Why does Dylan like “Freedom for the Stallion”?


By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood


Allen Toussaint, who wrote Freedom for the Stallion, was born in 1938 and died in 2015.  He was a songwriter, musician, arranger and record producer, and a major figure in New Orleans rhythm and blues music.  He was also recognised for his contribution to music through the award of the National Medal of Arts.

Bob Dylan was far from the only major musician to record one of Toussaint’s songs – and depending on your age, background and tastes, you will surely have heard at least one of his compositions such as “Working in a coal mine”, “Mother-in-law”, “I like it like that,” “Whipped Cream”, “Java”, “Fortune Teller”, “Ride Your Pony”, “Get Out of My Life, Woman”, “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky”, “Southern Nights”…. there are many more.

And he was a producer of a vast number of records, including “Right Place, Wrong Time”.

If that were not enough for one life, Toussaint was also an arranger including arranging the horns for Paul McCartney and Wings’  “Venus and Mars” album, as well as for The Band’s “Cahoots” album…

Going on further still he also worked on the Rock Of Ages tour and resultant live album and also The Last Waltz… all of which suggests that Bob Dylan would have had every chance to get to know him and his work well.

Bob Dylan recorded his version of Freedom for the Stallion in June 1985 during the Empire Burlesque sessions, although there is nothing to say it was ever seriously considered for inclusion.

Toussaint in Stockholm, 2009

Allen Toussaint’s home, recording studio and his possessions were lost during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 after which he moved to New York and some years later played at Joe’s Pub in New York, before returning to New Orleans.

In 2006 he made The River in Reverse, an album with Elvis Costello, the recording being the first major work recorded in New Orleans after the hurricane.   The following year he performed “I want to walk you home” as a duet with Paul McCartney for the Tribute to Fats Domino album.  From there on he performed alongside many top musicians although as he said, “I never thought of myself as a performer…. My comfort zone is behind the scenes.”

Here are the lyrics…

Freedom for the stallion
Freedom for the mare and her colt
Freedom for the baby child
Who has not grown old enough to vote
Lord, have mercy, what you gonna do about the people who are praying to you?
They got men making laws that destroy other men
They’ve made money God
It’s a doggone sin
Oh, Lord, you got to help us find the way

Big ship’s a-sailing, slaves all chained and bound
Heading for a brand new land that some cat said he upped and found
Lord, have mercy, what you gonna do about the people who are praying to you?
They got men making laws that destroy other men
They’ve made money God
It’s a doggone sin
Oh, Lord, you got to help us find the way

In 2012 Allen Toussaint was given the National Medal of Arts during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.

And so to answer our opening question, in recording the song Bob was looking to recognise and honour one of the great men of American music, and perhaps looking for one of Toussaint’s slightly lesser known songs.

And as to why this song, we might suggest the lines

Lord, have mercy, what you gonna do about the people who are praying to you?
They got men making laws that destroy other men
They’ve made money God
It’s a doggone sin
Oh, Lord, you got to help us find the way

probably contain the reason.  It is, after all, powerful stuff.

But musically it is not typical Dylan, and it may be that after the recording he simply felt he was not doing the song justice.  But it does contain the sort of message that Bob liked.

In 1985 when Dylan’s recording was made he himself wrote

These are very different songs from Freedom for the Stallion, and clearly Bob was looking for other routes to take.  Indeed our complete index of songs written in that year shows no less than 27 songs, but nothing that seems to be looking in the same direction as this song.  It clearly appealed to Bob, and clearly Allen Toussaint is a man Bob would know and like, but I suspect in the end taking on this song was a step too far.

A third verse of the song is reported in some quarters, and we have not worked through each and every recording of the song to see who used it.  Dylan did not, but here it is

Some sing a sad song
Some got to moan the blues
Trying to make the best of a home
That the man didn’t even get to choose
Lord, have mercy, how you gonna be with people like John and me
They’ve got men building fences to keep other men out
Ignore him if he whispers and kill him if he shouts
Oh, Lord, you got to help us find the way
Oh, Lord, you got to help them find the way
Oh, Lord, you got to help us find the way

What else is on the site?

