Wednesday, October 27, 2010


This tour, before the show starts, Mr. Dylan gives the audience a bit of film to watch. Internet search gives all messages with almost the same text, only revealing that it's a 20 minute fragment from Intolerance (1916) by Mr. Griffith. As Intolerance clocks at 177 minutes* it's only part of the movie, but much is unclear. Is it always the same fragment or are successive parts projected so loyal fans can see the whole movie? If the same part is repeated, what part is not specified, making it difficult to discover a special meaning for this inclusion.

Did Mr. Dylan decide for a pre-show movie and did he say: yes, that must be from Intolerance? Or did he order the men just to come up with something, and they did, and it was fine? We don't know. And indeed, Mr. Dylan got the 1997 Gish Prize, and Dorothy and Lilian Gish were famous Griffith actresses. But if there is a link it must be more obvious.

Mr. Griffith worked behind the screen. When forming United Artists with his friends Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin in 1919 he was to the public the less known of the four. Did Mr. Dylan perhaps think that Mr. Griffith needed a profile boost, like his recent figuring in the Katie Melua song "Mary Pickford"?

David Wark Griffith (1875-1948) was a pioneer filmmaker who almost single handed changed and developed the language of film. He brought elements as framing, cutting and story telling for the first time together to create a coherent basic screen grammar. That way he freed the cinema from the shackles of it's theater background. He also left movie capital New York to settle in California and used the environment as location. Mr. Griffith worked close together with his long time cameraman Billy Bitzer, who sure earns also credit for his work. They made hundreds of short movies, first one reelers, then longer, and then longer again, until they ended at what we now know as feature length. Their true companion was the legendary Pathé Professionnelle.

A lover of literature and poetry, Mr. Griffith based the structure of his stories partly on the narration technique of Charles Dickens, with cut backs and parallel lines. He also adapted Poe, Tennyson and Browning for the screen, using poetry as means of storytelling and changing movies that way from ordinary chasing and suspense to art. After Many Years (1908), after Tennyson, was the first American film without a chase, but with a dramatic close-up and cut back. Enoch Arden (1911), based on the same poem, was the first two-reeler shown in one part. Browning's Pippa Passes (1909) was the first film with a four-part pattern, while the biblical Judith Of Bethulia (1914) had a same structure now in four reels. Other well known films from this period are The Lonedale Operator (1911), A Corner In Wheat (1909), The Musketeers Of Pig Alley (1912) and The Unchanging Sea (1910) after Charles Kingsley's The Three Fishers.

After films like the Poe based The Avenging Conscience (1914), the first American six-reeler, Mr. Griffith concentrated on his great master piece The Birth Of A Nation (1915), but this 12-reel epic drama met not only with success but also with heavy critique because his view on black Americans as it was based on The Clansman by Thomas F. Dixon Jr. His answer was his other great master piece, Intolerance (1916). In 14-reels he revisited the four-part pattern, using all his skills. The episodes are tied together with a line of his favorite poet Walt Whitman: "Out of the cradle, endlessly rocking".

Important among the later films of Mr. Griffith are beauties like Hearts Of The World (1918), Broken Blossoms (1919), Way Down East (1920) and Orphans Of The Storm (1921). But the times they were changing and with the growth of Hollywood, the refinement of the studio system, there was no place anymore for romantic individuals who had helped so much to create the language of the cinema. He made his last film in 1931 and died almost forgotten after many years of lonely retirement.

Why shows Mr. Dylan part of a movie by Mr. Griffith? It's hard to say. Was there ever discussion about the music played in advance of the show? The only thing that mattered was The Copland Tune, as the starting sign for the show. And now that movie. Is there a real meaning or is it only for our amusement? Take for example Mr. Dylan's Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts, not because of the name, but for the atmosphere. It's easy to imagine the ladies as Mr. Griffith's classic heroins, while some of the lines are like close-ups and others like establishing shots. There is editing in the scenes, flash back, different point of view. But is that a link or just some far-fetched guessing? Let's just say Mr. Griffith and Mr. Dylan have perhaps more in common than only a hat.

There are many books written about Mr. Griffith as his work is utmost source for scholarship. But I still love some older, although well known publications that are informative and a joy to read:
- Mrs. D. W. Griffith (Linda Arvidson), When The Movies Were Young;
- Lilian Gish, The Movies, Mr. Griffith And Me;
- Iris Barry (with Eileen Bowser), D. W. Griffith: American Film Master.

