Money Blues: unravelling the unreleased Dylan song of 1975.

By Tony Attwood

1975 is the year Bob Dylan worked with Jacques Levy – so in coming to the first song that they wrote together it seems appropriate to say a few words about Levy.

Levy was born in New York 29 July 1935, died (of cancer) 30 September 2004 aged 69.

He studied for a doctorate in psychology from Michigan State University and later practised as a clinical psychologist, but always had an interest in the theatre and music.  In 1965 he directed Sam Shepherd’s play, Red Cross. Two years on he directed Jean-Claude van Italie’s America Hurrah.

Jacques Levy next came to fame as the director of  “Oh! Calcutta!” in 1969 (which ran until 1972), and the story goes that Roger McGuinn of the Byrds thought Levy could be a fine librettist for a project he was working on.  As a result they wrote Chestnut Mare, although the main project came to nothing.

So started the route to meeting and eventually working with Bob Dylan and seven tracks on Desire which were co-written by the two men.  It is also reported that in 1975, Levy stage-managed the Rolling Thunder Revue.

But his work with Dylan didn’t stop his theatrical work.  In 1983 he directed the musical comedy Doonesbury, and in 1988 he wrote the lyrics for the stage musical of the film Fame.  From 1993 he was English professor and director of theatre at New York’s Colgate University and during this time he also worked on Marat/Sade (1994), Bus Stop (1997) and Brecht On Brecht (2000).

In all Dylan and Levy are recorded as having written nine songs together listed (in alphabetical order) as

  • Black Diamond Bay
  • Catfish
  • Hurricane
  • Isis
  • Joey
  • Money Blues
  • Mozambique
  • Oh, sister
  • Romance in Durango

The first to be written was Money Blues, which was recorded on 28 July 1975 in the second Desire session at the Columbia Recording Studios, New York.  It was the second song recorded on the day, and it was only run through once – a typical “warm up” song as the musicians get themselves together and the engineers start to get the balance and sound right.

According to Wikipedia’s “List of songs written by Bob Dylan” which has (as of May 2016) 522 songs listed, Money Blues is unreleased but with the “Lyrics printed in Lyrics: 1962–1985, under Desire.”

There is one recording I’ve found, by the band Chronicles – a Dylan tribute band.  You can see it here, but the video is somewhat odd with all the people passing in front.  In the end I just wanted to hear the music.  But maybe that is me.  What we don’t know is whether the band simply interpreted the music as a classic 12 bar, or whether they had some inside information as to how it sounds on that single unreleased take.

What I don’t get however is why two such able lyricists should get together and write this.  I can see why they might record it as a warm up, but to go on and bother to write the lyrics down… and assign them to the two songwriters, seems odd to me.

And in fact I’d say maybe this is not a Dylan/Levy composition at all, but a Dylan warm up piece.  But maybe Levy, having agreed that the two men could work together, just started to improvise some lyrics.  Maybe he sang them on that one recording – although that too seems odd.

Or was Dylan still having a swipe at Sara, especially in the first verse…

Sittin’ here thinkin’
Where does the money go
Sittin’ here thinkin’
Where does the money go
Well, I give it to my woman
She ain’t got it no more

After this it gets to sound like it is having fun at the expense of the blues format… the sort of thing you might find in a Broadway show about the blues…

Went out last night
Bought two eggs and a slice of ham
Went out last night
Bought two eggs and a slice of ham
Bill came to three dollars and ten cents
And I didn’t even get no jam

By verse three it’s all getting a bit ordinary, and very blues standard…

Man came around
Askin’ for the rent
Man came around
Askin’ for the rent
Well, I looked into the drawer
But the money’s all been spent

And quite honestly the next verse does not add too much to human understanding.

Well, well
Ain’t got no bank account
Well, well
Ain’t got no bank account
Went down to start one
But I didn’t have the right amount

Before it gets too silly for words.

Everything’s inflated
Like a tire on a car
Everything’s inflated
Like a tire on a car
Well, the man came and took my Chevy back
I’m glad I hid my old guitar

And then the sexual innuendo.  The song’s character is rather unpleasantly looking to become a pimp.

Come to me, mama
Ease my money crisis now
Come to me, mama
Ease my money crisis now
I need something to support me
And only you know how

Index of all the songs on the site

Dylan’s opening lines: an index

How Dylan writes songs, and other articles.

Dylan’s songs in the order they were written.

Bob Dylan open discussion group on Facebook.    Or go onto Facebook and search for “Untold Dylan”

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8 Responses to Money Blues: unravelling the unreleased Dylan song of 1975.

  1. Rajan Mahadevan says:

    The released songs of ‘Desire’ certainly had that one-step-ahead note, typical of Dylan from LP to LP. But honestly strange that ‘Money Blues’ here sounds rather like a leftover something from the Freewheelin’ times, positively pre-1975. Nice ‘Untold’ article, though. Thanks.

