Other people’s songs: “A Fool Such As I”

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

In this series (of which there is a full index at the end) Aaron selects a song that Dylan has recorded but which he did not write, and looks at the Dylan version and other artists’ versions of the song.   Tony (on the other side of the Atlantic) then adds his comments.

Aaron: “A Fool Such As I” is a song written by Bill Trader and released in 1952 as “(Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such as I”.

Tony:  According to the tales told (and I have no idea if this is apocryphal or true) Bill Trader was musically illiterate and so when he composed a song he would then take the new song to a friend who would write out the music for him.  Bill would then take the song to Nashville and try to sell it.   I can’t find any details as to whether Bill Trader kept the rights or sold them on, but as far as I can tell it was his one giant hit, and possibly his only hit.  If you have more information on Bill Trader and any other successful songs he wrote I’d be very grateful if you could write in, as I’d love to add to my knowledge.

Aaron: Elvis Presley’s 1958 version, which reached No. 2 in the US and went platinum, could have served as Dylan’s inspiration.

Tony: One of the things that most people who were around in the 50s and listening to popular music remember from this version is the deep bass vocal which comes in at the start and one or two places thereafter.  It was sung on this recording by Ray Walker who had just recently been hired as the bass singer for the Jordanaires.   The story is that Ray Walker taught Elvis (who was musically illiterate) the song.

In fact the arranger of the accompaniment must have realised just how powerful that single line from Ray Walker was, as it ends the instrumental break with telling effect.  To the best of my knowledge, Ray Walker is (at the moment I write this in July 2023) still with us, aged 89.

It is reported (and obviously I can’t verify this, what with being in the UK) that between the 1960s and the turn of the century he was constantly recording songs for his and other churches, alongside his work with the Jordanaires, and quite a few people seem to suggest that his was the most recorded voice in the history of music!  Of course no way to verify that, but Mr Walker certainly did record a lot of songs for the benefit of his church.  It is reported in some quarters that he is still a minister of the Waverly Church of Christ in Tennessee.

Aaron: Dylan’s version came from the 1973 album Dylan.

Tony: So Bob has put in a totally different accompaniment – and I have a problem with this.  Some total reworkings of a piece can indeed offer a new insight, but if they don’t quite work, then there is the sort of problem I have here (and of course this is just a problem for me).  The fact is I know the Elvis version too well, which makes this reworking sound a bit odd and forced.  Now that is not to say that the original version of any song is always the best one – of course not as Bob himself has proven so many times.  But when making a cover that is utterly different from the original, the new version has to offer something new: a new insight or feeling for example.  But here the only newness for me is that it is not the original, which runs really smoothly and beautifully.   Unlike so many re-workings by Bob of his own material, which seem to offer new insights, I am not at all sure I get anything at all new out of this reworking.

Aaron: Dylan originally recorded this song in 1967 during the sessions for “The Basement Tapes”. That version remained (officially) unreleased until 2014.

Tony: Now this is really interesting, as obviously from the opening it is clear that Bob has not prepared what he is going to do, as he is unsure of what key to work in.   But when he gets going he retains the essence of the original song.   I do however cringe at the spoken verse – and not just here but virtually every time I hear one of these.   I never quite understand the point, and it always just sounds so horribly forced as lyrics which are written to be sung are spoken in a slow drawn out way (as is necessary to stay in time with the accompaniment.  However that is, as usual, just my response.

Overall though I do wish Bob had left it there with the Basement recording.

Aaron: A version by Steve Goodman was included on his Grammy award-winning second posthumous album Unfinished Business in 1989.

Tony: Now I do like this because it retains the whole self-deprecating notion of the title in the way that the song is sung.  It is just relaxing, and I think for the first time in all the examples here, believable.  In case you don’t know Steve Goodman’s work as a composer and would like to here is just one more:

Aaron: Jason Donovan included on his version on his 1991 Greatest Hits album. Here is the rather hilarious video for the song

Tony: I am lost for words.

Other people’s songs: the 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
  57. Other people’s songs: Alberta
  58. Other people’s songs: Little Maggie
  59. Other people’s songs: Sitting on top of the world
  60. Dylan’s take on “Let it be me”
  61. Other people’s songs: From “Take me as I am” all the way to “Baker Street”


  1. Elvis ‘musically illiterate’? What a stupid thing to say. Try reading Guralnick.

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