is completely identical to "1913 Massacre" but he decides for "One Morning In May".

To my ears "Sweet Betsy From Pike" sounds equally close. Maybe Guthrie simply conflated both melodies. "Sweet Betsy" was written by John A. Stone and first printed in 1858 (see the Traditional Ballad Index). It can be found in a lot of Folk song collections (here for example in Carl Sandburgs American Songbag,1927, p. 108 and John Lomax, American Ballad And Folk Songs,1934, p. 424, see also the Digital Tradition Database). The earliest recordings were by Crockett's Kentucky Mountaineers (1931), Harry McClintock (1932) and Bradley Kincaid (1934). "Sweet Betsy From The Pike" uses the tune of a British music hall song known at least since the 1820s: "Vilikens And His Dinah", (see the Traditional Ballad Index).

- Talkin' New York

For Dylan's use of the Talkin Blues see Harvey, pp. 102-105 and Manfred Helfert,John Greenway - Obvious Source for Dylan's Talkin' Blues. See also Wikipedia: Talking Blues and Chris Bouchillon - The Original Talking Blues Man (


- Hard Times In New York Town

This song is derived from "Down On Penny's Farm" a song recorded by the Bently Boys in 1929. This recording was also included on Harry Smith's Anthology Of American Folk Music. (see Harvey, p. 37 and the Traditional Ballad Index) . One variant ("On Tanner's Farm") was recorded in 1934 by Gid Tanner & Riley Puckett (available at The Internet Archive):

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1962/63)

- Blowin' In The Wind

This is an original melody that is loosely based on or inspired by "No More Auction Block/Many Thousands Gone": "If the melody for 'Blowin' In The Wind' does derive from 'No More Auction Block', it represents a significant reworking [...] Melodically, the two share only a few fragments: the opening and final measures" (Harvey, p. 15). That song was first printed in William Francis Allen, Slave Songs Of The United States, 1867 (no. 64). John Lomax included this version in his influential collection American Ballads And Folk Songs, 1934, p. 577:

In the early 1960s recordings of this song were easily available. Folkways alone offered at least five recordings: by Bill Bonyun (1950), Alan Mills (1956), Ella Jenkins (1960), The Harvesters (1960) and Pete Seeger (1961, on American Favourite Ballads, Vol. 4, Folkways FW 02323). Paul Robeson had recorded it too in the 50s (reissued on On My Journey. Paul Robeson's Independant Recordings, Folkways SFW 40178). Most closely related to both Dylan's own performance of "No More Auction Block" (Gerde's Folk City 1962, rel. on Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3) and to "Blowin' In The Wind" seems to me Seeger's version.

- Girl From The North Country

This is also an original melody that is loosely based on Martin Carthy's version of "Scarborough Fair". Carthy knew it from Ewan MacColl. See Digital Tradition Song Database for melody and lyrics:

It's no ancient Public Domain melody, this variant was first recorded in 1956 by Audrey Coppard on English Folksongs (Folkways FW 06917). Her source was also MacColl who recorded it in 1957 & I presume he has written the melody himself. In fact it looks like a very simplified version of a variant of "Scarborough Fair" in Cecil Sharp's One Hundred English Folk Songs, 1916, p. 167). See this article on this blog for an extensive discussion of "Girl From The North Country" and its relation to "Scarborough Fair" and other songs, especially Scott Wiseman's "Remember Me (When The Candle Lights Are Gleaming".

- Down The Highway

"[...] is Dylan's most original blues to date [...] signals Dylan's arrival as a Bluesman. He [...] is now capable of generating original material. His other 1962 blues were built around existing songs [...] 'Down The Highway' is wholly original" (Harvey, p. 26f). This one has nothing to do with Charlie Picket's "Down The Highway" (1937, available at YouTube).

- Masters Of War

This one is of course based on the Ritchie family's version of "Nottamun Town" . An mp3 of this song can be found on the website of the State Archives Of Florida.

Melody and lyrics are available in the new edition (1997, first publ 1965) of Jean Ritchie, Folk Songs Of The Southern Appalachians, p. 5 and at the Digital Tradition Song Database:

