Other people’s Songs: Gotta Travel On

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: This article in which we look at Bob Dylan singing songs he didn’t compose, marks the one-year anniversary since the first piece in this series!!

Tony: That first episode can still be found here, and a full list of all the episodes is given at the end.  This is number 53 in the series.

Aaron: “Gotta Travel On” was based on a fragment of an unnamed song found in the archives of the Virginia Folklore Society.  It was also titled “Done Laid Around”, though versions with that title typically use a different set of lyrics.

Tony: According to Wiki, “The earliest known version was printed in Carl Sandburg‘s The American Songbag in 1927 under the title “Yonder Comes the High Sheriff” and several variations were recorded in the 1920s.”   Not that Wiki always gets it right!

Aaron: Billy Grammar had the hit with it in 1958

Tony: This is  one of the occasions on which the version Aaron (in the USA) has forwarded to me (in the UK) doesn’t play for me, so here’s a copy I’ve found that hopefully works in parts of the world where the version above doesn’t.

Tony: It’s a jolly piece, but what really attracted my attention (beyond the drummer standing up) was the bass part.  If you missed it just listen again to what the bassist is doing – he’s having a rare old time and it really gives a buzz to what might otherwise be a not particularly memorable recording.

Aaron: The Au Go Go Singers were a nine-member folk group formed in New York City in 1964, and best remembered for featuring Stephen Stills and Richie Furay two years before they formed Buffalo Springfield.

Tony: Well, I’d never guess that Stephen Stills was on that recording, and I always loved his work – although I must admit this doesn’t do too much for me.  But Suite Judy Blue Eyes was a major influence in my very early days as a wannabe musician / songwriter.  This, I was convinced, is the way to write songs that say something, and which don’t sound like Bob Dylan.  So many layers within one song – oh I haven’t listened to it for several years, but there was a time when it was always there with me.  “Fear is the lock and laughter the key…”   Oh yes.  I tried to make that my motto in teenage years.

Aaron: Dylan’s version came from 1970s Self Portrait

Tony: My usual comment comes straight into my mind – if we are listening to a song we know well, then the new version must give us something more than we already know.  Does Bob do that?  Well, I suppose so, but I am not sure I quite get the message or that I really want to get the message.  It doesn’t deliver anything new to me – rather as if a bunch of good musicians just decided to play the piece they all knew, without bothering with too many rehearsals.  (See also the final piece in this article!)

It reminds me of the sort of thing we used to play just because we all knew it, and no one quite knew how to end it.   Indeed that ending is rather rough.   But I would really like to hear from someone who does like this and feels it adds something such that she/he would feel inclined to play it again.  It doesn’t do that to me – but then I’ve heard the song off and on all through my life, so maybe that’s the problem.   (Hell, I’m getting really crotchety in my old age).

Aaron: Neil Young & Crazy Horse recorded the track for their 2012 album Americana

Tony: This is weird – or at least that opening is weird.   Why do we have that?   It is a crude version in the sense of the percussion as a driving force – there is no sophistication there at all.   But the harmonies are really good and work very well.   Yet we have that bash bash bash percussion part all the way through.  Why is that?   And can you imagine being part of the chorus that sings the last line of each verse in perfect harmony?  It must have been hard not to leave the session thinking “what the **** was that all about?”

Especially as the piece runs to over six minutes (although it really does sound as if no one has any idea how to end it).

Hmmm.  I might have laughed too if I had been on the piano in the recording session, but then crawled under the table the moment I found that recording was being released.

But hey ho – these are fine musicians having some fun, so why not?

Previously in this series…

  1. Other people’s songs. How Dylan covers the work of other composers
  2. Other People’s songs: Bob and others perform “Froggie went a courtin”
  3. Other people’s songs: They killed him
  4. Other people’s songs: Frankie & Albert
  5. Other people’s songs: Tomorrow Night where the music is always everything
  6. Other people’s songs: from Stack a Lee to Stagger Lee and Hugh Laurie
  7. Other people’s songs: Love Henry
  8. Other people’s songs: Rank Stranger To Me
  9. Other people’s songs: Man of Constant Sorrow
  10. Other people’s songs: Satisfied Mind
  11. Other people’s songs: See that my grave is kept clean
  12. Other people’s songs: Precious moments and some extras
  13. Other people’s songs: You go to my head
  14. Other people’s songs: What’ll I do?
  15. Other people’s songs: Copper Kettle
  16. Other people’s songs: Belle Isle
  17. Other people’s songs: Fixing to Die
  18. Other people’s songs: When did you leave heaven?
  19. Other people’s songs: Sally Sue Brown
  20. Other people’s songs: Ninety miles an hour down a dead end street
  21. Other people’s songs: Step it up and Go
  22. Other people’s songs: Canadee-I-O
  23. Other people’s songs: Arthur McBride
  24. Other people’s songs: Little Sadie
  25. Other people’s songs: Blue Moon, and North London Forever
  26. Other people’s songs: Hard times come again no more
  27. Other people’s songs: You’re no good
  28. Other people’s songs: Lone Pilgrim (and more Crooked Still)
  29. Other people’s songs: Blood in my eyes
  30. Other people’s songs: I forgot more than you’ll ever know
  31.  Other people’s songs: Let’s stick (or maybe work) together.
  32. Other people’s songs: Highway 51
  33. Other people’s songs: Jim Jones
  34. Other people’s songs: Let’s stick (or maybe work) together.
  35. Other people’s songs: Jim Jones
  36. Other people’s songs: Highway 51 Blues
  37. Other people’s songs: Freight Train Blues
  38. Other People’s Songs: The Little Drummer Boy
  39. Other People’s Songs: Must be Santa
  40. Other People’s songs: The Christmas Song
  41. Other People’s songs: Corina Corina
  42. Other People’s Songs: Mr Bojangles
  43. Other People’s Songs: It hurts me too
  44. Other people’s songs: Take a message to Mary
  45. Other people’s songs: House of the Rising Sun
  46. Other people’s songs: “Days of 49”
  47. Other people’s songs: In my time of dying
  48. Other people’s songs: Pretty Peggy O
  49. Other people’s songs: Baby Let me Follow You Down
  50. Other people’s songs: Gospel Plow
  51. Other People’s Songs: Melancholy Mood
  52. Other people’s songs: The Boxer and Big Yellow Taxi
  53. Other people’s songs: Early morning rain
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