By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood
Aaron: First release by Mississippi Sheiks in June 1932
From World Gone Wrong Liner notes by Bob Dylan : “BLOOD IN MY EYES is one of two songs done by the Mississippi Sheiks, a little-known de facto group whom in their former glory must’ve been something to behold. rebellion against routine seems to be their strong theme. All their songs are raw to the bone & are faultlessly made for these modern times (the New Dark Ages) nothing effete about the Mississippi Sheiks.”
Tony: If I may disagree slightly, when Bob recorded his version of the song, their fame had diminished but in their day they really were well known, in part thanks to having Bo Carter as their occasional manager who wrote some of the most outrageous songs of the era. These are totally unacceptable today but for the sake of historical completeness and to give a flavour of the times I might mention “Your Biscuits Are Big Enough for Me” and “My Pencil Won’t Write No More.”
They were mostly members of the same family (the Chatmons – Bo Carter was part of that family) and were popular for much of the 1930s and into the 1940s. Bob’s reference to “their former glory” is right in that they were really well known over a number of years, but of course their type of music was overwhelmed by swing and then rock n roll.
Anyway, I’m going to slip in another track from them, just to give the full flavour of what they were.
Aaron: Bob’s version appears on World Gone Wrong. I was delighted to discover a quote from me appearing on the Wikipedia page for the album and amused to be described as a “scholar”, “Filmed in 16mm black-and-white, it has been called “beautiful” and one of Dylan’s best music videos by Dylan scholar Aaron Galbraith.” https://bob-dylan.org.uk/archives/17505
Tony: There you are, you see Aaron. Stick with Untold and fame follows.
Tony: I haven’t played this track for so long I had forgotten how stunning it is. And I recall when I first heard it I was totally overwhelmed. I didn’t know the original at the time and had no idea of the antecedents; it was just completely overpowering both in terms of the lyrics and the music – and I do so remember the accompaniment and trying to mimic it. I’d never heard such an accompaniment carried on through a five minute track in this way; I still remember now it was utterly overpowering. I’m sure someone will tell me that Bob was copying someone else’s arrangement or style, and maybe so, but the point for me it was new. For a long time I think I ignored the rest of the album and just played this over and over, and worked like mad to be able to play that accompaniment myself.
Aaron: Subsequent versions include this one by Tin Men from 2013
Tony: And of course it is a problem now for me, because those memories of that Dylan recording of this song are so strong and I haven’t played it for such a while it is hard to take alternatives in. But clearing my head as best I can, yes this is great fun – it really makes sense of the humour. “If you don’t want me, give me my money back” really is one hell of a line.
Great pace, great fun, great accompaniment. It is so good to know that there are such talented people around who are still going back to the songs of the 1930s and reworking them with new aplomb.
Aaron: Blake Mills & Bill Frisell at the 2015 Fretboard Summit – Prior to this song, Frisell and Mills had never performed together.
Tony: Of course by now with each new track I’ve no idea what I’m going to hear. So suddenly we are back to the slow pace, and these guys really do get that original feeling out of the song. I think after I’ve posted this article I’m going to try and play the song in this style myself. Fortunately, I live in a detached house so no one in the village is going to suffer as a result, and besides cultural terrorism is not yet a crime in the UK. And it will give me a lot of fun.
That track is seven minutes of overwhelming emotion and a fantastic tribute to and commemoration of the Sheiks. Brilliant selection Aaron.
Previously in this series…
- Other people’s songs. How Dylan covers the work of other composers
- Other People’s songs: Bob and others perform “Froggie went a courtin”
- Other people’s songs: They killed him
- Other people’s songs: Frankie & Albert
- Other people’s songs: Tomorrow Night where the music is always everything
- Other people’s songs: from Stack a Lee to Stagger Lee and Hugh Laurie
- Other people’s songs: Love Henry
- Other people’s songs: Rank Stranger To Me
- Other people’s songs: Man of Constant Sorrow
- Other people’s songs: Satisfied Mind
- Other people’s songs: See that my grave is kept clean
- Other people’s songs: Precious moments and some extras
- Other people’s songs: You go to my head
- Other people’s songs: What’ll I do?
- Other people’s songs: Copper Kettle
- Other people’s songs: Belle Isle
- Other people’s songs: Fixing to Die
- Other people’s songs: When did you leave heaven?
- Other people’s songs: Sally Sue Brown
- Other people’s songs: Ninety miles an hour down a dead end street
- Other people’s songs: Step it up and Go
- Other people’s songs: Canadee-I-O
- Other people’s songs: Arthur McBride
- Other people’s songs: Little Sadie
- Other people’s songs: Blue Moon, and North London Forever
- Other people’s songs: Hard times come again no more
- Other people’s songs: You’re no good
- Other people’s songs: Lone Pilgrim (and more Crooked Still)