This version was released in 1960 and in 1963 on the LPs Jean Ritchie, Elektra 125 resp. Jean Ritchie: A Time For Singing, Warner W 1592 (discographical data from Harvey, p. 192). It was available in print in Jean Ritchie, Singing Family Of The Cumberlands (Oak Publ. 1955). The song itself - though with different melodies and titles - is of course a little older, see the Traditional Ballad Index . One version ("Fair Nottiman Town", collected in Knotts County Kentucky) was printed in an arrangement for piano and voice in Lorraine Wyman/Howard Brockway, Twenty Kentucky Mountain Songs, 1920, p. 6. Cecil Sharp collected a version from members of the Ritchie family in 1917. Jean Ritchie's comments (from: Mudcat Cafe discussion board , 2000):
Lorraine Wyman collected "Fair Nottamun Town" in Knott County, in our community. "Uncle" Jason Ritchie (actually Dad's first cousin, but all called him uncle) took her around to find singers, and sang several for her, himself. It was Uncle Jason who supplied his daughter Sabrina and her cousin (my sister Una- students atHindman Settlement School where Sharp and Karpeles were 'headquartering-') with all the lyrics and melody to, "Fair Nottamun Town," and, "The Little Devils."[...] As to, Masters of War, I wanted only to ask Bob Dylan (then my friend, in the Greenwich Village folk group of those days )to honor the source of the melody, with something like, "Trad.Ritchie Family, KY." But lawyers take things out of one's hands...however, the "royalties" were a small out-of-court settlement- I never got any royalties since. And "words and music by Bob Dylan" was dropped in connection with the song (where the music should have a credit is left blank). I was satisfied with that, and I believe that Bob acted honorably with me.

Already in the 19th century a precursor of this song with different words (the melody used for this variant is not known) was performed in the USA, see this broadside: "The Gray Mare - As sung by Bob Hart at the American Concert Hall, 444 Broadway, N.Y." (undated, ca. 1860s). It was filed as "Ethiopian. Coloured", that means the song was used by black or black-face performers. Bob Hart was obviously a popular artist in that genre as there was even a songster with his repertoire available (published as Bob Hart s Plantation Songster, ca. 1862).

It's not unreasonable to assume that the so-called "Folk" versions collected in the 20th century were in fact heavily edited relics of a 19th century popular Minstrel Song. It may also be possible that "The Gray Mare" is related to or derived from an English popular song from the early 19th century ("Paddy's Ramble To London"), see the discussion about "Paddy Backwards" in the Traditional Ballad Index .

I don't want to discuss the lyrics of "Masters Of War" here but it seems to me that Dylan's last verse (especially the last line: "stand over your grave 'til I'm sure that you're dead") is a nod to Lonnie Johnson's version of "Careless Love" (first recorded in 1928). The last lines of that song are:
Now damn you, I'm goin' to shoot you
And shoot you four five times
And stand over you until you finish dyin'

- Bob Dylan's Blues

"[...] doesn't draw from any specific song or artist" (Harvey, p. 17)

- A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

This one was of course partly inspired by Lord Randall (Child No. 12, see also the Traditional Ballad Index):
Oh, where have you been, Lord Randal, my son?
Oh, where have you been, my handsome young man?

Dylan wrote an original melody that has "no connection" (Harvey, p. 4) to the tunes used for this old ballad (see for example the two printed in Child, The English And Scottish Popular Ballads, Vol. 5, 1898, p. 412/13 and the many variants available at the Digital Tradition Database). But on the other hand on recordings for example by Ewan MacColl (YouTube) or especially by Jimmy Driftwood (1959, available at the Wolf Folklore Collection and at YouTube) the melodies sound not that far away from the one Dylan created for the opening lines of his song and Raymond Crooke in a fine recording from June 2007 (also available on YouTube) actually uses parts of the melody of "Hard Rain".

- Don't Think Twice It's All Right

Inspired by "Who's Gonna Buy Your Ribbons When I'm Gone" by Paul Clayton, released first as a single on Monument 45-416, 1959, b/w "This Land Is Your Land", then in 1961 on the LP Homemade Songs & Ballads, Monument M 4001 (reissued on CD in 2008 on Paul Clayton, Sings Homemade Songs And Ballads/Folk Singer , Omni 120). The original lyrics are (c/o Manfred Helfert's site):
It ain't no use to sit and sigh now, darlin,
And it ain't no use to sit and cry now,
T'ain't no use to sit and wonder why, darlin,
Just wonder who's gonna buy you ribbons when I'm gone.

So times on the railroad gettin' hard, babe,
I woke up last night and saw it snow,
Remember what you said to me last summer
When you saw me walkin' down that road.

So I'm walkin' down that long, lonesome road,
You're the one that made me travel on,
But still I can't help wonderin' on my way,
Who's gonna buy you ribbons when I'm gone?

The melodic similarities between "Who's Gonna Buy Your Ribbons" (a fine song and a beautiful performance by Paul Clayton; he was really a great singer) and "Don't Think Twice" are obvious and the lyrics also were an major inspiration for Dylan.

