On November 20, 1961, Bob Dylan recorded “House of the Rising Sun” at Columbia Studio A in New York.
The recording appeared on his debut album, Bob Dylan.
Below are two versions by Dylan, plus versions of the old blues song by Nina Simone, Frijid Pink, Texas Alexander (possibly the earliest recorded version), The Supremes, Thin Lizzy, The Animals, Dave Van Ronk and others.
The White Stripes:
Dave Van Ronk:
[In August of this year I’ll be publishing my rock ‘n’ roll/ coming-of-age novel, “True Love Scars,” which features a narrator who is obsessed with Bob Dylan. To read the first chapter, head here.]
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The late Dave Van Ronk’s previously unreleased Live in Monterey is will be released on May 13, 2014.
From the press release:
Live in Monterey looks back on his entire career. Recorded at Monterey, Calif.’s Carleton Hall, the album works both as a retrospective and an introduction. The 16 tracks include traditional numbers, blues classics and originals, touching on every aspect of what makes Van Ronk revered by musicians of every generation. The album features just Dave, his voice and his guitar. That’s all that’s needed.
“Dave’s voice is a wonder,” writes set co-producer Rick Chelew (who recorded the set) in his liner notes, “going from a delicate, almost feminine whisper to a powerful frightening growl that would make a punk-rocker shut up and listen — sometimes within the same song.”
Fellow Greenwich Village folk denizen Happy Traum, who also contributed liner notes to Live in Monterey, observes: “Those of us who had a chance to know Dave Van Ronk were treated to a larger than life, contradictory, ultimately lovable personality. He was generous, opinionated, sharply intelligent, hypercritical, hospitable, cranky, an unapologetic Trotskyite communist, a sci-fi aficionado, a musical polymath with wide-ranging tastes, a darn good cook, and a friend, mentor, and teacher to many a young, aspiring guitarist.”
“At one point in his career,” Traum continues, “Dave would surely have liked to become famous, but he lived his life and made his music on his own terms an settled reluctantly for being a ‘legend.’ The irony is that none of his peers, no matter how commercially successful they became, were dubbed ‘The Mayor of MacDougal Street,’ had a Greenwich Village street named after them, or are remembered with such affection.”
Yes, there have been other live Van Ronk releases, but all live performances are not equal, and it was a stroke of good luck that tape was rolling in this old Monterey church when the artist, in fine form, played an extraordinary set. “As soon as Dave started to play it was clear that this was one of those rare occasions …,” says Chelew. Van Ronk’s widow Andrea Vuocolo, who attended countless Van Ronk shows, concurs, recalling it as “a particularly strong performance.”
It is time again for an audience with The Mayor.
1. You’ve Been A Good Old Wagon But You Done Broke Down |
2. Blood Red Moon
3. Jesus Met The Woman At The Well
4. Going Down Slow
6. Cocaine Blues
7. Winin’ Boy Blues
8. Did You Hear John Hurt?
9. Jelly Jelly
10. Spike Driver Blues
11. Sportin’ Life Blues
12. Come Back Baby
13. Candy Man
14. He Was A Friend Of Mine
15. St. James Infirmary
16. Four Strong Winds
Here’s a cool 1997 version of “St. James Infirmary” that is different from the one on the album:
Joy Boyd was where the actions was during the ’60s and ’70s. He produced Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Richard & Linda Thompson, Sandy Denny, the Incredible String Band and plenty more.
Now he’s written an essay on “Inside Llewyn Davis” for Logger, The Believer‘s blog.
While it’s true that Inside Llewyn Davis takes some of its plot from The Mayor of MacDougal Street (Elijah Wald’s book about Dave Van Ronk), the Coen Brothers never intended the character portrayed by young, skinny Oscar Isaac to bear much resemblance to gruff, burly Van Ronk. This hasn’t prevented re-evaluations of Van Ronk’s music appearing in both The New York Times and The Guardian, explaining to younger generations his importance as a folk-blues singer and an influence on the young Bob Dylan.
Before proceeding further, I’d better declare my interest. I knew Van Ronk and heard him play a number of times, but was never a fan. From my youthfully opinionated 1962 perspective, I disliked the path he laid out for younger white folk singers to butcher the blues: scratchy voice, “red-hot-mama” clichés, plunky Josh-White-influenced guitar picking.
In White Bicycles, I wrote about waking on the morning of November 22, 1963, hearing about the killing of President Kennedy and rousing Dave, who was sleeping on my couch in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His reaction was to gloat that “chickens” were “coming home to roost,” and then to turn over and go back to sleep.
Fifty years ago, on February 5, 1964, “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” was copyrighted as a Bob Dylan composition, by Whitmark & Sons, Dylan’s song publisher at the time.
But as Tim Dunn details in his book, “The Bob Dylan Copyright Files: 1962 – 2007,” Bob Dylan didn’t write “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down.”
What’s odd about it is that at the beginning of Dylan’s recording of the song for his 1962 Columbia Records debut, Dylan credits Eric Von Schmidt as teaching the song to him.
