Bob Dylan and Wilf Carter (and a certain amount of rye whiskey)

Bob Dylan And Wilf Carter

by Larry Fyffe

In the popular song below, there are references to a traditional American folksong which has a number of variations – titles include: ‘Rye Whiskey’, ‘Jack-o-Diamonds’, and ‘Moonshiner’:

Bye, bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee
But the levee was dry
And them good ole boys
Were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
(Don MacLean: American Pie)

Wilf Carter, from Nova Scotia, Canada, (like Hank Snow, and both having similar young lives there) becomes known as ‘Montana Slim’ when he travels to the United States to advance his career in the entertainment field.

Carter popularizes the traditional American folksong:

Rye whiskey, rye whiskey, rye whiskey, I’ll cry
If whiskey don’t kill me, I’ll live till I die
If the ocean was whiskey, and I was a duck
I’d swim to the bottom, and never come up
But the ocean ain’t whiskey, and I ain’t no duck
So I’ll play Jack-o-Diamonds , and trust in my luck
(Wilf Carter: Rye Whiskey)

[The Wilf Carter version only seems to be available on Spotify, so you’ll need an account if you don’t have one (it’s free).]

American ‘Tex’ Ritter sings the same folk song, but overdoes the drunk act when doing so:

Jack-o-Diamonds, Jack-o-Diamonds, and I know you of old
You robbed my poor pockets of silver and gold ….
And it’s whiskey, rye whiskey – whiskey, I cry
Don’t get a rye whiskey, I think I will die
It’s a beef steak when I’m hungry, whiskey when I’m dry
A greenback when I’m hard-up, it’s a heaven when I die
I’ll go to yonder hollow, build me a still
Give you a gallon for a five dollar bill
(Texas Ritter: Rye Whiskey)

Bob Dylan, from Minnisota, arranges the lyrics under a different title, this way:

I’ll go to some hollow
And set up my still
If whiskey don’t kill me, I don’t know what will ….
Let me eat when I’m hungry
Let me drink when I am dry
A dollar when I’m hard-up
Religion when I die
(Bob Dylan: Moonshiner)

[Note – Moonshiner is one of those songs which appears on the official Dylan site under the meaningless phrase WRITTEN BY: BOB DYLAN (ARR).  It is a traditional song.]

“Yodelin’ Slim” Clark, from Massachusetts, who names one of his sons Wilf Carter, sings:

If I don’t get rye whiskey, surely I will die ….
Her parents don’t like me, they say I’m too poor
To them who said, ‘don’t weather her door’
If her parents don’t like me, my money’s my own
And them that don’t like me can leave me alone
(Slim Clark: Rye Whiskey)

In any event, whichever variation Bob Dylan arranges, it’s related to a ballad that’s recorded by a folk singer from New York:

Controlled by her parents until she’s a wife
A slave to her husband the rest of her life ….
Oh, my parents don’t like him because he is poor
They say he’s not worthy of entering my door
He works for a living, his money’s his own
And if they don’t like it, they can leave him alone
(Joan Baez: Wagoner’s Lad)

Bringing it forward to another song:

Well, I sat down beside her, and for a while
I tried to make her my wife ….
I had to pull back from the door
I wish I could have spent every hour of my life
With the girl from the Red River Shore
(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

And back home to the Maritimes:

Seems I still see the old covered wagon
And the first day I ever met you
Never dreaming our meeting would bring sorrow
And the Red River Valley blue
I will rest in the Red River Valley
Where we parted and bid fair adieu
But remember the Red River Valley
And my Red River Valley blue
(Wilf Carter: Red River Valley Blues)

What else is on the site

You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to the 500+ Dylan compositions reviewed is now on a new page of its own.  You will find it here.  It contains reviews of every Dylan composition that we can find a recording of – if you know of anything we have missed please do write in.

We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.


  1. That is to say: All these songs are related to one another – even ‘Red River Shore’ which is the only one written by Bob Dylan.

  2. Correcrions:

    * In any event, whichever variation Bob Dylan sourcss…

    **’Twas them who said not to weather her door….

  3. ‘Moonshiner’ is on the Bob Dylan vinyl bootleg album (1974) titled:
    ‘Ode To Barbara Allen’

  4. One version of ‘Moonshiner’ goes:

    Oh moonshine, oh moonshine, oh how I love thee
    You killed my old father but will you try me?
    Oh bless all moonshiners, and bless all moonshine
    Oh it’s breath smells as sweet as dew on the vine
    If ocean was whiskey and I was a duck
    I’d swim to the bottom and drink my way up
    But ocean ain’t whiskey, and I ain’t a duck
    So I’ll stick to wild women, and trust in my luck

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