It has been claimed that Clayton's song is derived from an earlier "traditional" called "Who's Gon Bring Your Chickens" or "Who's Gonna Buy Your Chickens" but surviving songs with these or similar titles are very different (Harvey, p. 25). Heylin (p. 102) calls it a "bastardized variant drawn from the 'Who's Gonna Shoe Your Horse' family of songs" but fails to present any evidence. According to another theory "Who's Gonna Buy Your Ribbons" is based on "Scarlet Ribbons". But that's a folkified popular song(in fact many thought it was an ancient Folk ballad) written in 1949 by Jack Segal & Evelyn Danzig that was recorded in the 50s by everybody from Jo Stafford to Joan Baez (YouTube), from Jim Reeves to Harry Belafonte and a great hit for The Browns in 1959. But that one also sounds completely different.

I rather think that "Who's Gonna Buy Your Ribbons" is an original work by Clayton, in fact another folkified Pop song. Maybe these stories were simply made up, at first to save Paul Clayton from embarassment (because a Folk singer isn't supposed to write Pop song, he needs folkloristic credibility) and then to save Bob Dylan from even more embarassment (because Dylan isn't supposed to borrow from original songs, only from ancient traditionals).

By the way, another important influence on the lyrics of "Don't Think Twice" may have been "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" (1958), written by Paul Anka and recorded by Buddy Holly:
There you go and baby here am I
Well you left me here so I could sit and cry
Golly gee what have you done to me
Well I guess it doesn't matter anymore


There's no use in me a-crying
I've done everything now I'm sick of trying
I've thrown away my nights
Wasted all my days over you

Now you go your way baby and I'll go mine
Now and forever till the end of time
I'll find somebody new and baby
We'll say we're through
And you won't matter anymore

- Bob Dylan's Dream

Dylan took the melody and some ideas for the lyrics from Martin Carthy's version of "Lord Franklin/Lady Franklin's Lament" (Carthy recorded it in 1966 for his Second Album; this version is at the moment available at YouTube). This ballad (see the Traditional Ballad Index) was printed on broadsides since the 1850s (see one example: Glasgow Broadside Ballads) . The first British recording was by A. L. Lloyd (ca. 1956, The Singing Sailor ,Topic). Some American and Canadian Folk singers like Wade Hemsworth (Folk Songs Of The Canadian North Woods, Folkways FW06821, 1955) and Alan Mills (O' Canada. A History In Song, Folkways SW03001, 1956) have recorded it too. They all took and most of the lyrics from Greenleaf/Mansfield, Ballads And Sea-Songs of Newfoundland, (1933) p. 308:

Paul Clayton included it on Whaling & Sailing Songs from the Days of Moby Dick, 1956, also at the moment available on YouTube:

Dylan may have known any of these versions. The tune is a variant of one of the melodies used for "The Croppy Boy" (see the Traditional Ballad Index), an Irish song printed on broadsides and songsheets in Britain and the USA since 1813 (c/o The Digital Tradition Database):

This melody was first collected by Edward Bunting in Ireland in 1803 ("The Robber - or Charles Reilly", published in: Bunting, The Ancient Music of Ireland, Dublin 1840, No. 65, p. 48). For more about the history of "Lady Franklin's Lament" see this text my website:

- Oxford Town

Based on "Cumberland Gap" (the "old banjo tune" Dylan once claimed as his source). For the history of this song see The Traditional Ballad Index. and Wikipedia. The first recording was in 1924 by Uncle "Am" Stuart, then the same year also by Gid Tanner and Riley Puckett. Here is the melody from Lomax, American Ballads And Folk Songs (1934):

Pete Seeger recorded this song for Frontier Ballads (Folkways FW 05003, 1954) and for my ears that version sounds as if it was Dylan's source. Many variants of Cumberland Gap have a verse like this:
Me and my wife and my wife's pap.
We all live down in the Cumberland Gap
Bob Dylan turned it into:
Me and my girl, my girl's son
We gotta met with a tear gas bomb

- Talkin' World War III Blues

A Talking Blues don't need no new melody.

- Corrina, Corrina

This adaption of a Blues- and Pop standard is a rather drastic rewrite that leaves not much of the song's original mood and content: " from a happy-go-lucky jug band song, it becomes a wistful evocation of the memory of a woman" (Matthew Zuckermna). It is so different from the precursors that he could have copyrighted it for himself. Dylan's "Corrina" is more or less a new song and not a rearranged "traditional". In fact the real "Corrina" never was a traditional, by all accounts it was written by Bo Chatmon. For more about the history of this song see Roots of Bob Dylan: "Corrina, Corrina" on this blog.

- Honey, Just Allow Me one More Chance

This is Dylan's adaption of "Honey, Won't You Allow Me One More Chance" by Texas songster Henry Thomas (1929, available on YouTube). For more about this song's history and it's relationship to Dylan's version see Harvey (p. 43/44).