* There are versions of Intolerance with different duration. That has nothing to do with one being more complete than the other, but with projection speed. In general silent pictures are filmed and projected with 16 frames/second, the limit to avoid flickering of the image. When taking more care of photography they used sometimes 18 frames/second to have a more steady image. One feet of original 35MM film counts 16 frames, so all versions of Intolerance are around 11820 feet, split as 14 reels.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Been searching too long for pictures I shot once of Bukka White. In 1967 he was part of the American Folk Blues Festival together with Son House, Skip James and others, traveling through Europe. They were playing the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, performing mid stage while I was sitting on the same stage left front row. Made some close medium shots, but they are still somewhere in a box.

I was thinking about those pictures when listening to the new Folksinger's Choice release. The version there of Fixin' To Die is probably Bob's last performance of the song, at least the last recorded. He started out to write his own songs and soon hit the harder stuff and became the singer-songwriter we all know of. Bukka White recorded the song only once and had also a carrier change: he became a factory worker and lived almost as a complete unknown. One further thing Bob and Bukka have in common is that they're both Columbia Recording Artists, since the Vocalion label became a subsidiary of CBS in 1938.

Booker T. Washington White (1906-1977), better known as Bukka White, had recorded Fixin' To Die Blues on 8-3-1940 accompanied by Washboard Sam. It became the b-side of Black Train Blues and was inspired by the death of a friend, some Flem Smith. The story goes that he wrote it because his other songs didn't impress the producer that much, but the same session produced famous cuts like Aberdeen Mississippi Blues and Parchman Farm Blues.

I'm lookin' funny in my eyes
And I believe I'm fixin' to die
I know I was born to die
But I hate to leave my children around cryin'

Just as sho' we live
It's a, sho' we's born to die
I know I was born to die
But I hate to leave my children around cryin'

Yo mother treated me, children
Like I was her baby child
That's why's I sighed
And come back home to die

So many nights at the fireside
How my children's mother would cry
'Cause I told the mother
I had to say, goodbye

Look over yon-der
On the buryin' ground
Yon' stand ten thousand
Standin' still to let me down

Mother, take my children back
Before they let me down
Ain't no need a-them screamin' an cryin'
On the graveyard ground.

Legend has it that the re-discovery of Bukka White was kind of  inspired by the inclusion of Fixin' To Die on Bob Dylan's first album. That's too much honor for Hammond's Folly, as Dylan was then nicknamed, with only 2500 copies sold upon release. The search for White and other blues legends has another starting point. In 1959 Samuel B. Charters published his book The Country Blues, marking the beginning of the blues revival and bringing research and scholarship on a new level. The book was accompanied by a compilation album with the same title and that's how Fixin' To Die became known outside the small circle of 78rps blues record collectors. Also, the song became part of the repertory of young singers emerging on the folk and blues revival scene, one of them Dave Van Ronk. In the meantime Folkways started in association with Charters RBF (Record, Book, And Film Sales Inc.) as a subsidiary to follow up with more compilations of  prewar blues legends, including other tracks by Bukka White.

In 1963 young blues enthusiasts succeeded in locating Mississippi John Hurt and Bukka White, the next year Son House and Skip James. The story of finding White by John Fahey and Ed Denson is quite simple, they wrote a letter to "Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi." And when he answered they visited him. That same year they made new recordings of him, some old classics and other songs. Part is on Mississippi Blues (1964), but the new take of Fixin' To Die had to wait until the release of 1963 Isn't 1962 (1994).

White became part of the blues revival, but Fixin' To Die didn't make it to the official live recordings. I could only trace one version at Wolfgang's Vault, from Los Angeles 17-8-1967. Meanwhile his original performance of the song was part of more than ten survey albums with all 14 of his 1937-1940 cuts or - more complete - all his 18 1930-1940 cuts or - complete - all his 20 cuts from that period including the Library Of Congress recordings by Alan Lomax, done in a wrong speed.

All in all three different Bukka White recordings of Fixin' To Die, 1940, 1963 and 1967, but all the same lyric with small variations. That's a whole other story with Bob Dylan. Also three recordings, but with great textual differences.

The most common Dylan version is of course the album version from Bob Dylan. Three takes were recorded on 20-11-1961, but the outtakes don't circulate. Part of the 5 verses is close to Bukka White, but Dylan has some variations on the theme and borrows from other blues sources. In it's structure verses 1, 3 and 5 deal with "funny", in his mind, his eyes and his walking all connected to the title line and they all three end with his don't mind to die but hate to leave his children cry. Some sources give this text as the original Bukka White lyrics.

