Dylan cover a day 45: I am a lonesome hobo

By Tony Attwood

One of the few Dylan songs that I re-arranged myself for the band I was in at the time was “I am a lonesome hobo” and I recall adding a descending bass which across the first line of the song would move down from D almost totally chromatically until reaching G at “friends”.

So I was wondering if anyone who actually turned a cover version into a recording had followed that route… but no.   This either suggests my idea was rubbish and explains why I became a writer not a musician, or it suggests that even after all these cover versions have been made, there are still other options available for any upcoming band that wants to go further.

Anyway, you’ll recall perhaps that the original version of “hobo” stays resolutely on one chord for the first three lines with the bass playing the same note over and over through the first 12 bars, and only then giving us variation.

And indeed, trying to give a variation to that remorseless one chord approach is the main issue here and that’s what I have been listening to, to see if anyone did find a good solution.

The Duke Robillard Band clearly recognise the meaning of the words: the desperation of loneliness, failure and nothingness.  And so the musical background gives us a soundtrack to an awful life, which Bob doesn’t do at all, as he prefers to leave the lyrics to do it all.

The trouble with this approach for me is that after a moment or three I’ve got the idea, and with this much desperation there really isn’t anywhere else to go.

So moving on to Thea Gilmore, you might just recall that I have in the past raved over some of her arrangements on her complete JWH cover album.

She too sticks to the single chord approach, but the introduction of the banjo, and the stretching of certain words in the lyrics challenges the rhythm in a very interesting way.

And the approach keeps up the interest throughout.  Indeed, the way she takes it all down with the “Kind ladies” verse reignites the feeling, and there is just a faint change of melody near the end to give a feeling that the little track was worth listening to.   Of course she found herself able to do so much more with The Drifters’ Escape on this album, but I still find this version enjoyable enough.

Now the likes of Steve Gibbons and Dave Pegg know infinitely more about performing Dylan than I ever could in a dozen lifetimes, but I am sorry to say I just don’t feel inspired here, even by the instrumental break.

And so I go searching further afield, and yes the Triffids do take me further on the journey that I have been following as I seek the perfect version of the song.  Here it is the percussion that leads the way with the unexpected emphasis.  Quite why it is so unexpected is because it is on the quarter beat before each bar starts – which given the way Dylan performs the song is utterly unexpected.

As indeed is the end!

And that could be the end of my meander through the covers today, however there is one more and I have left what for me is the best until last.  It’s in Swedish, but that’s neither here nor there, since we all know the lyrics, for the key point is the orchestration.

The contrast between the repeated three lines of each verse with the final line is exactly what this song needs to give it life again over 50 years since the piece was written.

I still think there is something else to be taken from this song, but I’m way past the age of working with a band to put what I can hear in my head onto a recording, so it will have to wait for someone else to come along and give it a try.  And anyway what I hear in my head often doesn’t really work out when played out loud.


A list of previous songs reviewed is given below.

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  1. It was 2 years ago that Klaasen & van Dijk released a new album “A Slice Of Dylan”.
    A great album with only Dylan covers.
    Now they are working on an new album with another set of Dylan songs.
    I’m looking forward to it!
    I taped “I Am A Lonesome Hobo” in the city of Gouda. The band was playing very tight, the public was enjoying and they became as enthusiastic as the band itself.
    The “Houtmanplantsoen” was swinging as never before.
    I’m hoping for a reprise next year.

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