Dylan Cover a Day: Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll

By Tony Attwood

The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll is not a Dylan song I would ever feel moved to pick out from  the collection and play; it makes an incredibly important point, but it is a point I know, it tells a story I know and musically I know it (as I am sure everyone interested in Dylan does) so well, that I could hear it all the way through in my head, if I wished to.

It is of course an important song, and the writing and recording of it was indeed a considerable achievement, and  so it was no surprise that Dylan played it nearly 300 times until saying farewell to the song finally on the Never Ending Tour 11 years ago.

And I guess because I know the song so well, as I imagine you might do, it wasn’t with too much excitement that I started work on episode 145 of this series.  Indeed I wouldn’t have been surprised if there had just been two or three cover versions.  But how wrong one can be, as I have so often learned in this series.   Thus, here’s my selection, but not because I think each is necessarily a stand-out contribution to music, or to understanding Dylan, but because to my amazement the song has been treated so differently across the years and some of these versions really do move me.

Take this as a starter: Roky Erickson.

It blasts out with gusto, changes one of the chords in the repeated opening lines, and continues to belt out the piece throughout.  And in a very clear way it symbolises Roky’s incredibly difficult struggle with mental health throughout his life.  I’ve chosen to put this up, and place it first, because it seems to me that no one else could consider doing this arrangement to this song, and that was what Roky was about.   And there is nothing more lonesome than the sort of mental health issues that Roky suffered from.

Of course that version above is an outlier, so here is a complete contrast.   It is an interesting point of debate whether the message of the song, which Roky put across with such vigour being as much an outsider as it is possible to be, can be delivered with violins and gentleness in the accompaniment.  I am not sure if this really works… sometimes I think so, others, maybe not.

Moving on, I’m not at all the right person to discuss reggae; it has never been part of my musical life, I don’t own any recordings of reggae (at least as far as I can remember) and when I listen I have the same problem as with Steve Howe: there seems to be disconnect between the meaning of the lyrics and what the music says to me.

So after this I went looking for this song performed in a totally different way, a way which I could find musically interesting, without ever losing the meaning of song.  Les Shelleys do exactly that.  The harmonies suggest a gentleness of many of those who fell victim to discrimination and hatred, and that incredibly simple accompaniment is just there… whoever could have imagined that one could take a song this long and make the accompaniment this simple.

It does get the chords added around the 2’50” mark for the fade out, and that just seems to make the whole thing even more powerful for me.

But contrasts are everything, so that version above has to be followed by Alias: Zimmerman (Apple sings Dylan)!  This is by Winson Apple of whom I know nothing.  Please do write in and tell me about him.  The accompaniment seems to have nothing to do with the message of the song, and yet somehow, I don’t find that a problem.  Maybe that is because I know the song so well, that it doesn’t matter.  Or maybe having listened to each of the covers, it no longer matters.

So on to the last recording.  Cage the Elephant have been around for 15 years or so, making albums, and have won a couple of Grammy’s on the way.  They have, it seems to me, considered the meaning of the lyrics, and recognised that most of their listeners will know the song, and so have reinvented it, but without destroying it.  I find this version particularly moving: vocals and instruments merge with the lyrics that I guess most of us know by heart.  And they manage to hold the interest they generate, perfectly.  If you find it worth listening to, do stay through to the end.  If any version captures that last line perfectly, it is this one.