Feeling funny in my mind, Lord,
I believe I'm fixing to die,
Well, I don't mind dyin'
But I hate to leave my children cryin'

Well, look over yonder
to that burying ground
Sure seems lonesome, Lord,
when the sun goes down

Feeling funny in my eyes, Lord,
I believe I'm fixing to die,
Well, I don't mind dyin'
But I hate to leave my children cryin'

There's a black smoke rising, Lord
It's rising up above my head,
And tell Jesus
make up my dyin' bed.

I'm walking kind of funny, Lord
I believe I'm fixing to die,
Well, I don't mind dyin'
But I hate to leave my children cryin'

In the second version, Carnegie Chapter Hall 4-11-1961, there is another Bob, with a driving guitar. Small echo's of that same kind of  accompaniment can be found on the Bob Dylan album in Fixin' To Die, Highway 51 and See That My Grave Is Kept Clean. Lyric structure is kind of the same, now with aches in his back in verse 3 and verse 5 surprisingly ending with hating to leave his friends behind. Perhaps he knew who the 53 people sitting in the audience were. Verse 2 has the introduction of King Solomon's grave, but that doesn't fit well, there's something missing.

Well I'm feeling funny in my eyes, Lord,
I believe I'm fixing to die,
Well I don't mind dyin'
But I hate to leave my children cryin'

Well look over yonder,
To that burying ground
Well yonder stands the grave
Of King Salomon

Well I've had aches in my back, Lord
I believe I'm fixing to die,
Well I don't mind dyin'
But I hate to leave my children cryin'

It's a funny old road, Lord
I just can't see no end,
That's why I can't help
I believe I'm fixing to die

Well I'm feeling funny in my mind, Lord
I believe I'm fixing to die,
Well I don't mind dyin'
But I hate to leave my friends behind

The third version is the one on Folksinger's Choice, the Cynthia Gooding WBAI-FM radioshow broadcast on 11-3-1962. The structure is here quite different as he uses the verses 1, 3, 5 and 7 as a kind of  chorus, all four with the same text. In verse 2 King Solomon fits better with the added part, missing from the other version.

Well I'm lookin' funny in my mind, Lord
I believe I'm fixin' to die
Well I don't mind dyin'
But I hate to leave my children cryin'

Well look over yonder,
To that buryin' ground
Yonder stands the grave of King Solomon
I'm sure he won't let me down

Well I'm lookin' funny in my mind, Lord
I believe I'm fixin' to die
Well I don't mind dyin'
But I hate to leave my children cryin'

Well there's a black smoke risin', Lord
It's risin' up above my head
Gonna tell Jesus
Make up my dyin' bed

Well I'm lookin' funny in my mind, Lord
I believe I'm fixin' to die
Well I don't mind dyin'
But I hate to leave my children cryin'

Well your mama treated me
Like I was a baby child
That's why I can't come home, Lord
Can't wait to come home to die

Well I'm lookin' funny in my mind, Lord
I believe I'm fixin' to die
Well I don't mind dyin'
But I hate to leave my children cryin'

The addition here of "well" at the very beginning of every first line makes those lines crowded with words. This became some typical Dylan trade-mark later on. It's also funny to see how Dylan adds so manifold the word "Lord" to all his versions of the song. It's not only the interpretation of blues by an urban white youth, giving it some old blues feel by adding that kind of emotion. It also changes the direction of the song. White was not a singer of religious songs like many of his contemporaries and made only one gospel record. His
subjects were everyday life and trains and for sure those were no slow trains. So his lyrics for Fixin' To Die were aimed at his surroundings, his next-of-kin, those who were left behind. With Dylan the direction changed to higher powers, the point of view of a dying man with a strong faith.

It is interesting that Heylin gives a date, late october 1961, where Dylan performs Fixin' To Die with Dave Van Ronk and John Gibson at Izzy Young's Folklore Center. A recording made by Cynthia Gooding  seems to have been lost. Van Ronk was familiar with the old blues and had Fixin' To Die on his repertory. If we hear his recording on Dave Van Ronk, Folksinger (1963) he stays close to the original lyrics. If this Heylin version was Bob's introduction to the song, it probably was this regular text.

It is interesting because now some dialogue in the radio program Folksinger's Choice falls into place. Gooding, who knows the song, makes it all too concise and too clear by simply saying: "that's a great song, how much of it is yours?" And Bob almost loses his guard and begins: "that's a....." But then he quickly recovers and adds: "I don't know, I can't remember" and goes on about his hands being cold.

But he must remember it quite well for we see him in this period as a starting songwriter, experimenting with songs, trying to bend the lyrics to his will. It's kind of small romance with the blues that gives him variable lyrics, easy to change. And if he has enough of it it's easy to drop the song as it is not his own. Fixin' To Die is not the only one on this artistic playground.