- I Shall Be Free

This is derived from Woody Guthrie & Co., "We Shall Be Free", 1944 (available on YouTube) But that song has a longer prehistory, it ultimately derives from a 19th century spiritual (see Harvey, p. 51-53)


- Tomorrow Is A Long Time

Original melody, no known precursor.

As is widely known (see f. ex. Heylin, p. 87) the refrain refers to an ancient song: "Westron Wynde".
Westron wynde, when wilt thou blow,
The small raine down can raine.
Cryst, if my love were in my armes
And I in my bedde again!

It first appears in a manuscript from ca. 1530 (British Museum Royal Appendix 56) but it could be a relic of an older song. The words and the original melody were reprinted for example in Ritson/Frank, Ancient Songs And Ballads, From The Reign Of King Henry The Second To The Revolution, Vol. 1 (1829), p. lxxvi/vii and in William Chappell's very influential Popular Music Of The Olden Time (1853 & 1859), p. 57/58.

The lyrics found their way into the Oxford Book Of English Verse (as "The Lover In Winter Plaineth For The Spring", here from 1901) and the song was also well known among Folk Revivalists. Richard Dyer Bennett recorded it in 1947 as a single (as "Westryn Wynde", reissued in 1958 on No. 5: Requests, now available on Folkways SFW 40143). It was also recorded by both Cynthia Gooding and Ed McCurdy in 1956 and Alfred Deller in 1958 (see the discography at Folk Music - An Index to Recorded Resources)

- John Brown

The idea for the melody is borrowed from the "Reuben's Train/Nine Hundred Miles" family of songs (see Traditional Ballad Index for more about this song, also Harvey, p. 55-57). "Train 45" by Grayson & Whitter (1927, available on YouTube) was the first recording. But Dylan surely was familiar with Woody Guthrie's "Nine Hundred Miles" (1944, YouTube). The melody (c/o) the Digital Tradition Database:

The lyrics of have some parallels both with "Reuben's Train/Nine Hundred Miles" (the train and the letter) and with the Irish anti-War song "Mrs. McGrath" (see the Traditional Ballad Index and the Digital Tradition Database, see Harvey, p. 54/55; recorded at that time for example by Tommy Makem, Pete Seeger, Burl Ives and Theodore Bikel)
But a cannon ball, on the fifth of May,
Tore my two fine legs from the knees away

But I wonder if Dylan also knew Irving Berlin's "They Are All Out Of Step But Jim" (1918), a spoof on parents boasting proudly about the soldier son.
Jimmy's mother went to see her son
Marching along on parade
In his uniform and with his gun
What a lovely picture he made
She came home that ev'ning
Filled up with delight
And to all the neighbors
She would yell with all her might

- Walls Of Red Wing

Dylan used the melody of "The Road And Miles To Dundee" as recorded by Ewan MacColl on Bothy Ballads of Scotland (Folkways FW 08759, 1961). For more about this song see the Traditional Ballad Index and Stewart Grant on morerootsofbob. The melody and lyrics are available at the Digital Tradition Database.

- Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie

Based on the Clancy Brother' version of "Brennan On The Moor" (see an Australian TV recording from 1963 on YouTube):

Brennan hadbeen a popular highwayman in Ireland in the early years of the 19th century. This ballad was printed on broadsides since the 1840s (see this one from the Bodleian's allegro Catalogue: "Brennan On The Moor") and was well known in Ireland, England and the USA.

For more about this song see: Some Notes On The History Of "Brennan On The Moor" ( and check out Liam Clancy's performance of "Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie" at a Dylan Tribute in 2005.

1 Kommentare:

Thank you for mentioning my site (regrettably, I have not found the time to really update it since 1999 or so).

With regards to "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall", I also see a direct influence (outside of the "traditional" song canon) in Jacques Prevert's poem entitled "J'en ai vu plusieurs..." (I've seen some..) which strikes me as rather similar in structure and imagery to "A Hard Rain's..." (judge for yourselves, French accents missing in the following excerpts, unfortunately, as my German keyboard cannot render them):

J'en ai vu un qui lisait les journeaux
J'en ai vu un qui saluait le drapeau
j'en ai vu un qui etait habille de noir...

J'en ai vu un qui tirait son enfant par la main
et qui criait
j'en ai vu un avec une canne a epee
j'en ai vu un qui pleurait
j'en ai vu un qui entrait dans une eglise
J'en ai vu un autre qui en sortait....

As far back as 1997, I've tried to get "second opinions" re this and the possibility of Dylan having been exposed to Prevert's lyrics via a translation by Lawrence Ferlinghetti -- original post on can be found at
or quoted at a French site

Thank you for this excellent blog!
Manfred Helfert

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