Standing In The Doorway (1997) part 1
by Jochen Markhorst
I He’ll Have To Go
I’m walking through the summer nights Jukebox playing low
It is a select club, the guitarists who played in both the band of Living Legend John Fogerty and in the band of Living Legend Bob Dylan: actually only Billy Burnette and Bob Britt. Billy Burnette only for a short while, replacing Charlie Sexton for eleven concerts Down Under.
But Bob Britt, the guitarist who joined the Dylan ranks on Time Out Of Mind, has turned out to be a keeper; on Rough And Rowdy Ways (2020) he’s back, and on stage he’s been a remarkably unobtrusive, highly regarded force for a few years now. And with that knowledge, knowing Britt’s concert performances, we can, with some certainty, pinpoint which notes he’s playing in “Standing In The Doorway”; it must be those gliding, short licks in the intro and those short fills throughout the rest of the song. In any case, we hear a guitarist who has both Nashville and blues in his blood and in his fingers – and even the traces of his teacher, pianist Leon Russell. Russell who, in turn, learned the art from the ultimate Elvis pianist.
On YouTube, the charmingly enthusiastic grandson Jason Coleman explains his famous grandfather’s trademark and demonstrates it with an obviously inherited talent: the “slip-notes” of the legendary Floyd Cramer. The keystrokes on the piano, where the finger slips off the adjacent key and in fact hits the wrong note at first, became a stylistic feature of the Nashville sound thanks to Floyd Cramer’s thousands of recording sessions in the 50s and 60s, partly because Cramer declined Elvis’ offer to go with him to the West Coast; he preferred to stay in Nashville.
By then, Floyd had already long secured his place in eternity; one of the most iconic piano parts in rock history, the piano part of “Heartbreak Hotel” is also Floyd Cramer. Thereafter, he plays with all the greats, with Brenda Lee, The Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison, on “Crying In The Chapel” and on “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”, with Chet Atkins and with Paul McCartney, and in the twenty-first century we even hear Dylan play Cramer’s unmistakable slip-notes (in “Soon After Midnight” for example, Mankato, October 2019). Remarkably, Cramer even influences, via a small diversion, Jimi Hendrix. Via Bobby Womack, that is. As a kid, Womack has taught himself guitar by imitating Floyd Cramer. Later, in 1964, he sits for hours and hours with Jimi on the tour bus;
“I could tell what he was doing on the guitar, but he had no clue what I was doing. I was making up chords and all of them were unorthodox. I always played that way. It was a big joke with Jimi, who used to tell me, ‘Man, you play some beautiful chords.’
I told him about the piano player, Floyd Cramer, who I got my style from. Jimi didn’t believe me. He said, ‘But he’s a piano player.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but imagine me hittin’ the same notes on the guitar, playin’ what you’d hear on a piano. It’s different.’ Sometimes me and Jimi used to sit backstage between shows and swap licks. That’s how we became friends.”
(Bobby Womack – My Autobiography – Midnight Mover, 2006)
… and indeed; if you listen with that knowledge to (especially) “Little Wing”, and even Jimi’s “Like A Rolling Stone” (Monterey, 1967), you can hear Cramer’s slip-notes.
And Floyd Cramer plays the indispensable part on one of the many stepfathers of “Standing In The Doorway”, on “He’ll Have To Go”.
“Standing In The Doorway” is perhaps the ultimate example of an eclectic mash-up, of the recipe for the greatness of Time Out Of Mind. Dylan constructs both the music and lyrics from chunks of bluegrass, F. Scott Fitzgerald, blues, American Songbook, the Bible, folk, film noir and country. We hear snippets of Dock Boggs, reuse of “Moonshiner Blues”, Big Joe Turner, “Bullfrog Blues” from 1928 (I left you standin’ here in your back door crying), Jimmie Rodgers and I see nothing to be gained by explanation from Willie Nelson’s “Long Story Short (She’s Gone)”… and that’s just a small selection; almost every line of text can be found in one of the songs in Dylan’s enormous working memory, in one of the novels in his bookcase, in one of the films in his home cinema.
Dylan’s opening is an illustration thereof, of that eclectic nature. “There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights” is the opening line of chapter 2 of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925), which could quite easily have been paraphrased into, say
I’m walking through the summer nights Music playing low
… but Dylan chooses “jukebox playing low” and thereby, by this simple intervention, tilts the atmosphere towards a tear-in-your-beer ballad, towards a country tearjerker, towards one of the greatest of all country tearjerkers;
Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone Let's pretend that we're together, all alone I'll tell the man to turn the jukebox way down low And you can tell your friend there with you he'll have to go
… Jim Reeves’ pièce de résistance from 1959. And Bob Britt seems to hear that too; his fingers slip naturally from the adjacent note to the right one, just like Floyd Cramer’s slip-notes in the intro of “He’ll Have To Go” elevate the song to the stratosphere. Not on his own, by the way; the track was recorded by a Nashville A-Team. Elvis guitarist Hank Garland, Elvis and Dylan bassist Bob Moore, Elvis drummer Buddy Harman… Jim Reeves apparently already had some status, back in 1959.
Less poetic and seemingly more one-dimensional than Dylan, of course, but it is the same lament. One poor sap is discarded by telephone, and the other sod gets the door slammed in his face on the doorstep. Both wretches also seem to have lost their women to a competing man. And both seek solace in the arms of another woman. By Dylan’s narrator poignantly expressed with the words “Last night I danced with a stranger, but she just reminded me you were the one”, with Jim Reeves we only get that revelation in the sequel “He’ll Have To Stay”:
I can hear the jukebox playing soft and low And you're out again with someone else, I know
… a good-old fashioned answer song, in which Jeanne Black, over the same soundtrack and on the other end of the telephone, turns the whole plot around; Jim Reeves’ narrator was apparently a notorious cheater who for years has been leading on his fiancée – and now she’s had enough. “You broke my heart too many times”. And she has opened her heart and arms to a sweet, reliable rival. “Now someone else is in your place, he’ll have to stay”.
“Buddy, you’ll roll no more,” she could have said as well.
To be continued. Next up Standing In The Doorway part 2: All these songs are connected
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:
- Blood on the Tracks: Dylan’s Masterpiece in Blue
- Blonde On Blonde: Bob Dylan’s mercurial masterpiece
- Where Are You Tonight? Bob Dylan’s hushed-up classic from 1978
- Desolation Row: Bob Dylan’s poetic letter from 1965
- Basement Tapes: Bob Dylan’s Summer of 1967
- Mississippi: Bob Dylan’s midlife masterpiece
- Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits
- John Wesley Harding: Bob Dylan meets Kafka in Nashville
- Tombstone Blues b/w Jet Pilot: Dylan’s lookin’ for the fuse
- Street-Legal: Bob Dylan’s unpolished gem from 1978
- Bringing It All Back Home: Bob Dylan’s 2nd Big Bang
- Time Out Of Mind: The Rising of an Old Master
- Crossing The Rubicon: Dylan’s latter-day classic
- Nashville Skyline: Bob Dylan’s other type of music