Other people’s songs: Alberta

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

In this series, Aaron looks at songs that Dylan has recorded but not composed, and then finds some other recordings of the song of note.  He then sends his commentary across the Atlantic to Tony who adds any thoughts that occur while reading.   A list of previous articles for the series (which has been running for over a year) appears at the end.

Aaron: From Wikipedia: Lead Belly recorded four different versions of “Alberta”. One of these was recorded in New York on January 23, 1935 (for ARC Records, which did not issue it), and a similar version was recorded in New York on June 15, 1940 (included on Leadbelly: Complete Recorded Works, vol. 1, 1 April 1939 to 15 June 1940).

Another version, recorded in Wilton, Connecticut, on January 20, 1935, included the lyrics “Take me, Alberta, take me down in your rocking chair” and is included on Gwine Dig a Hole to Put the Devil In (Rounder Records, Library of Congress Recordings, vol. 2).

Lead Belly’s fourth recorded version survives on recording disc BC-122 of the Mary Elizabeth Barnicle–Tillman Cadle Collection at East Tennessee State University, recorded near the date of June 15, 1948, with which several related discs are labelled.

Tony: My knowledge of the history of the blues is very intermittent, and this is one of the songs that I’ve never previously heard in its original forms.  I love this version and particularly the fact that we get a bit of a guitar solo near the end.

Aaron: Odetta recorded the song under the title “Roberta,” for Odetta Sings Folk Songs (1963).

Tony: This is one of those occasions where the video Aaron has found in the United States won’t play in the UK, so I’ve included both the copy Aaron found, and a copy that does play in the UK – hoping as ever that they are two identical recordings and that one of them works for you!

Tony: This is such a total transformation it is hard to imagine how we got from the original versions to this, but it is nevertheless beautiful – and relaxing which the early versions could not be described as in any way.

Aaron: Bob Dylan recorded two versions for Self Portrait (1970)

Alberta #1

Tony: There are certain moments on Self Portrait that I still hold dear.  The Isle of Wight recordings for example, and indeed Alberta.   To me, Dylan gets this absolutely right; it is gorgeously relaxed and somehow just perfect in every way.

Alberta #2

Tony: I often wonder why we get two versions of the song on the album.  Did Dylan just decide to do versions thinking he would pick one of the two.  And then decided that he couldn’t choose, so both were included?   Or was there an argument about which was best, so they agreed to include both?   Or maybe there was not enough other material that Bob approved of, so both the Alberta’s were included?

Certainly, we know the piece was tried several times as there was another version on “Another Self Portrait” (Bootleg volume 10).  That recording is not on the internet (at least not in the UK) but can be found on Spotify.  The opening guitar part on that version is reminiscent of “It takes a lot to laugh” and it is a beautiful version, although the accompaniment just occasionally becomes slightly confused with each instrumentalist doing his own thing that little bit too much.  As a result, I don’t think that version was ever seriously considered for the album, and it just stops at the end in the way recordings do when the lead performer just stops and waves an arm, and everyone knows he’s not happy.

Aaron: Eric Clapton also recorded two versions for Slowhand (1977) & Unplugged (1992)

Slowhand (1977)

Tony:  I am not sure I’ve heard this before, and it is quite a surprise finding how differently Clapton has decided to play the piece.  There is a very understated guitar solo in the piece too, Clapton seemingly not wanting to shine through or dominate, and let the song do the talking.  Classic light blues ending too.

Unplugged (1992)

Tony: Eric Clapton does get that utterly relaxed feel out of the song.  And something has just made me go back to the very first version in this selection… and again I am thinking, it is amazing how far this song has travelled.   How did it get so transformed?   The later versions owe far more to “Corina Corina” than they ever do to the original version; it’s strange.

If you have a moment do go back and play the first recording in this sequence; I think you might agree it is one hell of a journey.

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
  54. Other people’s Songs: Gotta Travel On
  55. Other people’s songs: “Can’t help falling in love”
  56. Other people’s songs: Lily of the West

One comment

  1. Bob picks songs to cover that make sense in the in the poetic language he created. Unbelievable but he has a vast repertoire and a phonographic memory.

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