“Howlin at your window” – we’ve found one of Bob Dylan’s most obscure songs

By Tony Attwood

When I first looked at the list of songs Dylan wrote in 1985 I was, I must admit, rather bemused.

You can see that at either end of the list are the songs he used for Empire Burlesque, with one Knocked Out Loaded song at the start of the year.

But what was going on in the middle of the year?  Well in part it turns out Dylan was sketching out a couple of songs he couldn’t finish off (“Well, well, well” and “Howlin at your window” and then writing a couple of songs with Gerry Goffin, before turning his attention back to Empire Burlseque.

Until I started my journey through Dylan’s 1985 I have to say I utterly no idea what I would find in the middle of the year.  And I am fairly certain if it hadn’t been for the blog I wouldn’t have a) realised that Dylan co-write “Well well well” (which I’ve owned on CD for years without realising it was a Dylan song) nor that he followed that up in 1985 with the outline of another little gem, “Howlin at your window” and a real bit of fun in Waiting to get Beat.

For both “Well well well” and “Howlin” Bob used the same trick – he dug out the old recordings of songs that had been laid down but never developed in 1985 at the Church studio in London, and then much later, and out of the blue, he approached a singer/songwriter whose work he liked and said, “here’s a song would you like to finish it off for me?”   In both cases Dylan had written only the music when he handed it over.

Heylin suggests that Dylan gave this song to Jude Johnstone in 1993 while Dylan was in Austin Texas filming a TV special for Willie Nelson’s sixtieth birthday.  There’s no confirmation that this is how it happened but it is as good a guess as any.

Jude Johnstone wrote the Grammy Award-winning song “Unchained” for Johnny Cash, as well as “Cry Wolf” for Stevie Nicks.  She also worked with T Bone Burnett and Leonard Cohen, singing on their albums, and with the E Street Band.

Ms Johnstone chose not to include her co-creation with Dylan on her subsequent albums, and I can’t find any explanation as to why this happened, but fortunately for those of us interested in such matters Tim Hockenberry has recorded it for his album “Back In Your Arms” so now we know what it sounds like – and it most certainly is worth a listen or two.  You can find the song here

Talking about her work with such luminaries of the rock business Ms Johnstone said in one interview that she met Clarence Clemons, the E Street Band’s sax player on an airplane when she was 18 years old, and he was taken by her songs even though these early pieces “were not quite as well-written. But there was something going on that he heard, and he just plucked me out of Bar Harbor, Maine and I never went back.”

Her songs have since also been recorded by Bette Midler, Johnny Cash, Jennifer Warnes, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, and Trisha Yearwood, who recorded “The Woman Before Me.”

So another Dylan oddity. I hope you enjoy it, and if you are following the sequence, enjoying the trip of discovery through 1985.

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