Bob Dylan sings The VD songs

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Towards the end of the famous Minnesota Tapes, which also includes the recently reviewed “Bonnie Why’d You Cut My Hair” you will find the four oddly titled tracks, “ VD Blues”, “ VD Waltz”, “ VD City” and “ VD Gunner Blues”.

Here’s Dylan’s version of the “VD Blues”. It is in fact a Woody Guthrie song…

Well, I heard folks tellin’ them VD blues ain’t bad,
Well, I heard folks tellin’ them VD blues ain’t bad,
These VD blues are the worst I ever had.

Well, I got disgusted to sail down on a spree,
Well, I got disgusted and I sailed down on a spree,
When I got back home, I had that old VD.
Well, I had bad dreams, I could not sleep in bed,
Well, I had bad dreams, I could not sleep in bed,
I was ashamed to say it’s the VD blues I had.
VD give me chills and give me the creepers, too,
VD give me the blues, it give me the creepers, too,
Well, my mind went blank and I didn’t know what to do.
Heard folks tellin’ these VD blues ain’t bad,
Yes, I heared folks tellin’ these VD blues ain’t bad,
But these VD blues are some of the worst I’ve ever had.

For a long time I thought Bob was just messing around and making them up as he went along. However, as you might expect Dylan’s knowledge of the Woody Guthrie back catalogue is much more extensive than mine ever could be.

Next is  “VD Waltz”, again by Woody Guthrie

All the birds are singin’ in the mornin’ trees,
But the birds are not singin’ for me.
My man did meet with a flirt on the street,
Gave him a case of VD.

I begged him to look up a doctor and go,
It broke out all over his skin.
But he rubbed hisself with some dark drugstore salve
And he said, “It’s not the VD.”

“I been in the Army, in the Merchant Marines,
My dear wife, long enough to know
That little red… little hot rashes that burn on my skin
Are not the VD, I’m sure.”

Guthrie wrote the tracks in 1949, after the Surgeon General announced (on 9 June) a national health drive to raise awareness to the public to the dangers of venereal disease. The call was for “jukebox hillybill songs about syphilis”.

It was estimated that at the time over 3 million Americans had syphilis, with over a million of those not being aware they had contracted it. But of course, the issue was not so much medical as one relating to society.  This was a time when sex was not discussed so although there was a cure – penicillin – the problem was getting people to admit they carried the disease in the first place.

Columbia University approached Alan Lomax to create musical radio programmes which might include contributions from popular musicians who could sing about VD and its symptoms in an open way and incorporate into the lyrics getting the disease treated.

Lomax suggested that Roy Acuff and Woody Guthrie be brought in to carry the message.  They also then co-opted Hank Williams, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Merle Travis.

Lomax also wrote a radio play produced in 1950 starring Woody Guthrie.  The advert proclaimed “The Lonesome Traveler starring Woody Guthrie as Rusty, the Traveler” who as a “wandering musician who helped tell others of the dangers of syphilis and how they can get help,” In all 20 radio shows were produced.

Woody Guthrie wrote nine VD songs.  Bob Dylan said, “I went out to the Gleason’s in New Jersey and stayed out there for a while in East Orange. They have a lot of Guthrie tapes — his VD songs. Learned a bunch of those, sung them to Woody.”

Bob and Sidsel Gleason were regular visitors of Woody Guthrie in hospital in 1959 where he was treated for Huntington’s disease, and who later took him to their home, where many folk music fans visited Guthrie.   Dylan, it is reported, lived at the Gleason’s house when he first moved to New York.  The tape is now in the Woody Guthrie Archive.

Here is another of Woody’s contributions to the campaign: his radio play “The Lonesome Traveller” which is a fascinating listen:

And here’s Dylan’s take on “VD City”

V.D. City Words by Woody Guthrie, Music by Will Johnson

Here’s the last in the quartet: “VD Gunner’s Blues” by Woody Guthrie

Landlady, hey, landlady,
Push your window high.
Landlady, hey, landlady,
Push up your window screen.
Well, I’ve come to kill that woman
That give me the old VD.

Quit your beatin’, stop your bangin’,
Quit kickin’ up around my door.
Quit your beatin’, stop your bangin’,
Quit kickin’ up around my door.
Well, that woman who give you the VD,
She don’t live here no more.

Landlady, landlady,
You’re tellin’ me a lie.
Landlady, landlady,
Tellin’ me a lie.
There’s a dose of hot lead
To stop your lyin’ tongue.

Blow your whistle, policeman,
My poor feet are bound to run.
Blow your whistle, policeman,
My poor feet are bound to run.
But I won’t stop my runnin’
‘Til I get that VD woman with my gun.

I can hear your bullets slingin’,
Sweet bullets from your deputy’s gun.
I can hear ’em slingin’ past me,
Sweet bullets from that deputy’s gun.
From this hole in my back,
I can feel my heart-blood run.

To bring things up to date the country supergroup The New Multitudes (including Jay Farrar (Uncle Tupelo/Son Volt) and Jim James (The New Basement Tapes)) got together to put new music to some Woody Guthrie lyrics (much like the New Basement Tapes Collection), and their album included a reworked version of “VD City”.

I guess the message today remains much the same…avoid unnecessary contact, wash your hands and most of all… STAY SAFE!!

What else is on the site?

We have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 3330 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 

You’ll find some notes about our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page of this site.  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 597 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.

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, or indeed have an idea for a series of articles that the regular writers might want to have a go at, please do drop a line with details of your idea, or if you prefer, a whole article to Tony@schools.co.uk

And please do note our friends at  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, plus links back to our reviews (which we do appreciate).

 

 

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2 Responses to Bob Dylan sings The VD songs

  1. Larry fyffe says:

    These VD songs were put out in 1972 on the TMQ bootleg “Bind Boy Grunt”.

  2. jastour 2010 says:

    I didn´t nothing about The VD songs nor the reason why they arose. Thank you for great uploads.

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