Why does Dylan like “Somebody touched me”?

By Tony Attwood

The first thing to note is that the song that Dylan played 30 times in concerts between 1999 and 2002 was one of two songs called “Somebody touched me”.  The one Bob got attached to was written by John Reedy, and it is the original version of a song that has turned up in the repetorie of many singers.

The alternative song is also religious piece but is completely different and need not concern us here. I mention it because it can be easier to find the alternative – the one that was written by the Stanley Brothers.

So going back to the original here it is…

 

John Reedy performed with his sister Frances Reedy, and included the song “Somebody Touched Me” in their performances from the early days.   It was often noted as “traditional” by way of composer, but there seems a general agreement that it was actually a Reedy composition.   Citations of the song prior to Reedy are uncommon, and I am not sure they are valid – I’m staying with Reedy as the composer.

Once they started to make an impact the Reedy’s formed the Stone Mountain Hillbillys, with Glenn and Julian Ramey and recorded “Somebody Touched Me” in the late 1940s although I am not able to give an exact date.

The band played for many years on Kentucky radio stations before starting to perform alongside Chet Atkins and also with the Stanley Brothers, adding gospel music to their country songs.

And along the way lots of other people recorded the piece.   Indeed on one web site I found the comment that the Boxcar Willie version of the song was the worst ever.   I expected something truly awful, but really, is this so bad?

Anyway this is the song that Bob Dylan adopted for three years as an opener…

I can’t imagine you need any help with the lyrics but just in case…

 

But this was not a case of Bob digging into the history of this type of music as the popularity of the song was continued by The Stanley Brothers who continuing playing it until the mid 1960s.  This version is from 1961.

One of the noted performances by Bob came on 17 July 1999 at the Blockbuster -Sony Entertainment Centre, Camden NJ.  Unfortunately the recording quality is not the best but I’m including it because it does get mentioned so often on web sites.

Thereafter the song was officially released as the opening track on the Japan only cd Live 1961-2000: Thirty-Nine Years of Great Concert Performances.

So why does Bob like this song so much?  Well it’s lively, it’s simple, it’s religious in a celebratory sort of way, and it sort of bounces along in an unpretenious way.  Rolling Stone it ain’t but it is fun.  And above all else it makes for a good opener.

If you think about it, the guys in the band have to come on stage and without any warming up, have to hit the ground with something that is going to get the audience bouncing, and which for them is dead easy to play.   And yes, dead easy to play is important because they are coming in cold.  So in that regard it works.

Here is a list of some of the other songs we’ve included in this series of Why does Dylan like…

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3 Responses to Why does Dylan like “Somebody touched me”?

  1. Aaron G says:

    I wonder if it was this sort of thing that Dylan was grasping for with See By Faith? Simple one line per verse religious feeling… if so, he missed by miles!

    Somebody Touched Me just works…even for a non believer! See By Faith pales in comparison

  2. Thanks for your post about Bob Dylan and “Somebody Touched Me.” Thanks especially for acknowledging John Reedy, who was my partner’s grandfather, as the song’s composer. We have a multimedia documentary project about John and Frances Reedy’s music (https://remembereedy.blogspot.com/) that may be of interest, which includes several posts related to this song. A couple points of correction/clarification: Frances was John’s wife, not his sister as erroneously noted in the “Early Days of Bluegrass, Vol. 1” liner notes; and according to our records, they first recorded the song on a 78 RPM on Twin City Records in Bristol in either 1949.

  3. TonyAttwood says:

    Tammy it is really good to hear from you, and to note your clarification. Thank you. I’m really delighted to know that a member of the extended family has found our piece. And also that seemingly I only got one thing wrong! That is something of a record for me!!!

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