Whatcha Gonna Do? Dylan’s magnificent 1962 blues, once rushed, once perfect

By Tony Attwood

Two versions, one from November and one from December 1962.  One is on the Witmark Demos and the other is linked below; I am not sure which is which.

But I do think the non-Witmark version is several thousand light years ahead of the Whitmark, in terms of blues feel and emotion.  It is Bob Dylan as the modern Robert Johnson, whereas the faster Whitmark version has an element of “yee-haa” in it, as if Bob himself isn’t taking it all seriously.

Trying to describe the notion of the “feel” of the blues is hard; but it does have something to do with the speed, and the way the guitar accompaniment in the version below is not a solid plod-plod-plod chordal style of the Witmark version but has far more off-beat additions.  Here the guitar part tells us as much as the lyrics; in the Witmark version, it is simply there to hold the beat.

The voice in this slower version is much more in sympathy with the lyrics – there is no sense of hurrying through the verses: it is all about the feeling.  And of course it is not harmed by the fact that Robert Johnson himself, on one of his more together days, might have played the guitar like this.

The song is utterly simple – the opening line and its completion sung three times followed by the concluding lines – which vary in the slower version from the official text provided on the Bob Dylan site.

Tell me what you’re gonna do
When the shadow comes under your door
Tell me what you’re gonna do
When the shadow comes under your door
Tell me what you’re gonna do
When the shadow comes under your door
O Lord, O Lord
What shall you do?


I think it is an overwhelming shame that this song in this slower version was dropped from Freewheelin’.  As a final track it would have been a great rounding off to the whole album – although I would not want to suggest what should have been dropped.

But rather than go down that route, just play this slower non-Witmark version, and marvel at a very young white urban blues singer who had mastered the genre so totally at such a tender age.

This is absolute, natural talent – and if you want to hear how it developed, and how Dylan could get it right in terms of a faster song, do move over to the to the Witmark album and listen to Gypsy Lou .  Within a few months this guy musically could take those blues apart and go anywhere, do anything.  As I say, totally untutored, absolute natural talent.

The Discussion Group

We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase in, on your Facebook page or go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/254617038225146/  It is also a simple way of staying in touch with the latest reviews on this site and day to day news about Dylan.

The Chronology Files

There are reviews of Dylan’s compositions from all parts of his life, up to the most recent writings, but of late I have been trying to put these into chronological order, and fill in the gaps as I work.

All the songs reviewed on this site are also listed on the home page in alphabetical order – just scroll down a bit once you get there.



  1. From Gerde’s MC Gil Turner, there’s a taped version of Dylan performing “Whatcha Gonna Do” on the 1971 vinyl bootleg
    “Seems Like A Freeze Out”(Trade Mark of Quality

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