Dylans lost album Track 3: “Willie and the hand jive”

by Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood 

Just recently we’ve been engaged in a project listening back to some of the outtakes from the 1986 and 1987 sessions that produced the majority of Bob Dylan’s “Down In The Groove” album, as well as some of the live shows from the era.

And between us we reached the conclusion that, as many people said at the time, the album is, to be fair, not very good. Robert Christgau called the album a “horrendous product”.

So we decided to see if we could compile a better album ourselves from the outtakes and live shows from the period. Just in case the guys upstairs fancy issuing a new version when they run out of materials for the Bootleg series.  (An acknowledgement to our efforts would be welcome, if they do, but if not, well, that’s ok).

The song we have chosen for track 3 of “Sheep In Wolves’ Clothing” is Bob’s take of “Willie And The Hand Jive”.

One of the big complaints about “Down In The Groove” is the absence of a theme, the songs just don’t sound like they go together.  The other complaint about “Down In The Groove” is the lack of consistency with musicians between one track and the next one.  As a result it just sounds like a load of tracks thrown together without much care.  Which maybe it was.

But with the addition of “Willie…” to our album we try to correct both these criticisms.

First, Willie continues the dance theme laid down with the album opener “Twist & Shout”. Also, the first three songs we selected for the album, “Twist and Shout”, “Just When I Needed You Most” and this one, were all recorded on the same day, April 3rd 1987, one after the other with the same musicians.  So that gives another feeling of consistency.

So here we go…:

The song was written by Johnny Otis who had a big hit with it in 1958.  And the fact that it was Johnny Otis who wrote the song, gives us another reason for including it, because Bob Dylan would most certainly recognise the huge contribution to popular music of Johnny Otis.

Johnny Otis (actually born Ioannis Alexandres Veliotes) was one of the key founders of, and forces behind, the music revolution of the 20th century.  In fact he was a one-man revolution in his own right, rather as Bob Dylan has been, although through different means.

He was a singer, instrumentalist, composer, arranger, bandleader, talent scout, DJ, producer, TV show host, visual artist, author, journalist, minister of religion, and impresario. Indeed he was at the very heart of both the rhythm and blues and rock and roll revolutions.

And it is quite possible that the idea of Bob Dylan doing a series of radio programmes to play the music he discovered (Theme Time Radio Hour) could well have come from Johnny Otis’ work.  Without him there would have been no “Reet Petite” or  “Yaketee Yak.”

But beyond all that, it is the list of musicians that Otis introduced to the American public that is central to his fame during his life, and the reason that we remember him so vividly today.  Jackie Wilson, The Coasters, Hank Ballard, Etta James… and many many more, all came to fame via Johnny Otis.  So if nothing else, Bob Dylan probably recorded this song as a tribute to a man whose work had so much influence on the course of 20th century popular music.

As for Willie and the Hand Jive itself, probably the most famous subsequent version was that by Eric Clapton who included it on his 461 Ocean Boulevard album as well as a single…

More recently Levon Helm included it on his self-titled 1982 album.

So, clearly it’s a song Dylan would know well, both from the hit versions and those  performed by friends such as Clapton, Helm and the Grateful Dead, who had the song in their setlist in 1986-1987.

Dylan’s version sticks closely to the original template (only Clapton really takes it somewhere else by slowing down the tempo), and that’s probably for the best with a song like this, where the principal purpose is to reflect the power of the music to encourage movement.

As for those lyrics, they reflect the issue of the time, that when rock n roll movies were shown in cinemas, the audience wanted to get up and dance, thus causing major confrontations between the paying public and the cinema owners.

In response to the crowded conditions in cinemas, coffee bars and elsewhere, various groups of teenagers started to dance just with their hands.  Ken Russel is said to have filmed recorded a group of teenagers hand jiving in the basement of “The Cat’s Whisker” – a small coffee bar in London, and then set about popularising the idea.  Subsequently, TV audiences at recordings of shows featuring rock musicians miming to their records were encouraged to hand jive, thus adding to its popularity.

Here are the lyrics…

I know a cat named Way-Out Willie
Had a cool little chick named Rockin’ Billie
Made a heart of stone Susie-Q, doin’ that crazy hand jive too
Papa said “You will ruin my house.
You and that hand jive have got to go”
Willie said “Papa, don’t you put me down,
Been doin’ that hand jive all over town.”
Hand jive, hand jive, hand jive, doin’ that crazy hand jive

I don’t want you to get on the floor
Gettin’ low, getting down with sister go
Come on, get baby, little sister’ll die
Said doin’ that hand jive one more time
Hand jive, hand jive, hand jive, doin’ that crazy hand jive

Doctor getting low and he getting check
Now they’re all digging that crazy beat
Way-Out Willie gave ’em all a treat
Been doin’ that hand jive with his feet
Hand jive, hand jive, hand jive, doin’ that crazy hand jive

Willi and Billie got married last fall
Had to live with his sisters and that ain’t all
Daddy got famous it’s plain to see
Been doin’ that hand jive on his knees
Hand jive, hand jive, hand jive, doin’ that crazy hand jive

Of course we can’t be 100% sure of what Dylan’s thinking was in trying out this song, and it does seem an unlikely song for him to take, but it does make sense that he was looking originally to pay tribute to the artists who have come before him, as he has done ever since.

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 the 603 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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