A Dylan cover a day: It’s alright ma and John Wesley Harding

By Tony Attwood

Well, no, I’m not going to write a complete article on “It’s alright ma’s” cover versions, because Jochen has already done that, and I can’t compete.   If you want to hear a whole string of staggering versions simply click here for his article.

Moving on to JWH, the problem here for performers is that the melody is very striking and so as soon as one starts out on the song we know it all too well – so the problem is, how to make a difference?

McKendree Spring makes no attempt to change the melody but instead the band tears up all concept of the original accompaniment and instead throw anything they can find at the piece.

As a result you’ve got everything from a wild harmonica, a bass that is playing a set of variations on the melody and a rhythm guitar having great fun all on its own.

I can’t think of what else I have heard that is quite like this.  Because we all know the melody so well, it is easy to miss the organised chaos that is now happening behind it but  I think it’s great fun – and indeed “chaos” is not really the word I should use, because this is clearly carefully planned.

It’s one of those versions that I don’t think I’ll go back and play very often, but yes, it makes me smile.


A totally different approach comes from Phil Cunneen; the accompaniment is again changed but with a much more gentle approach so that by the time we’ve got to the instrumental break, we really are in a different territory.  A sunny day where everyone is a jolly nice person.  JWH as Robin Hood in fact.

Once again the bass player gets a real part of his own to meander around, and yes, I did notice the fact that they slipped in an extra chord along the way.

Just one more… try it with a reggae beat and yes it works rather well.  In fact, listening to this I could find myself imagining that this was how the song was meant to sound.  Of course, I know it wasn’t but still…. it might have been.

Here’s a list of most of the articles from this series…

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