By Tony Attwood
“You can fool some of the people some of the time” seems a good place to start with unravelling the links between “Steel and Feathers”, “Don’t ever take yourself away”, and “Romance in Durango”.
All are listed as written by Dylan or partially written by Dylan, and all contain similar features. In fact “Steel and Feathers” and “Don’t ever take yourself away” contain such similar features that you could easily consider them to be the same song.
And we should note that neither “Steel and Feathers” nor “Don’t ever take yourself away” is listed on BobDylan.com as a Bob Dylan song. Which given the way Bob and his company like to protect his copyright, is odd.
And to return to my opening, the reason that I have quoted “You can fool” is not just because I was fooled into thinking that “Steel” and “Don’t ever” were different songs (the old memory not being all that it was), when I reviewed “Don’t ever” for the first time in 2016, I was more alert and spotted the link back to “Romance in Durango”. So the old brain wasn’t completely dead at that point.
Unfortunately, the recording of “Don’t ever” which made me realise that there were elements of “Durango” in the song, is no longer freely available on the internet (Amazon has it for a price, but I’m not a subscriber, and the Spotify version has been taken down), so I can’t go back and prove to you from recordings the similarities that are there, but I’m convinced even if no one else is.
So, putting the story together…
Dylan co-wrote “Romance in Durango” with Jacques Levy in 1975 (it was the song that came immediately before “Sara”).
He then wrote “Don’t ever” in 1981 – it appeared on the “Genuine Bootleg” CD. I suspect it was abandoned because it re-uses part of the music from Durango (although in a new style and at a different speed). So leaving it, but letting a TV series have it was not that surprising if the producers of the series sent in a request to Dylan’s publishing company is not surprising. No one else had used it, it was just sitting on the file, the TV company acknowledged Dylan’s copyright, so why not make a few bucks more?
But then if that were the case, how on earth did “Steel And Feathers (Don’t Ever)” get given to Nikki Jean? The obvious answer is that the request for an unfinished song from Nikki Jean was given to Dylan, he said yes, and forgetting that the song had been given to the TV series it went on. Dylan obviously considered the version he’d recorded as unfinished, so he put it out for completion. (Or maybe he just said to his assistant, “Send this lady something will you?” and the assistant did).
Anyway, one way or another Nikki Jean undertook a project in which she contacted several very famous songwriters and asked to collaborate with them for her 2011 album “Pennies In A Jar”. The whole story is in the article reviewing the song. Dylan sent over “Don’t Ever”.
So I suspect that as far as Dylan and his office were concerned, it was an incomplete song. It had not been finished for a Dylan album, it is not (as I mentioned above) on the official BobDylan.com site, and if no one in the Dylan household or band was watching the Hawaii Five-O TV series in 2011 then they wouldn’t have known it had been used. Hopefully CBS knew what they were doing, and paid Bob’s company some copyright money, (CBS being the firm that made the TV series) but when you’ve got money arriving into the bank each month from several hundred songs, who’s counting?
So my guess is that Bob, or his office, didn’t know about Hawaii Five-O or had forgotten about it and that was that. Nikki Jean had a song from the most famous living songwriter in the world, and she was hardly going to sit there and say “Didn’t this turn up on Hawaii Five O?” any more than I am (having never watched the series). (But then Bob’s never sent me a song to finish off either).
But it is interesting that the official BobDylan site doesn’t have either song listed. If I had their phone number, I’d give them a call. Just to let them know. But I don’t. I don’t even have their email address.
Heylin has “Don’t ever take yourself away” listed and notes it as being recorded in two takes on 23 April 1981, with it being copyrighted in 1982.
So there we are. My thanks to the excellent ears of our readers Dlanor, Bernard Zalon, Theo de Ruigh, and Jack for alerting me to the double use of the song. And just to clarify… the story told in the original article about Nikki Jean is the story as she and her record company have told it – not something I have concocted. I’m just reporting what I read.
But that’s the great benefit of the doing this work on a blog; my errors can be picked up and corrected, and then I have a chance to pull comments together and try and set the record straight.
Thank you to everyone who took part in resolving this. Your work means I think we have now published the full story, which I am not sure anyone has done before.
- Romance in Durango – a brilliant end to a singular period
- Don’t ever take yourself away – Dylan looks back to Durango but loses the flavour
- Steel and feathers
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 3300 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