“Well, well, well.” If you have never heard this Dylan song, listen now

The music to Well, well, well was originally sketched and recorded by Bob Dylan in 1985 – which is why the song is listed in 1985 in the 1980s section of the Chronology.   But it wasn’t completed until 12 years later when Danny O’Keefe put the words to it.

It was then recorded by Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama – and I must admit I have had the Ben Harper album with it on for years and years without ever reading the sleeve notes closely enough to realise I was listening to a Dylan composition!

O’Keefe has performed it too and it appears on Steve Howe’s album “Portraits of Bob Dylan”.  (Steve Howe was the guitarist with Yes, if you remember things back that far).

Danny O’Keffe started playing in Minnesota coffee houses (so you can see the link with Bob).  In an interview he said, “Dylan provided me with a music track, and I wrote the lyrics. I really wanted to do it, because I thought I might never again have a chance to write a song with him. The chances of being in the same room with him are really extreme, you know? Somewhere on the tape that Dylan sent me are the words “Well, well,” which gave me the idea for the title of the song.”

As a recording artist O’Keefe had a hit single (and it was a million selling hit single, so not just any hit single) with “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues” in 1972.  O’Keefe then became deeply involved with the environmental movement, which explains how the lyrics to Well, Well, Well turned out.

Danny O’Keefe released his own version of Well, Well, Well in February 2000, on his album “Running From The Devil”.

Here are the lyrics…

the man who stole the water will swim forevermore
but he’ll never reach the land on that golden shore
that faint white light will haunt his heart
till he’s only a memory lost in the dark

take care of your body like you care for your soul
don’t dig yourself into a hole
until you’ve paid the price you can’t know what it’s worth
the air water fire and earth

dig a hole in the ground straight down to hell
till there ain’t no more water in the well, well, well
when you’re down on your knees with nothing left to sell
try diggin a little deeper in the well, well, well
well, well, well

And the recordings…

In this version by O’Keefe, there is 90 seconds of talk first about how he came to write the song with Bob Dylan, which is ok, but could put you off… so I would beg you to stay with it, or reset the counter to 1’30” and listen.  This is so worth hearing…


And then go to Ben Harper

And if you enjoy the Ben Harper version do get some of his albums.  You will not be disappointed.

Musically everything comes from the melody – which is not something we can always say about Bob’s music.  Just three chords exist beneath the melody – which would be just another song if it were not for what the melody does – and indeed those lyrics on top of it.

Certainly one of the great things about the song is the way these two arrangements can be put together – so different and yet the same song.

I do hope you enjoy this even 5% as much as I do.  If so, listening to these two versions will surely have been worth it.








  1. David Lindley has been doing this song since at least 1995. There is a version from 2000 on YouTube.

  2. Thanks for that Chris. The video is on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_ci205DZEI but that is dated 1998 in the title, but then when one plays it, the video info says that the recording comes from 2012. Below that there is also this statement.

    Artists: David Lindley, Wally Ingram
    Album: Twango Bango Deluxe
    Released: 1998
    Other recordings of this song….

    Well, Well, Well
    Maria Muldaur · 1996

  3. Thanks for sharing this. i never heard it before. so dylan has never recorded the vocal of this, right? was the 1985 recording an instrumental? same thing he sent to O’Keefe? Danny O’Keefe writes great quirky deep feeling songs, which paint a visual picture rather than spell everything out in words. I guess Dylan has really dug him. Far out, right? Bob Dylan sends you some music and says “write me some lyrics?” lol. and nothing saying what it’s supposed to be about. I got Danny O’Keefe’s Breezy Stories album when it came out in 1972, on the recommendation of this hip DJ, Skip Weschner on the FM classical music station, KFAC, it was a midnight show and Weschner played all kinds of things he wanted to turn his listeners onto, and he played a song he thought was amazing called Mad Ruth the Babe, and i loved the song too, it’s an interweaving of a couple of stories, very artistic and emotional mix. so i got the Breezy Stories album. Good Time Charley is on it, that wasn’t one of my favorites. He wrote and recorded The Road on that album, Jackson Browne does it on the Runnin On Empty album that came out in 1978. I saw Danny play live once, 2004 at McCabes Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, it’s a very intimate setting, great acoustics. Danny is as good a guitarist as i’ve ever heard, acoustic fingerstyle. complex, intricate, he’s a natural.

  4. Bob Dylan sends you some music and says “write me some lyrics?”

    That is how the story is told by those involved at the time. Bob always has been different.

  5. Hi, another version of well well well can be found on the album Down to Earth by veteran British musician Joe Brown. The album was recorded in 2006 and Joe’s version of the song, which is excellent, can be viewed on YouTube.

  6. The version on Steve Howe’s on Portraits is sung by P.P. Arnold not Danny o’Keefe
    & a great performace as well.

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