“I first heard this from Ric Von Schmidt,” Dylan says before starting to sing the song. “He lives in Cambridge. Ric’s a blues guitar player. I met him one day in the green pastures of Harvard University.”
So Whitmark & Sons certainly should have known by February of 1964, more than two years after Dylan recorded the song, that it was not a Dylan original.
Dunn writes that the song can be traced to a 1930 recording by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy: “Can I Do It For You.”
Eventually Blind Boy Fuller recorded a version of “Mama Let Me Lay It On You” in 1938 that, in turn, was adapted by Eric Von Schmidt. Reverend Gary Davis claimed that he taught the song to Fuller, and in 1978 the song was copyrighted as a composition by Davis. (Davis passed away in 1972.)
When Dylan was hanging around Greenwich Village in 1961, he also heard Dave Van Ronk perform a version of “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down.”
In an article Von Schmidt wrote that was published posthumously in the Winter 2008 issue of Sing Out! magazine, he said that Dylan’s version of “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” was “…a hybrid… probably closer to Dave’s version.” (Von Schmidt passed away in 2007; Van Ronk passed away in 2002.)
When the remastered version of Bob Dylan was released in 2005, the revised credits read: “Rev. G. Davis; add. contributions E. von Schmidt, D. Van Ronk.”
Bob Dylan, “Baby, Let me Follow You Down” off Dylan’s debut album, Bob Dylan:
Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy, 1930:
Blind Boy Fuller, “Mama Let Me Lay It On You,” April 1938:
Rev. Gary Davis, “Baby Let Me Lay It On You”:
Bob Dylan and the Hawks, “Baby, Let Me Follow you Down,” Manchester Free Trade Hall, May 17, 1966:
Check out this version by Carly Simon with members of the Hawks backing her in 1966 — it’s not complete. The songs starts in at about 50 seconds into the clip:
Plus more versions from the 1966 World Tour:
Bob Dylan and the Hawks, “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down,” April 13, 1966, Sydney, Australia:
Bob Dylan and the Hawks, “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down,” April 20, 1966, Melbourne, Australia:
Bob Dylan and the Hawks, “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down,” May 14, 1966, Liverpool:
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I was thinking about Nelson Mandela today as I listened to Bob Dylan’s version of “He Was A Friend Of Mine.”
I first heard that song as recorded by The Byrds for their second album, Turn! Turn! Turn!. Roger McGuinn modified the lyrics to make the song about the late President Kennedy and I’ve always associated the song with President Kennedy’s assassination.
When I eventually heard Dylan’s version on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 many years later I couldn’t help thinking of President Kennedy, and his tragic death.
Dylan had himself had modified the song, creating his own arrangement. The earliest known version of “He Was A Friend Of Mine” was a song called “Shorty George” recorded by Leadbelly (listen to it below) in 1935 for the Library of Congress, according to John Bauldie’s liner notes for The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3.
A Boston folk singer, Eric von Schmidt, adapted the Leadbelly recording and later played the song for Dylan who incorporated it into his repertoire and performed in around New York and elsewhere during the early ’60s.
“I sang [Dylan] a bunch of songs, and, with that spongelike mind of his, he remembered almost all of them when he got back to New York,” von Schmidt told The Boston Globe.
Dylan recorded a version of the song during the sessions for his debut, Bob Dylan. That version is the one on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3.
Unlike President Kennedy, Nelson Mandela wasn’t gunned down. He died of natural causes and he was 95. But he suffered much during his life in holding true to his values. He was a standup man if there ever was one.
In 1985 Dylan appeared on Steve Van Zandt’s all-star anti-apartheid record and in the video, “I Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City.”
I wonder if Dylan thought about “He Was A Friend Of Mine” following Mandela’s death. I bet he did.
Bob Dylan, “He Was A Friend Of Mine,” live, New York, 1961
Leadbelly, “Shorty George”:
Bob Dylan, “He Was A Friend Of Mine,” from the sessions for Bob Dylan, November 20, 1961:
Bob Dylan, “He Was A Friend Of Mine,” live, Finjan Club, Montreal, Quebec, July 2, 1962
The Byrds, “He Was A Friend Of Mine”:
Artists Against Apartheid, “I Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City”:
Dave Van Ronk also recorded “He Was A Friend Of Mine.” This is from Inside Dave Van Ronk, 1963.
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With “Inside Llewyn Davis” opening last week, the album that inspired the film’s title has been reissued on vinyl as it was originally released in 1964, long before the advent of the CD and the MP3.
Recorded during the same April 1962 sessions that produced Dave Van Ronk’s first album for Fantasy Records, Folksinger, Inside Dave Van Ronk predominantly features folk standards such as “House Carpenter,” “Kentucky Moonshiner” and “Shanty Man’s Life.”
Van Ronk was an influence on Bob Dylan, who learned Van Ronk’s version of “House of the Rising Sun” and covered “House Carpenter” as well. Van Ronk recorded several Joni Mitchell compositions and helped bring attention to the brilliant Canadian songwriter before she became popular.
Check out these songs off Inside Dave Van Ronk courtesy of Concord Music Group.