The re-writing of High Water – Bob’s experimental meander

By Tony Attwood and Aaron Galbraith

High Water – you know the song – but just to remind you here it is…

According to the official site Bob has played the song 712 times in concert between 2001 and 2018, making it the 23rd most performed song in his repertoire.

But what is not often noticed (except by Aaron) is that at least once it turned up sounding like this

So where did that rearrangement come from?

In fact it appears to be a reworking of Boom Boom Mancini by Warren Zevon, which by chance we have already commented upon….

And we commented upon that because it has featured on our “Once only” series, when Bob performed the above mentioned “Boom Boom Mancini” at Key Arena, Seattle WA, on 4 October 2002, 14 years before he used the music for the re-write of High Water.

Actually it does seem to be a song that gets quite a few reworkings, although most of them stay much closer to the original construction of the song and vary the accompaniment.

There is however no real connection between Bob’s “High Water” and the original Charlie Patton song “High Water Everywhere” except in the title.  Here’s Charlie Patton’s original

And here is part two

And here are the lyrics to the original

Backwater at Blytheville, backed up all around
Backwater at Blytheville, done took Joiner town
It was fifty families and children come to sink and drown

The water was risin' up at my friend's door
The water was risin' up at my friend's door
The man said to his women folk, "Lord, we'd better go"

The water was risin', got up in my bed
Lord, the water was rollin', got up to my bed
I thought I would take a trip, Lord, out on the big ice sled

Oh, I can hear, Lord Lord, water upon my door
You know what I mean, look-a here
I hear the ice, Lord Lord, was sinkin' down
I couldn't get no boats there, Marion City gone down
So high the water was risin' our men sinkin' down
Man, the water was risin' at places all around
Boy, they's all around
It was fifty men and children come to sink and drown

Oh, Lordy, women and grown men drown
Oh, women and children sinkin' down
Lord, have mercy
I couldn't see nobody's home and wasn't no one to be found

Now what is also interesting is that in the concert in Seattle on 4 October 2002 where Bob sang “Boom Boom Mancini” he also sang “High Water”.  But I can’t find a recording of that song in that concert.  The “Set List” web site does have a link to the song, but it takes us to the studio recording, not the performance in Seattle.

Ok so that is quite a meander around and about, but the real standout moment in all this is where we started: the Boom Boom Mancini re-arrangement by Bob Dylan.   Just in case you’ve got confused with so many videos in one little article here’s the piece we are making the point about once more.

And if you know of any other case where Bob has taken one of his lyrics and then re-written the music so that it incorporates someone else’s melody and chord sequence, please do let us know.  It’s the sort of thing we really like chasing down.

Oh and if you feel any of the leaps and conclusions within this little piece are wrong, we’d like to know because it really was quite a meander, so please do write in.  But also please could you give evidence rather than just stating something as a fact, while leaving us to verify what you’ve said.

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