It's a pity we don't know the two studio outtakes. Perhaps the takes were all similar to the released one. But with King Salomon reappearing in the radio show it's also possible that they shine some more light on his fate.

There is also a fourth version by Bob Dylan, on the McKenzie tape recorded 23-11-1961. Some serious sources give the song in their listings, but if you serious listen it isn't there really. The track gives some strumming, some tuning and some talking. The name of the song is mentioned, someone says he heard him sing it somewhere and after only one chord Bob strums and tunes his way to the next song. That's all. He's not interested in the song anymore but as it is on his album he does it one more time for Gooding.

Bukka White's original Fixin' To Die Blues has six verses, all with different lyrics and no repeats except for on time the line "I know I was born to die, but I hate to leave my children around cryin'" We see that Bob Dylan brings significant changes in all his versions. It's more than substituting some little word by some other. By transforming the lyrics he not only changed the mood of the song, but the whole meaning, while his form experiments change the structure.

Although Dylan showed his strength with Fixin' To Die to make the song his own he didn't get credit for it. On the Bob Dylan album only Bukka White is named and also on bootlegs with the other versions and even in most serious Dylan literature it's a song by White and nobody else. On the internet you find in many cases the lyrics of Dylan's album version as the real lyrics instead of those by Bukka White. It's strange that Fixin' To Die is not even defined as "adapted by" or "arranged by" like some of the other songs on the album he changed around. Perhaps it wasn't that important anymore. Perhaps he used to care, but things had changed.

The Bukka White discography by Stefan Wirz was of great help:

All lyrics here are given in their bare form, without the usual repeating of lines and exclamations.

A complete collection of Bukka White's classic recordings can be found on the 2003 Aberdeen Mississippi Blues - The Vintage Recordings (1930-1940), with the Library Of Congress cuts for the first time speed corrected.

Monday, October 18, 2010


First we had bootleg LPs. The Demo Tapes (1973), Ceremoies Of The
Horsemen (1974), Early '60s Revisited (1974), Poems In Naked Wonder (1978), The Witmark Demos (1983). Then we had bootleg CDs. The Witmark Demos (1994), The Witmark Years (1994), Through A Bullet Of Light (1994), In The Pines (1998), Let My Poor Voice Be Heard (2007), Where Are You Now My Blue Eyed Son? (2008). I may have missed some but they all had those famous demo recordings, from Witmark and from Leeds, some had some of them, some had all.

And now we have Bob's new album in the Bootleg Series: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 (2010) and so we have them all again, but now as an official release. A good opportunity to give information about the tracks one might think, but far from that. So gives the 60-page booklet no specification at all for the recording dates of the 47 tracks, except that they're from the period 1962-1964.

The sequence of the songs looks familiar, with only some small differences. We can assume that this list is probably chronological correct, but we can only guess about that for there's no explanation given. It can mean that sources as Heylin or Olof's Files are wrong in dating Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues to winter 1963, as it now fits in the part from march 1963. But nothing is revealed and it can also be a mistake of the compiler.

The only insight we get is with this Producer's Note:
"All of the recordings included here were created to be used for demonstration purposes. In some cases, especially on the earliest tracks, the songs were recorded to be released on acetates so other artists could perform them. As time progressed, the songs were often just rough sketches hastily recorded so that the publisher could get the songs down for purposes of copyright. Consequently, there is an extremely wide range of sound quality. We have done an exhaustive survey to use the best sources wherever possible. A good bulk of these recordings come directly from the Warner/Seven Arts master tapes which, unfortunately, were in spotty condition. We've tried to present them in the unadulterated way in which they were stored at the Witmark and Leeds archives."

Does that bring us any further? Where did they make their survey for the best sources if not in the archives? Which recordings belong to the good bulk? Isn't it likely that all master tapes are in the archives, accompanied by notes? A date can be very helpful with copyright matters. It almost seems as if we've got just a rough sketch hastily put together. And if they had to use other sources than the master tapes, were that acetates, copies of tapes or just our well known bootleg recordings?