We have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 3600 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 601 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).


  1. Thanks so much for this article and videos!
    It was pretty much all new information to me I had no knowledge of Allen Toussaint or his major contributions so I am so grateful now! I absolutely love Freedom for the Stallion; also new to me. I have tried for many years to support efforts to save the wild bands of horses in North America! It is a tragic tale of greed and a blemish on the country that I live in! As they round them up and send them to slaughterhouses or even worse take them in undersized crates to noisy air fields and send them live to China to be slaughtered because China wants the meat fresh! It is so horrible and despite those who protest it in letters and such the government will not budge. I have a deep affinity with horses and have had much experience with these amazing creatures that have served mankind for centuries so this is pretty upsetting for me. But I digress again sorry. Obviously FFTS is an amazing song and Dylan’s verse may seem incongruous with the spirit of the original as it’s voice is less and appeal and more of a protest to my mind. But really in all fairness I don’t know much here this being my first impression and having not heard Dylan’s delivery of it. I guess it comes down to the fact that in certain circumstances Bob’s lyrics might be a good fit.

    Wow I again missed the question this article poses! Apologies for that; I sincerely hope I can get better at this but it always comes down to my flying fingers and striking quickly or not at all! Its a problem but its all I got for now. I have a busy life not enough time in any day so I don’t sleep much. So off the cuff I think Dylan probably was drawn to the fact that it was addressing difficult and entrenched issues of the injustice and greed of our world that exploits the vulnerability of others. It is not a stretch in my mind that the music drew him in as well because it is sweet and beautiful as it discloses and much more sad conditions in our world.

    For what it’s worth I really enjoyed this article and found it informative, with things for me to ponder! I am sorry I could not have given it more consideration before responding and that I could not render its core points with less verbosity. I have recently decided to give everything my best shot even if it is not perfect or more thought out because its either something or nothing with me. I love and glean from all the articles on this website even if I do not respond. I have also recently decided that I can just put it out there; remembering that someone might draw me into deeper discussion as Larry often does, or that it can just be what it is. You see I am all about everyone having the right to choose including myself. If there are those who do not like what I say then they have the choice to tell me or just ignore it! I think I prefer people ignoring me over being misunderstood anyway.
    That’s all I got.

    For anyone reading this I wish you a beautiful day!

  2. Okay now I missed Bob doing the song which I can’t believe it was right up top! I just boggle my own mind you know! I know I am not crazy but I sure need to slow down a bit! Ya think? lol I am so sorry! This is a cool video!

    Is it merely freedom that we really need when we all have choice? Or is it is liberation from ourselves? A regeneration of spirit that can only happen when we are ….. yes I’m going to say it….. born again of the spirit! Why? Because then you have all access to the throne of G-d and His mercy! You also become empowered by the Holy Spirit to be able to Live, Move, and have your being in Him. No longer slaves but friends. Signed, sealed and delivered. Fleshly prayers put blame on G-d and try and tell Him what to do. But true prayer as aided by G-d’s own Spirit and prayers become more agreement with Him rather than relying on our limited view and understanding. So a Spirit led prayer is different such as: Lord give me what You know I need and let me enter Your plan and change me so that I can in turn change whatever you want me to and go wherever You want me to go! After Bob is regenerated he no longer prays like he does in this song! In fact he says in ‘When you gonna wake up’: ” Do you ever wonder just what G-d requires? You think He’s just an errand boy to satisfy your wandering desires” So for my take I think freedom must start inside and then translate to the way we live to a higher purpose that seeks liberty for all beings and all life!

  3. Sorry I do not not want access to the throne of a God that allows terrible wars to happen and barbaric slavery to exist , but rather One that listens to those who plead “you got to help us” .

    God has to hold up His end of the bargain too rather than simply having people blame themselves for such problems; it is He who has to be ‘born again’.

    The Christian Bible even says that.

    He’s taking His time doing that, don’t you think?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *