Corrina Corrina: the meaning (and origin) of the music and the lyrics

by Tony Attwood

Corrina Corrina starts the journey that takes in a whole variety of songs including She Belongs to me, It takes a lot to laugh, and Alberta

Each has an issue of control, an issue of love and a worry.  And each takes the old relaxed 12 bar blues and does something nice with it.  Alberta goes off piste the most over the music, but it still retains that gentle lilt – and as we’ll see in a moment, Alberta has another connection to Corrina too.

Corrina herself has been away, he’s worried, because without her life means nothing, he’s thinking of her so much he is crying.

Just compare

Alberta what’s on your mind
Alberta what’s on your mind
You keep me worried and bothered
All of the time
Alberta what’s on your mind

Corrina, Corrina
Gal, you’re on my mind
I’m a-thinkin’ ’bout you, baby
I just can’t keep from crying.

There is no doubt that Corrina, just like Alberta, is in control.  The singer sure ain’t.  As with “she” in She Belongs to Me

You will start out standing
Proud to steal her anything she sees
But you will wind up peeking through her keyhole
Down upon your knees

And it “It takes a lot to laugh” Dylan actually says that he don’t want the power and control

Don’t my gal look fine
When she’s comin’ after me?

Now the wintertime is coming
The windows are filled with frost
I went to tell everybody
But I could not get across
Well, I wanna be your lover, baby
I don’t wanna be your boss

But still he’s not really communicating, for he ends up here saying “just don’t blame me” which isn’t really the best line ever said to a lady.

Bob as the hopeless lover waiting for his woman – the woman who has all the power.  It doesn’t really seem that likely any more but the histories tell us it once was.

Corrine Corrine exists in many styles, formats and versions across the years, different chords, different melodies, different lyrics, but the gentle swaying 12 bar style is there throughout.

Blind Lemon Jefferson in the 1920s was certainly not the originator but his version is well known and quite why Dylan or Dylan’s company tried to claim copyright I’ve no idea.  It’s a bit silly really, not least because there is a 1932 copyright by Armenter “Bo Carter” Chatmon, which starts

  • Corrine, Corrina, where you been so long?
  • Corrine, Corrina, where you been so long?
  • I ain’t had no lovin’, since you’ve been gone.

But there is more.  Because Dylan’s version on Freewheelin owes an awful lot to the Highway 61 man, Robert Johnson and his song “Stones in my passway” which has the standard chord sequence and the lines

I have a bird to whistle
I have a bird to sing
Have a bird to whistle
and I have a bird to sing
I have a woman that I’m lovin
boy, but she don’t mean a thing

Incidentally the out take version by Dylan linked to below has a real nod to Robert Johnson.

Moving on the Alberta connection arrived in 1930 when the Jackson Blue Boys recorded Sweet Alberta with the same melody and the lyrics as Dylan uses

Sweet Alberta
Gal, where you been so long?
Sweet Alberta
Gal, where you been so long?

And there are traditional songs from the early days of the century that have the line “Has anybody seen my Corrine” again to the 12 bar setting.

By the 1930s it was also turning up as “Where have you been so long Corrinne,” as the mutations continued.  In short it became a standard of the “my life means nothing without you” style of blues.

And one thing I found while researching this little piece is that the recording of the song on 28 September 1935 by Roy Newman and his boys has Jim Boyd playing the electric guitar.  Historians of the subject generally agree this was the first recording ever of an electrically amplified guitar.  From Roy Newman and his boys, to Bob Dylan and his band, Corrina all the way.

And so everyone has recorded it.  Hell, even Bill Haley recorded it in 1958.

Try this if you haven’t heard it.  I am, I must admit, smitten by this version especially the Robert Johnson style reference to the devil.

Such a sweet simple song, such a history.

Index to the songs reviewed here.



  1. Corrina, Corrina is on Side 1, track #3, of the vinyl bootleg Talkin Bear Mountain Massacre Picnic Blues, under the Trade Mark Of Quality label.

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