Exclusive: Bob Dylan’s Handwritten Lyrics For ‘New Basement Tapes’ Song ‘Spanish Mary’ – Check Them Out!

Bob Dylan’s notebook page where he wrote the lyrics to “Spanish Mary.”

During the summer of 1967, up in Woodstock, New York, Bob Dylan wrote a batch of song lyrics that he didn’t set music to and didn’t record.

Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes is an album of those songs produced by T Bone Burnett due out November 10, 2014. Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Marcus Mumford are the artists that came together to record the songs.

Today, one of those songs, “Spanish Mary,” was released and I was able to get a copy of Bob Dylan’s notebook page, on which he wrote the lyrics to the song.

For this one, Rhiannon Giddens wrote the music and her performance on the recording is very powerful.

She stays true to the lyrics as Dylan wrote them.

In examining Dylan’s notebook page, there are a couple of lines he crossed out.

In the second verse, the second line, “Upon their ship quite scary” was crossed out and replaced by “no longer could they tarry.”

Dylan crossed out the beginning of the third line, “it was to see them,” leaving only the end of that line, “Swoon and Swerve.”

Off to the side Dylan tried out some alternatives, writing “Some sing like,” and then right under it, “Song sing like a canary.”

In the third verse, “In Kingsport town was changed to “In Kingston Town,” and minor changes in the line that follows were made.

Minor – one or two word – changes were made in the third, fourth and fifth verses.

Check out the video:

In a press release, Giddens, who wrote the music for the song and sings the lead vocal, says of the track:

“Out of all the lyrics I looked through for the New Basement Tapes project, the one for ‘Spanish Mary’ attracted me first – here was a ballad, and I know ballads! It’s also set in the Caribbean, so I felt the deep African sound of the minstrel style banjo (circa 1856) was appropriate. It was an absolute thrill to get to set music to Dylan’s lyrics, what an opportunity! This project is marked with utter generosity from everyone involved.”

[I just published my rock ‘n’ roll novel, True Love Scars.” Rolling Stone has a great review of my book in a recent issue. Read it here. There’s info about True Love Scars here.]

— A Days Of The Crazy-Wild blog post —

8 thoughts on “Exclusive: Bob Dylan’s Handwritten Lyrics For ‘New Basement Tapes’ Song ‘Spanish Mary’ – Check Them Out!

  1. Hi

    Thanks for that. I must say it is disappointing to me. It isn’t supposed to be a folk ballad, it’s a Basement song. She’s trying to turn it into “Black Jack Davey”!

    Dylan and the Band would have done a raucus silly version, surely, about the buffoon the fool and the fairy?

  2. This song would have fit nicely on “John Wesley Harding.” And much more interesting than the other “new” Basement Tapes tunes that have been appeared so far.

  3. Nicely done, but the lyrics are basically weak and need some tempering with. This is not Basement-music, this is more like a wild Nathalie Merchant, which btw I like…

  4. What/who IS the titular “Spanish Mary”? A person? A colloquialism for some sort of treasure? Or intoxicant?

  5. I love what she did with this- but one thing that always troubled me is the word “but” that she sings in the last verse- “No I’ll not give you one word but for the love of Spanish Mary”. I always suspected that word was not what Dylan would have written there, as it made little sense, and would make better sense without it. I am happy to see my Dylan instincts validated – the original handwritten page shows that I was correct!

  6. Who came instantly to mind was Queen Mary I of England, daughter of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII. Not only was she half Spanish by birth, but she married a Spaniard (King Phillip) and I believe she funded sailing voyages to the New World, though I might be thinking of her half sister Elizabeth (not to mention her mother Isabella of Spain). A gorgeous song and a splendid rendition.

Leave a Reply