High Water (2001) part 17: I’m drinking Bob Dylan Whiskey tonight


I don’t know what it means either: an index to the current series appearing on this website.

XVII     I’m drinking Bob Dylan Whiskey tonight

by Jochen Markhorst

I’m gettin’ up in the morning—I believe I’ll dust my broom
Keeping away from the women
I’m givin’ ’em lots of room
Thunder rolling over Clarksdale, everything is looking blue
I just can’t be happy, love
Unless you’re happy too
It’s bad out there
High water everywhere

“We were thinking that somebody needs to write some Bob Dylan songs to help change the world,” Jack Tempchin tells Songfacts, “we’re in a lot of trouble right now – maybe if I drink this whiskey, I can write a Bob Dylan song.”

By “this whiskey”, Tempchin obviously means Heaven’s Door, Dylan’s own brand of whiskey launched in 2018. The song is fun enough, but gains considerable traction when in 2022 Jack is joined by the guys of Mrs. Henry, the talented “official revival” quartet from San Diego that put so much love and skills into resuscitating The Band. Jack seeks contact when he sees Mrs. Henry’s recreation of The Last Waltz: “I wrote them an email, I said, look, I’m not Bob Dylan, and you’re not The Band, but maybe we should get together and make some music.” And a first fruit of that collaboration is a reanimation of the witty “Bob Dylan Whiskey”;

The times they are changing
Like never before
So I turn off the news
And pour me one more

And I’m tryin to write a song
Like I wish he would write
I’m drinking Bob Dylan
Whiskey tonight

Jack Tempchin and Mrs. Henry – Bob Dylan’s Whiskey:


The song has an appealing double layer of irony. Jack Tempchin’s own commentary allows us to equate the I-person with the writer and singer, with Tempchin, so we may understand the song as Jack’s personal, autobiographical desire to write a Great Song. Demonstrating sympathetic self-mockery; Tempchin has written songs for George Jones and Emmylou Harris, for Johnny Rivers and for Olivia Newton-John and a host of premier league artists more, but especially for the Eagles – the best-selling U.S. album of the twentieth century, Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975, features two Tempchin songs: “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Already Gone”. In 2019, Jack will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York City; no, Tempchin cannot complain about his ability to write Great Songs.

The second layer is even more ironic: Jack Tempchin did, in fact, write Dylan songs. Well, sort of anyway. Which he also owes to his Eagles connection. When the Eagles break up and move on to solo projects, Tempchin remains the regular songwriter for Glenn Frey, the Eagles guitarist who is namechecked by Dylan in “Murder Most Foul” (Play Don Henley, play Glenn Frey / Take it to the limit and let it go by). On Frey’s solo debut No Fun Aloud, Tempchin (co-)wrote six of the 10 songs, on the successful follow-up The Allnighter all 10 of them. “We have a very good rapport,” Frey says of Tempchin (Ultimate Classic Rock, June 2015). “It’s funny, there are only those certain people where things click – at least for me. He’s very free. I’ll just run some soul licks by him.” To which Jack then writes his lyrics. Among others for the song from which Dylan will so gratefully draw.

Dylan himself turns the spotlight on the Eagles twice in 2020. Apart from that name-check, his remark in the interview with Douglas Brinkley for the New York Times in June 2020 also causes a stir. Brinkley is curious about how and why Play Don Henley, play Glenn Frey, and wants to know which Eagles songs Dylan admires;

“”New Kid in Town,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” “Pretty Maids All in a Row.” That could be one of the best songs ever.”

Which retrospectively sheds new light on the opening couplet of a Time Out Of Mind outtake, on the crushingly beautiful “Red River Shore”, which we don’t get to hear until 2008, on The Bootleg Series 8: Tell Tale Signs;

In the moonlight shooting by
Some of us scare ourselves to death in the dark
To be where the angels fly
Pretty maids all in a row lined up
Outside my cabin door
I’ve never wanted any of ’em wanting me
’Cept the girl from the Red River shore

At the time, the eighteenth-century nursery rhyme “Mary” seemed the obvious source of pretty maids in a row, but now the Eagles song is becoming a serious option. And by extension, Glenn Frey’s solo work is being looked at with new eyes. Perhaps it is no coincidence after all that It’s too hot to sleep in the opening of “Not Dark Yet” was already sung by Glenn Frey in 1992, five years before “Not Dark Yet”, on Strange Weather in the song “Long Hot Summer”. Written by… Jack Tempchin.

It opens floodgates. And the most amazing aha! we then find on The Allnighter, the record on which every song was (co-)written by Tempchin. Number 3 is “I Got Love”, an attractive piece of craftsmanship that would have long since been forgotten if it had not contributed to one of Dylan’s Very Great Songs: I started thinkin’ ’bout the things we said / I said I’m sorry; She said I’m sorry too sings Glenn in the second verse – and Dylan copies it, paraphrasing it in “Mississippi”:

I was thinkin’ about the things that Rosie said
I was dreaming I was sleeping in Rosie’s bed
So many things that we never will undo
I know you’re sorry, I’m sorry too

… so that we now also begin to believe that Frey’s fragment (or rather Tempchins) from the heavens above descends into the outtake Dylan writes in the same days as “Mississippi”, in “Dreamin’ Of You”, and that “I Got Love” is still echoing in the creative part of Dylan’s brain four years later when he writes another Very Great Song. The entire second verse of the Frey/Tempchin song inspiring “Mississippi” is:

Jumped on the freeway with this song in my head
I started thinkin' 'bout the things we said 
I said I'm sorry; She said I'm sorry too; 
You know I can't be happy unless I'm happy with you.

… which in Dylan’s meandering stream of consciousness four years later is regrinded to I just can’t be happy, love / Unless you’re happy too. Making Jack Tempchin’s dream of writing a song the way Dylan does at least partly come true; after his contributions to the majestic Dylan songs “Not Dark Yet”, “Mississippi” and “High Water”, he may by now with some right call himself a co-author. “I tried to be Bob Dylan over and over again in my life,” says Jack in 2016 to interviewer Paul Zollo for Laurel Canyon Radio. “And it always never worked. ‘Cause I am not him.”

Still, the next best thing Jack Tempchin did manage to reach.

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To be continued. Next up High Water (For Charley Patton) part 18: Every scrap of paper I’ve ever written on

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:



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