The Dylan Cover a Day series

  1. The song with numbers in the title.
  2. Ain’t Talkin
  3. All I really want to do
  4.  Angelina
  5.  Apple Suckling and Are you Ready.
  6. As I went out one morning
  7.  Ballad for a Friend
  8. Ballad in Plain D
  9. Ballad of a thin man
  10.  Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
  11. The ballad of Hollis Brown
  12. Beyond here lies nothing
  13. Blind Willie McTell
  14.  Black Crow Blues (more fun than you might recall)
  15. An unexpected cover of “Black Diamond Bay”
  16. Blowin in the wind as never before
  17. Bob Dylan’s Dream
  18. BoB Dylan’s 115th Dream revisited
  19. Boots of Spanish leather
  20. Born in Time
  21. Buckets of Rain
  22. Can you please crawl out your window
  23. Can’t wait
  24. Changing of the Guard
  25. Chimes of Freedom
  26. Country Pie
  27.  Crash on the Levee
  28. Dark Eyes
  29. Dear Landlord
  30. Desolation Row as never ever before (twice)
  31. Dignity.
  32. Dirge
  33. Don’t fall apart on me tonight.
  34. Don’t think twice
  35.  Down along the cove
  36. Drifter’s Escape
  37. Duquesne Whistle
  38. Farewell Angelina
  39. Foot of Pride and Forever Young
  40. Fourth Time Around
  41. From a Buick 6
  42. Gates of Eden
  43. Gotta Serve Somebody
  44. Hard Rain’s a-gonna Fall.
  45. Heart of Mine
  46. High Water
  47. Highway 61
  48. Hurricane
  49. I am a lonesome hobo
  50. I believe in you
  51. I contain multitudes
  52. I don’t believe you.
  53. I love you too much
  54. I pity the poor immigrant. 
  55. I shall be released
  56. I threw it all away
  57. I want you
  58. I was young when I left home
  59. I’ll remember you
  60. Idiot Wind and  More idiot wind
  61. If not for you, and a rant against prosody
  62. If you Gotta Go, please go and do something different
  63. If you see her say hello
  64. Dylan cover a day: I’ll be your baby tonight
  65. I’m not there.
  66. In the Summertime, Is your love and an amazing Isis
  67. It ain’t me babe
  68. It takes a lot to laugh
  69. It’s all over now Baby Blue
  70. It’s all right ma
  71. Just Like a Woman
  72. Knocking on Heaven’s Door
  73. Lay down your weary tune
  74. Lay Lady Lay
  75. Lenny Bruce
  76. That brand new leopard skin pill box hat
  77. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
  78. License to kill
  79. Like a Rolling Stone
  80. Love is just a four letter word
  81. Love Sick
  82. Maggies Farm!
  83. Make you feel my love; a performance that made me cry.
  84. Mama you’ve been on my mind
  85. Man in a long black coat.
  86. Masters of War
  87. Meet me in the morning
  88. Million Miles. Listen, and marvel.
  89. Mississippi. Listen, and marvel (again)
  90. Most likely you go your way
  91. Most of the time and a rhythmic thing
  92. Motorpsycho Nitemare
  93. Mozambique
  94. Mr Tambourine Man
  95. My back pages, with a real treat at the end
  96. New Morning
  97. New Pony. Listen where and when appropriate
  98. Nobody Cept You
  99. North Country Blues
  100. No time to think
  101. Obviously Five Believers
  102. Oh Sister
  103. On the road again
  104. One more cup of coffee
  105. (Sooner or later) one of us must know
  106. One too many mornings
  107. Only a hobo
  108. Only a pawn in their game
  109. Outlaw Blues – prepare to be amazed
  110. Oxford Town
  111. Peggy Day and Pledging my time
  112. Please Mrs Henry
  113. Political world
  114. Positively 4th Street
  115. Precious Angel
  116. Property of Jesus
  117. Queen Jane Approximately
  118. Quinn the Eskimo as it should be performed.
  119. Quit your lowdown ways
  120. Rainy Day Women as never before
  121. Restless Farewell. Exquisite arrangements, unbelievable power
  122. Ring them bells in many different ways
  123. Romance in Durango, covered and re-written
  124. Sad Eyed Lady of Lowlands, like you won’t believe
  125. Sara
  126. Senor
  127. A series of Dreams; no one gets it (except Dylan)
  128. Seven Days
  129. She Belongs to Me
  130. Shelter from the Storm
  131. Sign on the window
  132. Silvio
  133. Simple twist of fate
  134. Slow Train
  135. Someday Baby
  136. Spanish Harlem Incident
  137. Standing in the Doorway
  138. Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
  139. Subterranean Homesick Blues
  140. Sweetheart Like You
  141. Tangled up in Blue
  142. Tears of Rage
  143.  Temporary Like Achilles. Left in the cold, but there’s still something…
  144. The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar

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