Dylan’s rarities: Songs that Bob has performed very few times

By Tony Attwood

  • Let the Light shine on me
  • Make me a pallet on the floor
  • Deportees

“Let the Light shine on me” is one of those traditional gospel / blues songs that has meandered through the traditions, and on its way picked up variations so great that on occasion you can be forgiven for thinking that you are no longer listening to the same song.

We know by it was recorded by The Wiseman Quartet in 1923, by Ernest Phipps in 1928 and by Blind Willie Johnson in 1929.

Here’s “Let your light shine on me” by Blind Willie Johnson.  The website this comes from from gives the composers as George Nelson Allen, Blind Willie Johnson, Thomas Shepherd.  If you start playing this and think, ok, but these very slow blues are not your thing, I’d urge you to stay with this.  It does things you just don’t expect from a late 1920s song.

Over the years the name varied: “Let Your Light Shine on Me” became “Shine On Me”, “Let It Shine on Me”, “Light from the Lighthouse” and “Light from Your Lighthouse”.

The chorus…

Let it shine on me, let it shine on me,
Let the light from your lighthouse shine on me.
Let it shine on me, let it shine on me,
Let the light from your lighthouse shine on.

relates to Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”  I am told that “Lighthouse” was a popular metaphor for heavenly light.

In more recent eras Lead Belly recorded it, and then in England the skiffle singer Lonnie Donegan sang it.

Bob Dylan’s official site doesn’t have the song listed as far as I can see, but it has so many titles I might have missed it – but here it is…

Make me a pallet on the floor

This is another song with different titles – but all of them have “Pallet on the Floor” as part of it.  A pallet in this regard is a bed.

Generally it is thought to have emerged from New Orelans in the late 19th century, and was certainly in print as sheet music in the first decade of the 20th century.  WC Handy later modified the song at it became “Atlanta Blues” about a decade later.  It was still a popular song to perform and record into the 1930s.

And so it evolved over time…

Until we get to Bob Dylan.  I’m not sure what the picture below relates to.

Deportees

This is a Woody Guthrie song with music by Martin Hoffman, retelling the story of the 1948 plane crash in which 32 people died, four of whom were Mexicans who had been working in California and now being flown back to Mexico.

Woody Guthrie was particularly struck by the fact that reports of the crash did not carry the name of the Mexicans, and simply referred to them as “deportees”.  On the other hand the flight crew and security guard were named in the New York papers.  However the local papers did carry the names of the Mexicans who were killed in the crash – something Woody Guthrie didn’t know.

The music was added some ten years later by Martin Hoffman a teacher, and Pete Seeger picked the song up and added it to his concert repetoire.

But… the implication of the song is taken by some to be that the Mexican citizens who died were illegal immigrants, but this was not so – in post-war America Mexican citizens were allowed under various programmes to work in the United States in specific areas for set amounts of time.  The employers had the duty of transporting the workers from Mexico to the USA and back at the end of the programme.   The song does make  this clear, but some have ignored this.

It was one of the last songs Woody Guthrie composed.

This recording was made on 11 May 1976, and in all it was played five times on this tour.

Songs that Bob Dylan has only ever performed a handful of times.

And elsewhere

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