Based on our own sources, and assuming that the new track listing is indeed chronological, we can date this new Dylan album as follows:

LEEDS february 1962
101. Man On The Street (Fragment)
102. Hard Times In New York Town
103. Poor Boy Blues
104. Ballad For A Friend
105. Rambling, Gambling Willie
106. Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues
107. Standing On The Highway
108. Man On The Street

WITMARK july 1962
109. Blowin’ In The Wind

WITMARK november 1962
110. Long Ago, Far Away

WITMARK december 1962
111. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
112. Tomorrow Is A Long Time
113. The Death Of Emmett Till
114. Let Me Die In My Footsteps
115. Ballad Of Hollis Brown
116. Quit Your Low Down Ways
117. Baby, I’m In The Mood For You

WITMARK winter 1963
118. Bound To Lose, Bound To Win
119. All Over You
120. I’d Hate To Be You On That Dreadful Day

WITMARK march 1963
121. Long Time Gone
122. Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues (was: winter 1963)
123. Masters Of War
124. Oxford Town
125. Farewell
201. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
202. Walkin’ Down The Line

WITMARK april 1963
203. I Shall Be Free
204. Bob Dylan’s Blues
205. Bob Dylan’s Dream
206. Boots Of Spanish Leather

WITMARK may 1963
207. Walls of Red Wing (from the 24-4-1963 Freewheelin' session)
208. Girl From The North Country
209. Seven Curses

WITMARK may 1963
210. Hero Blues

WITMARK august 1963
211. Whatcha Gonna Do?
212. Gypsy Lou

WITMARK august 1963
213. Ain’t Gonna Grieve
214. John Brown
215. Only A Hobo

WITMARK august 1963
216. When The Ship Comes In

WITMARK october 1963
217. The Times They Are A-Changin’

WITMARK december 1963
218. Paths Of Victory

WITMARK january 1964
219. Guess I’m Doing Fine
220. Baby Let Me Follow You Down

WITMARK june 1964
221. Mama, You Been On My Mind
222. Mr. Tambourine Man
223. I’ll Keep It With Mine

And then, since we have it now official, how is the sound of this new Bootleg Series Vol. 9, The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964. We took a look at three songs with EAC and compared them with the same songs from the Hollow Horn Recording Artist Vol. 1: Let My Poor Voice Be Heard.There is much difference between them and to my ears the official Standing On The Highway goes faster. Wouldn't it be interesting to compare all songs with all different sources we already have?

First Let Me Die In My Footsteps on the new album:
And on the Hollow Horn release:
Spectral view looks like this for the new album:
And like this for Hollow Horn:
And the frequency analysis for the new Bob:
And for the old Hollow Horn:
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall looks like this on the new album:
On Hollow Horn it looks like this:
And the spectral view looks like this on the new album:
And on the Hollow Horn it looks like this:
Frequency analysis for A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall on the new album:
And the same for Hollow Horn:
Standing On The Highway looks on the official release like this:
And on the Hollow Horn bootleg like this:
The official spectral view:
The Hollow Horn spectral view:
The official frequency analysis:
The Hollow Horn frequency analysis:


Wednesday, October 6, 2010


So at last Folksinger's Choice - the famous Cynthia Gooding WBAI radio show featuring young Bob Dylan and broadcast 11-3-1962 - is official released, or isn't it?

There is something strange with this CD album, available since august 2010. General recognized as an important landmark in Bob's starting career, it didn't make it to his official website. It just didn't get any attention at all, as if it was a rejected painting. Also, it's in the US only available at from other sellers shipping from the UK. Outside the US, Amazon has it not only in stock, but also available as mp3 download. Is there a different copyright legislation for older radio programs in those countries?

Anyway, record company Leftfield Media, cannot be found on the internet. Even on my more obscure blues records there is an address, but here you can only find the name of the company, not even the country of origin..
The disc itself has 21 tracks, 11 songs interchanged with chat. Nothing wrong with that, but the artwork gives only those 11 music tracks. So, if you play track #19, you have to translate that to #10 to know it's Baby Please Don't Go. Keeps you sharp and alert.

Info in the 8 page booklet is something taken more care of. The notes by some Deryck Gordon are detailed and informative. But then, there is a strong resemblance with the related entries in Derek Barker's The Songs He Didn't Write. It's all a bit shorter, more compact, but sometimes sentences are (almost) the same. Not so original after all.

The recording is presented here as a live radio performance on 11-3-1962. In the liner notes this date is even given as "probably". But well known sources agree that the recording was made around the second half of january 1962, at the WBAI studio, and broadcast on 11-3-1962. So it was not live and that brings us to another point.

If it wasn't live, it was recorded and so there must be a tape. And even when it was live there must be a tape. If my memory serves me well it was Albert Ayler who once said on Dutch radio: :When music is played, it's gone, it's gone in the air and you can never catch it again." Dylan collectors know that is true, unless you tape it. Nowhere in the liner notes is the source mentioned, nor is someone thanked for providing it. There is even no linage at all, no name of a technician, no remaster, no nothing.

Of course the recording is not new for us. Since 1992 the radio show is circulating as bootleg under the surprising title Folksingers Choice, with all 21 tracks described. But that's another story.

To be continued.