Why does Bob Dylan like “Hank Williams as Luke the Drifter”

By Tony Attwood

In Chronicles: Volume One, Bob Dylan wrote, “The Luke the Drifter record, I just about wore out. That’s the one where he sings and recites parables, like the Beatitudes. I could listen to the Luke the Drifter record all day and drift away myself, become totally convinced in the goodness of man.”

“He” in this case is Hank Williams.

Now I am sure some people have investigated this statement by Bob and considered it in detail; but somehow I just haven’t been able to find their musings.  And that is a shame because on this occasion (and not for the first time) I am bemused.

I suspect that this is simply because my background doesn’t lead me to this type of music and recitation – it is a cultural thing rather than anything to do with the quality of the music.

But I have a problem here because I don’t know of other references from Dylan to this album, or if he at any time specified some aspect of the album that influenced him – but I am going to assume for the moment that Bob meant it seriously and he really loved the album.  However the album sure is a strange affair.

It is an album of country versions of the talking blues style – there’s country music in the background and on most tracks the singer just talks in time to the music.

According to the reports I’ve seen, there was a problem with the record however in that Hank Williams was very famous and all his records sold well – but if he suddenly turned up with something that was mostly not sung, a lot of people would buy the record just because it was Hank Williams and then be rather fed up.  Including apparently the companies that had thousands of juke boxes in bars and clubs around the country, who would order Hank Williams records in bulk each time one came out.

So the recording was called “Hank Williams as Luke the Drifter”.  In a documentary on the recording, Hank Williams grandson is quoted as saying, “While Hank was at the peak of his career, he had another side to him that he wanted to get out, and that side was called Luke the Drifter…. That’s a dark side, man.”

Wikipediea states the country music historian Colin Escott said, “If Hank could be headstrong and willful, a backslider and a reprobate, then Luke the Drifter was compassionate and moralistic, capable of dispensing all the wisdom that Hank Williams ignored.”

The album also included a political song “No, No, Joe”, and much lighter tracks such as “Just waiting” and “I’ve been down that road before.”  Here’s “I’ve been down that road before.”

The most famous tracks from the recordings are  “Ramblin’ Man,” “Pictures from Life’s Other Side,” and “Men with Broken Hearts.”  Here are recordings of these songs…

Ramblin Man

“Pictures from Life’s Other Side” is one that was particularly well known at this time.  It had been recorded by Woodie Guthrie and just to give a break from Luke the Drifter, here is Woody’s version…   I have put the lyrics at the end of this article.

Men with broken hearts

From here on are some more of the tracks from the ablum that Bob says influenced him so much in those early days.  It’s not the whole set, but I must admit I found this collection quite hard to take, so in the end I stopped listening.

Help me understand

Too many parties and too many pals

Please make up your mind

Be careful of the stones that you throw

And the lyrics to Life’s other side…

In the world’s mighty gallery of pictures
There are scenes that are painted from life
Scenes of youth and of beauty
Scenes of hardship and strife

Scenes of wealth and of plenty
Old age and the blushing young bride
Hang on the wall but the saddest of all
Is a pictures from life’s other side

A picture from life’s other side
Someone has fell by the way
And a life has gone out with the tide
That might have been happy someday

Some poor mother at home
Is watching and a-waiting alone
Longing to hear from her loved one, so dear
That’s a picture from life’s other side

Now the first scene is one of two brothers
Their paths them both differently led
One lived in luxury and riches
And the other one begged for his bread

One night they met on the highway
“Your money or life, sir”, one cried
And then with his knife took his own brother’s life
That’s a picture from life’s other side

The next scene is that of a gambler
Who had lost all his money at play
An’ he draws his dead mother’s ring from his finger
That she wore long ago on her wedding day

It’s his last earthly treasure but he stakes it
Then he bows his head that his shame he may hide
But, when they lifted his head they found he was dead
That’s a picture from life’s other side

