Sweet Amarillo by Bob Dylan or Donna Weiss or Old Crow (choose up to 2).

By Tony Attwood

This is a song maybe by Bob Dylan, maybe by Old Crow Medicine Show, maybe by Donna Terry Weiss and maybe not.  I’ll try and untangle it and give you my view, but obviously I have no proof other than the information I can present below.

Here is the Old Crow official video version

Now do take a listen to that and see if it does not remind you a bit of Isis.  The chord sequence is identical as is the beat.

Try this

So I drifted on down from the Iron Ore Range
Across the wide Missouri where the cool waters flow
When I got to Topeka I looked up your name
But they said you rode off with the last rodeo

or

Down in Old Amarillo there’s a light in the window
Where a road weary shadow drifts into the arms
Of a long distance lover then they turn back the covers
And dance the Redova ’til the light of the dawn

OK there is no direct cribbing but the feel of  the music and lyrics just reminds me so much of

I came to a high place of darkness and light
The dividing line ran through the center of town
I hitched up my pony to a post on the right
Went in to a laundry to wash my clothes down

Here’s Dylan’s version from the Pat Garratt days, which seems a pretty definitive statement on who wrote it.

 

But who wrote it?   Concerning the Donna Terry Weiss story Wikipedia (as of 31 August 2018) goes with this saying

“Sweet Amarillo” is a song written by Donna Terry Weiss. Brenda Patterson released the song on her 1974 album “Like Good Wine”.”

Their source is quoted as “Brenda Patterson – Like Good Wine” Discogs. Retrieved 3 July 2014″ where indeed it does say, “Sweet Amarillo written by Donna Weiss”

But this wouldn’t be the first error made in claiming the copyright of a song, so I am going with the alternative story that Bob Dylan sketched out a song for “Billy the Kid” and then later, much later, gave it to Old Crow Medicine Show as a way of saying “thanks” after “Wagon Wheel” got to number one in the country charts.   While in between these events Brenda Patterson heard the original and developed it.

Ketch Secor of Old Crow said in an interview, “We got an email from Bob Dylan’s manager saying congratulations right around the time Darius Rucker had a No. 1 single with ‘Wagon Wheel.’ It’s not every day that country music recognizes this great pioneer and huge influence, Bob Dylan. Bob doesn’t have many No. 1 songs in any genres. So it was a big deal to get one.

“Bob realized that and sent us a note, and a couple of weeks later, he sent a demo and said, “Here’s a song that I never really finished. It was recorded a few days after ‘Rock Me Mama.’ Give it a try. We’d like the boys, the Old Crows to give it whirl’.

“So I finished the song with Old Crow, and we sent it back to Bob and he said, ‘Hey, that sounds great, but I think Ketch should play the fiddle, not the harmonica, and I think the chorus needs to come in at the eighth bar, not the 16th.’ We did exactly what Bob said, and it’s like the song sprouted wings and flew.

The Old Crow Medicine Show released their version on July 1, 2014. Here is a live recording

So when do we date this?  We have February 1973 for the original recording in Burbank, California and that seems to me to be the date we should give it.

Well the world’s greatest wonder from what I can tell
Is how a cowgirl like you could ever look my way
I was blinded by glory with a half-written story
And a song spilling out off of every page

Sweet Amarillo
Tears on my pillow
You never will know
How much I cried
Sweet Amarillo
Like the wind in the willow
Damn this old cowboy
For my foolish pride

So I drifted on down from the Iron Ore Range
Across the wide Missouri where the cool waters flow
When I got to Topeka I looked up your name
But they said you rode off with the last rodeo

Sweet Amarillo
Tears on my pillow
You never will know
How much I cried
Sweet Amarillo
Like the wind in the willows
Damn this old cowboy
For my foolish pride

Well the thunder’s a-rumbling and the tumbleweed’s tumbling
And the rodeo clowns are painting their face
I’m gunning the throttle for Ilano Estacado
On a wild Appaloosa I’m blowing your way

Down in Old Amarillo there’s a light in the window
Where a road weary shadow drifts into the arms
Of a long distance lover then they turn back the covers
And dance the Redova ’til the light of the dawn

Sweet Amarillo
Tears on my pillow
You never will know
How much I cried
Sweet Amarillo
Like the wind in the willows
Damn this old cowboy
For my foolish pride

Sweet Amarillo
Sweet Amarillo

Here’s another version…

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.

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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.

 

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5 Responses to Sweet Amarillo by Bob Dylan or Donna Weiss or Old Crow (choose up to 2).

  1. Morten Jonsson says:

    Donna Weiss was at the Pat Garrett sessions. She’s singing on Bob’s recording of this song. She also performed it herself during the second Rolling Thunder tour. The obvious explanation is that it’s her song, and that Brenda Patterson’s only role in the story was to make the first released recording.

    It’s true that the song as Bob recorded it is somewhat different than the one by Weiss and Patterson. So it’s possible that he wrote the song and gave it to her to finish. We can guess that that’s what happened, but there’s no evidence for it at all, other than the fact that Bob seems to have thought it was his when he let Old Crow Medicine Show have it. And we know how scrupulous he is about ownership.

  2. Geoff Webb says:

    Dead on. I remember Bobby Neuwirth introducing her, saying she sings like a bird. I was going to mention her in the Pat Garrett sessions, but you beat me to it!

  3. Laura says:

    If you listen to the Dylan recording, you can clearly tell that one of the female singers in the background (Donna Weiss and Brenda Patterson) are more familiar with the song than Dylan, who is mostly fumbling with the structure and melody. At one point you can even hear one of them say, “there it is”, just when Dylan is getting the hang of things. This leads me to think that she wrote the song and was teaching it to Dylan, who then maybe put his own spin on it. Why he then thought it his song to pass on to OCMS, I don’t know.

  4. Sam Rajinsky says:

    HELLO
    dylan did not have anything to do with writing sweet amarillo.
    donna weiss wrote the words and music.
    she is singing it on the piece of it that was recorded at the pat garrett sessions during an obvious spur of the moment sing along with Priscilla coolidge and brenda patterson with dylan fumbling through the wrong chords. Years later dylan sent it to ketch decor who thought dylan wrote it but soon found out that the song was written by donna Weiss. Check the writer’s credits on the old crow cd and you will see for yourself.
    Why cant whoever writes this crap get this straight? Go look at dylans copyrights online. You won’t find sweet amarillo there cause he had nothing to do with writing it.

  5. TonyAttwood says:

    I think Sam that one might also say in response to “Why cant whoever writes this crap get this straight? Go look at dylans copyrights online” why can you not put your point of view without being abusive? Or indeed why don’t you bother to look elsewhere at the commentaries we have written about issues concerning Dylan copyright and errors and oddities in the the online copyright notes. Or indeed perhaps you might have spent a moment considering the title of the article.
    But I suppose such matters might be a little beyond you.

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