Talking Hugh Brown: We’ve got another Dylan original composition

By Tony Attwood

Well, you don’t get a Dylan song that for one reason or another we’ve never listed on this site, for months and months, and then suddenly a couple turn up within a week or two of each other.

Of course that is no one’s fault but mine; I’m supposed to have the job of tracking the remaining few compositions down.  Aaron is currently cursing himself for having (like me) missed “Talking Hugh Brown” but it is really my fault.  It turned up on the 1960 Minnesota Party Tape.

So apologies from me, and now the excuses.

What is misleading is that in some places the running order of the songs on the tape recording of Bob at a little gathering is shown as

1. Red Rosey Bush (trad.) 00:00
2. Johnny I Hardly Knew You (trad.) 03:22
3. Jesus Christ (Woody Guthrie) 07:45
4. Streets Of Glory (trad.) 10:33
5. K.C. Moan (1927 Memphis Jug Band) 11:20
6. Blues Yodel No. 8 (Jimmie Rodgers – G. Vaughan) 13:53
7. I’m A Gambler (trad.) 14:49
8. Talking Columbia (Woody Guthrie) 16:55
9. Talking Merchant Marine (Woody Guthrie) 17:33
10. Talking Hugh Brown 19:58
11. Talking Inflation (Tom Glazer) 21:27
12. Come See Jerusalem (trad.) – Missing
13. San Francisco Bay Blues (Jesse Fuller) – Missing

So as you can see Talking Hugh Brown comes in just on 20 minutes as song number 10.  Except it doesn’t.  At least not on the copy I’ve got.   But, ears wide open (as Aaron’s are and mine aren’t) it is there at four minutes.

In other words, if you see a copy of the listing above, check that it relates to the recording you are listening to.

But now, if you want to give it a whirl try this link for Hugh Brown at, as we say, the 4 minute mark

 Here’s the lyrics kindly supplied by Bob Dylan Roots

I knew a boy named Hugh Brown
He’s the laziest man in town
Got up this morning and combed his hair
He’s so lazy, he just don’t go anywhere
He just kinda opens his door and walks out
And looks around and walks away

Well, he sprained his arm combing his hair
I don’t think that’s quite really fair
He lays in bed all the time
I don’t think that’s very right
He’s such a lazy bastard

You know, it was raining the other day,
I mean the other night
And Hugh Brown said
And Hugh Brown, (he’s) so lazy that
He said to me, “Bob, it’s raining on my bed”
And I says “Oh”, and he says “Yeah”, and I says “Oh”
Hugh Brown never closed the window

Oh, that’s the end.

Heylin has the song listed as the 10th composition in “Revolution in the air” and notes it as being “performed by Dylan in the fall of 1960, Minneapolis.”  He notes it as being entirely improvised, and thus along with “Bonnie why’d you cut my hair?” has the songs down as “early markers of that rare ability Dylan has frequently displayed in the studio and onstage of composing “on the spot”.”

But I don’t go for that.  The technique of improvising lyrics on the spot is not utterly easy to master, but it is not restricted to a golden few.  Indeed in contemporary society where improvised comedy (or “improv” as it is known, as least in Britain) has become a very big thing, improvising a comic song is a common part of the routine.  Indeed, in my own very amateur way I have done this with one or two ensembles in England, and some of the professionals with whom I have worked can knock out these pieces easily, on the spot.

If you listen to this recording

you’ll probably recognise it as the standard tune used for these comic affairs.  And if you go to the link below you can see how it pans out – and yes it is all improvised on the spot…

The point is that yes, it takes skill, practice and nerve (in front of an audience) but it is not a mark of genius.  Not everyone can improvise, and few can improvise well, but Heylin is strolling way out of his knowledge zone at this point in seeing Dylan’s early talking blues above as an indicator of some deep-rooted genius yet to express itself.

What else is on the site

You’ll find some notes about 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.

The index to all the 596 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 2000 active members.  (Try imagining a place where it is always safe and warm).  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

If you are interested in Dylan’s work from a particular year or era, your best place to start is Bob Dylan year by year.

On the other hand if you would like to write for this website, please do drop me a line with details of your idea, or if you prefer, a whole article.  Email Tony@schools.co.uk

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, links back to our reviews

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3 Responses to Talking Hugh Brown: We’ve got another Dylan original composition

  1. Canute says:

    I have the three set Minnesota Tapes CD from way back and I do not rccognise some of the songs you list above….maybe you’ve go a different version to mine and haven’t shared with anyone. Maybe.

  2. The listing of songs corresponds exactly to the songs no 16 to 26 on volume 1 (called Ten Million In a Week) on the 4-CD bootleg I WAS SO MUCH YOUNGER THEN (Dandelion records, Europe 2000 — https://danielmartin.pagesperso-orange.fr/Dylan/html/boots/6/676IWasSoMuchYounger.html ) or is BobBoots #i-05 .
    I haven’t really checked the durations of each number, but most are rather complete and the lyrics can be found from this very same web page.

  3. Canute says:

    Thanks Daniel for the information …. The songs as you say correspond with the 4CD set and first disc of I Was So Much Younger Then. Not on the Minnesota Tape 3CD set.

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