Tioga Pass: another lost song. Can you write the music?

By Tony Attwood

Tioga Pass is a song that was seemingly recorded at Sunset Sound Studios in Hollywood, on 16 June 1987 and according to the only note we have concerning the song, it was written by Robert Hunter and Bob Dylan.

The recording list for the session reads…

1. You Can't Judge A Book By Looking At The Cover
2. Tioga Pass
3. Ugliest Girl In The World
4. Making Believe
5. Rank Strangers To Me
6. Silvio

The musicians involved in the session were Mike Baird (drums), Nathan East (bass), Bob Dylan, with Madelyn Quebec and Carol Dennis (backup vocals).   Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir & Brent Mydland also provided additional vocals.

Tracks 3, 5 and 6 were subsequently released on “Down in the Groove” but we have nothing online to show that Tioga Pass was actually recorded – or at least not actually recorded and kept.  It may well have been recorded and deleted, or lost, or simply not finished, although such events have not normally resulted in a song just disappearing.

So, unless someone comes up with a copy of the recording from that day, we’ll take it that there is no version available of the music, and therefore this song needs new music to go with Bob’s lyrics.

And that gives us a chance to add another song to the Bob Dylan Showcase, our collection of songs re-worked by readers of Untold Dylan, or (as in this case) songs where we have Dylan’s lyrics but no music.    There is a list of such songs at the end of this piece, but first, for anyone who wants to have a go, here are the lyrics you will be working with.

And do remember you will be credited as having written the music to a Dylan song, if you do send in a piece.  The only requirement is that you have to write and then record original music.

Needle's on empty
and here I'm stuck
Four in the morning
and just my luck
Listen to the radio
waiting for the sun
Can't flag a ride
until daylight comes

Four in the morning
and out of gas
Mile and a half
from Tioga Pass

Tuned to a station
I've never heard
while moonlight glimmers
on Dead Man's Curve
Glory in the morning
and God bless you
for playing that song
when another would do

Four in the morning
and out of gas
Mile and a half
from Tioga Pass

Ain't quite rock
although it moves
It sure ain't country
and it's not the blues
They don't say nothing
when it gets to the end
Just keep playing it
over again

Four in the morning
and out of gas
Mile and a half
from Tioga Pass

It isn't pop
and it isn't soul
Nothing like fifties
rock and roll
It isn't folk
Not especially jazz
Got something special
nothing else has

Four in the morning
and out of gas
Mile and a half
from Tioga Pass

The sun comes up
about six o'clock
The station drifts
to some pre-fab rock
Although they played it
all night long
I never did learn
the name of that song

Now to help you, if you don’t know that part of the United States, Tioga Pass sits almost 10,000 feet (3000 m.) above sea level in the Sierra Nevada, and State Route 120 goes through it leading to Yosemite National Park.

It is the highest highway pass in California and in the Sierra Nevada.   Wiki tells us that “This pass, like many other passes in the Sierra Nevada, has a gradual approach from the west and drops off to the east dramatically, losing more than 3,000 feet (910 m) by the time the road reaches Route 395.”

They also tell us that The Pass is named after the Tioga River, and “tioga” is an Iroquois and  Mohawk term meaning “where it forks”.

It appears that in the winter (October to May) the road is often closed due to snow, occasionally remaining closed until July when the snow has been particularly heavy.  So a pretty silly place to run out of gas (petrol).

That then is the challenge – to write the music and send in a recording.  You will then be entered onto our list of 600+ Dylan compositions recorded on this site.  And judging by the way things have been going, you might find other websites then quoting the song as a Dylan composition, with you as the composer.  People do seem to accept that our list is not only accurate but also comprehensive.  So fame at last!

And just to show you what has happened before, here are some of the recordings that we have completed between us.

Untold Dylan: who we are what we do

Untold Dylan is written by people who want to write for Untold Dylan.  It is simply a forum for those interested in the work of the most famous, influential and recognised popular musician and poet of our era, to read about, listen to and express their thoughts on, his lyrics and music.

We welcome articles, contributions and ideas from all our readers.  Sadly no one gets paid, but if you are published here, your work will be read by a fairly large number of people across the world, ranging from fans to academics.  If you have an idea, or a finished piece send it as a Word file to Tony@schools.co.uk with a note saying that it is for publication on Untold Dylan.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with around 7000 active members. 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.  Not every index is complete but I do my best.   Tony Attwood


  1. With the hope that this contribution helps the site achieve perfection, the Iroquois are properly called Haudenosaunee, and their federation includes the Mohawk.

    Also, when a sentence ends with a quotation, the terminal punctuation should be within the quotation mark.

    (in reference to: They also tell us that The Pass is named after the Tioga River, and “tioga” is an Iroquois and Mohawk term meaning “where it forks”.)

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