I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You (2020) part 5: A bottle of gin loosed her muse



by Jochen Markhorst

V          A bottle of gin loosed her muse

If I had the wings of a snow-white dove
I’d preach the gospel, the gospel of love
A love so real, a love so true
I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you

 It is one of the many fascinating stories told in his riveting and sometimes moving Adventures Of A Ballad Hunter (1947), the memoirs of John A. Lomax. The musical treasure hunter tells how in 1908 he is hunting in Texas, near the Brazos River, where dams are being built by “levee Negroes from Vicksburg”. He looks for the woman Dink, said to be best singer in the encampment. He does find her, eventually, but she refuses – out of shyness, Lomax suspects – to sing anything for him;

“Finally, a bottle of gin, bought at a nearby plantation commissary, loosed her muse. The bottle of liquor soon disappeared. She sang, as she scrubbed her man’s dirty clothes, the pathetic story of a woman deserted by her lover when she needs him most … Dink ended the refrain with a subdued cry of despair and longing … the sobbing of a woman deserted by her man.”

Lomax’s contribution to music history cannot be overstated. To him we owe “Buffalo Skinners”, Lead Belly, “The Midnight Special”, the folk revival, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and dozens, maybe hundreds more songs that without him would have dissolved into the mists of time. Songs, which are the foundation of Dylan’s oeuvre – like the song Dink finally sang there, after a bottle of gin, for John Lomax:

If I had wings like Noah's dove,
I'd fly up da river to the man I love.
Fare thee well, O Honey, fare thee well

… “Fare Thee Well”, or also called “Dink’s Song”, Dink’s own gospel of love, and for all its simplicity one of the finest songs of the twentieth century. “Part blues, part British lyric, and all perfection,” as son Alan Lomax writes in his compilation for Penguin Books, American Folk Songs (1964). “Dink’s Song” can be found in the last chapter, Chapter VI, Modern Times, after songs like “Whose Side Are You On”, “Frankie And Johnny”, “Delia”, “St. James Infirm’ry”, “The Titanic”, “House Of The Rising Sun” and some 20 more songs that we all see appear on Dylan’s set lists, and hear again in Dylan’s songs.

As we also hark back Dink’s If I had wings like Noah’s dove, here in this fifth verse of “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You”, the song’s gentle centre. Indirectly, admittedly; Dylan literally quotes Ferlin Husky’s paraphrase of it, the 1960 No.1 hit, “Wings Of A Dove”;

On the wings of a snow-white dove
He sends His pure sweet love
A sign from above
On the wings of a dove

… a good song that in Husky’s version is unfortunately rather polluted by an evangelical jubilant chorus. Which seems inescapable; country king George Jones, queen Kitty Wells, Charley Pride, Porter Wagoner (backed by Elvis’ beloved Blackwood Brothers) and even the untouchable Dolly Parton also glaze the song with it. It takes until 1984, until a modern Grand Master interferes before a version is recorded without ecstatic backing vocals: Leon Russell turns it back into a pure, Grand Ole Opry-worthy country classic – but alas, still with the now-dated 80s sound of clinical bathroom reverb on the vocals. We have to wait until 1993 before a more or less timeless version is recorded; again Dolly Parton, but this time with the Honky Tonk Angels, featuring Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn.

Anyway, Ferlin Husky’s version is etched in Dylan’s music memory, of course. The song spent ten weeks at No 1 in 1960, and it is also the version played by DJ Dylan himself, as the closing track of the Noah’s Ark episode of his Theme Time Radio Hour in 2009. Still, despite Husky’s shadow, Dylan’s stream-of-consciousness most likely will have been carried away to the song’s source, to “Dink’s Song” – which is, after all, even deeper under his skin.

On the legendary The Minnesota Hotel Tape (Songs for Bonnie), the living room concert at Bonnie Beecher’s home-recorded by Dylan’s friend Tony Glover in December 1961, “Dink’s Song” is number 8, between “It’s Hard To Be Blind” and “Man Of Constant Sorrow”.

After the song ends, we hear:

Tony Glover: “Is that the way the original goes?”
Dylan: “Huh?”
Tony Glover: “Is that the way the original goes?”
Dylan: “That’s the way I heard it. I heard it from a lady named Dink. I don’t know who wrote it.”

… Lomax heard Dink sing the song in 1908. So Dylan has either heard a very, very elderly Dink sing a song that has now been in her repertoire for a very, very long time, or Dylan is once again making up stories and already knitting the next chapter of his fable biography. The latter is more likely.

We can even correct him in fairly precise, high-probability detail; on Friday afternoon 29 September 1961, just before he gets a record deal himself, Dylan is in the studio. Carolyn Hester is recording an LP, and Dylan has been invited to play harmonica on a couple of songs. These end up being five, though he does not play on “Dink’s Song”, which is also recorded that afternoon. However, it is very likely that Dylan is still hanging out in the studio by then: that same night, he plays at Gerde’s Folk City – and “Dink’s Song” is on his setlist for the very first time.

We have no recordings of that performance, of that first time Dylan plays “Dink’s Song”. But an educated guess would be that after the last chord, the young troubadour says through the applause, “That’s the way I heard it. I heard it from a lady named Dink.”

Incidentally, on that December recording from Minneapolis, Dylan sings the same lyric variation as Carolyn Hester – a different order of stanzas, but the same words. Heard from a lady named Carolyn.

To be continued. Next up I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You part 6: I knew Margo could sing it


Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold. His books, in English, Dutch and German, are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:


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