  2. Planet Waves says:

    There is version of Jacques Levy doing Money Blues with piano player on WBAI -FM Radio / Bob Fass Show.

  3. i submit that the song is a version of Backwater Blues.

    besides the obvious fit of the lyrics to melody, BB starts out second verse with ‘Woke up this morning’ the other end of ‘Went out last night’ from the lyrics you provide above. what made me put the two together is the verse was the verse beginning ‘Well, well..’ and that matches the effect of the ‘Mmmm-mmmm’ as sung by Leadbelly and Bessie Smith, and the second line ‘Ain’t got no’ by Dylan/Levy against ‘can’t move no more’ in BB.
    then you have the same theme in both, that being no place (no rent, flooded out) and having no other place to go for support. i think the last verse is a twist on Leadbelly’s ‘thousand women got no place to go’ and Smith’s ‘poor old woman got no place to go’ only it is focused on the singer as opposed to the woman/women.

    the lyrics books do not include the music…you do not mention asking anybody from ‘Chronicles’ where they got the arrangement…that could be a clue.

    i agree that it was a song to get loosened up, like when Dylan asked GE Smith and T-Bone Burnett ‘do you know ‘pretty peggy-o’…i bet it was ‘do you know Backwater Blues? Let’s do a song like that.’… but then, in the end it was too obviously derivative so it became history…but why was it good enough to put in the book? was it in every edition, i wonder. i moved recently and can’t locate my copy at the moment…it could be that, even though it is a knock-off, it was included in Lyrics with Levy’s name attached so that if it is used in the future, like Bootleg Series, Levy gets his cut. Each guy probably had a different literary manager, right? that would make sense…

    speaking of sense, that was my two cents.

  4. As the singer and leader of Chronicles I´d like to add this to the Money blues story.

    On the 30th of June 1975 Dylan jammed with Muddy Waters at the New York club Bottom Line. This was during the summer period when Dylan and Levy were writing songs together and trying them out live, unadvertised, at a club stage. And writing a blues in Muddy Waters´ style could well have been Bob´s idea altogether.

    Dylan tried twice to record it: 28th and 29th of July 1975. For some reason it didn´t work out. Maybe the chosen musicians were just not right the right people for his type of blues. This is probably the track when the drummer asked Dylan for directions how to end the song and he replied by moving on to the next song instead, so the drummer said in the interview that he thought he played it wrong and Dylan was put off by his playing.
    The track has not been released on any of the Bootleg Series probably due to being so incomplete or untogether that they can only put it in a volume similar to The Raw Basement Tapes thing. The only recordings I have found is of a group called Tiny Band (I have not heard anything else by them) and it is just an acoustic guitar or two and a very soft low voice singing. Then there is a radio program where supposedly Jacques Levy plays the song in a sort of barrelhouse-piano style if you like.

    The 2013 performance in the video is from an annual 4-hour gig we do at the world´s largest half-marathon race where some 45ooo people run towards and past us as we play. When this song was played it was the opening of our fourth one-hour set for the day. Actually, we did this gig again May 21st, but we did not do Money blues though. So, basically, it is a Chicago blues-ish inspiration that is behind my arrangement of this quite unknown Bob Dylan song.

  5. TonyAttwood says:

    Jonas, thank you so much for that. I am knocked out that you found this site, and that you took the trouble not just to reply but to reply in such detail. And to put me right on the issue of the video.

    I really am grateful to you for your comments.

  6. Jonas,
    thanks much for the detailed reply.
    like Tony said, ‘in such detail.’
    i enjoy your performance of the song and have to ask if any of the versions mentioned sounded like Backwater Blues?
    well done on the video.

    Tony…great topics!

  7. Michael Fischer says:

    The apparently unreleased album…Holy Land…circa 1973…I never hear mention of it. I have an article somewhere from an Australian music magazine detailing a special preview of it. If I find the clipping, from a defunct magazine called Digger, I will get it to you. It was around the time of Pat Garrett. do you know anything?

  8. TonyAttwood says:

    Michael there are two issues here that combine.

    On the one hand there is “Land of the Free Home of the Brave” which was an album worked on by Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. It was released in 1969 by Nashville Records. It was a limited collectors edition and currently sells for around $300

    HOLY LAND was rumoured album title mentioned by Paul Cable in his book “Bob Dylan – His Unreleased Recordings” It is reported that this story appeared in the Australian magazine “Digger” around 1973 – the reviewer claimed to have been to a preview of the album at which Bob was present. But it is generally considered a hoax.

    Heylin, who can be a bit of a pain at times, if generally very good at sniffing out such things, and his volume “Revolution in the air” makes no mention of either album – the former because it contains no original Dylan work and the latter because seemingly it doesn’t exist.

    If I hear anything else I will come back on this.

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