A picture from life’s other side
Someone has fell by the way
And a life has gone out with the tide
That might have been happy someday

Some poor mother at home
Is watching and a-waiting alone
Longing to hear from her loved one, so dear
That’s a picture from life’s other side

Now the last scene is down by the river
Of a heart broken mother and babe
In the harbor light glare see them shiver
Outcasts that no one will save

Once she was once a true woman
Somebody’s darlin’ and pride
God help her, she leaps for there’s no one to weep
That’s a picture from life’s other side

A picture from life’s other side
Someone has fell by the way
And a life has gone out with the tide
That might have been happy someday

Some poor mother at home
Is watching and a-waiting alone
Longing to hear from her loved one, so dear
That’s a picture from life’s other side

What else is here?

An index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

There is an alphabetic index to the 550+ Dylan compositions reviewed on the site which you will find it here.  There are also 500+ other articles on different issues relating to Dylan.  The other subject areas are also shown at the top under the picture.

We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook which mostly relates to Bob Dylan today.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.

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9 Responses to Why does Bob Dylan like “Hank Williams as Luke the Drifter”

  1. Robert Ford says:

    It may have been interesting and informative to know what was “hard to take” about these songs. I understand that the ‘Why does Bob Dylan like’ series is tongue in cheek and does not really try to tell us why Bob Dylan likes something. As with most of the writings on this blog the articles usually tells us more about the contributor than Bob Dylan ( the wonderful ‘Master Harpist’ series is an exception ). I think it is a shame to suggest cultural differences for not enjoying the music. I love these performances and thank Tony for bringing them to my attention. I would have probably enjoyed this piece even more if I had some idea what one dislikes such as the vocals, music, language, subject matter, etc. Thanks.

  2. Larry fyffe says:

    Including myself, Hank Williams, like Patsy Kline, is an icon for many consumers of music in the US and Canada…in England, I do not know…but cultural and generational factors do have an effect ….
    For instance, try and try as I might, I don’t ‘get’ most of today’s “rap” music .

    Having listened to Williams for so many years (like Dylan himself I imagine), it’s obvious to me that many of Dylan’s songs are awash in Hank Williams’ style, sentiments, and content.

  3. Larry fyffe says:

    I believe Slim Whitman’s popular, or at least was, in England, but he’s not my cup of tea…so it’s difficult to expect ‘one size to fit all’, is it not??

    Far be it from me to criticize people who like music that I may not be all that thrilled about – to each his own, I say!

    Lots of people like certain types of music, but they that don’t seem to be able to express why they do…. they just do.

  4. Larry fyffe says:

    Sorry..,,Omit ‘that’ in the last sentence above

  5. Larry fyffe says:

    * Patsy Cline

  6. Larry fyffe says:

    And of course the excellent series on Master Harpist does not get into the entanglement of how words are used and what they mean -ie, ambiguity, irony, humour, intonation, seriousness, allusion, symbolism, and so on and so forth. Though one has to know about the ways the harp can be played, music’s really a different kettle of fish, is it not?

    Interpretation is often left quite wide open so as to involve the listener or the reader thereof, but the text has to be taken seriously into consideration and an interpreter can not go anywhere he wants to on a whim in complete disregard for the way language is used in the text.

    Just saying one does not agree with an interpretation or that the interpreter is over-riding the text is not really saying anything without counter evidence being put forth.

  7. Robin Singleton says:

    If you see your neighbour carrying something
    Help him with his load
    And don’t go mistaking paradise
    For that home across the road.

    Followed by The Drifter’s Escape

  8. Stephen Saunders says:

    Robin Singleton,

    I think you may have just found a terrific connection between Bob and Hank, with the former giving tribute to the latter. The song’s title along with the identical syntax work together to make the connection beautifully!

    Good one!

  9. Hans says:

    Robert Z was 13 years old when the record came out
    Good drama for the kid in a town where nothing happened

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