By Tony Attwood
Dylan has never lost his affection for the classic 12 bar blues – the first line repeated and then the answering line. Verse, verse, verse, and no middle 8. The basic chord sequence which can be varied but in essence is as here (in what is the unusual key for Dylan of B major)
B E B; E B; F#, E, B; B;
The song even has a “lord have mercy mama” line in it to make it real traditional blues.
The song includes Bob Dylan on piano and Peter Drake on pedal steel guitar. What is interesting however is that Dylan uses the blues format not to say “I got the blues”, nor even “my woman she left me” but rather to say “I love her and she loves me, and oh how happy we will be.”
Well, not quite, but you know what I mean.
From my time as a very ordinary rock n roll artist I can say that these 12 bar blues are a lot more fun to play than they necessarily are to listen to. There’s something about the format that makes you think, no matter what sort of cock up you’ve made of the last verse, there’s another one along in a second and this time you are really going to tell it like it is. Or something like that.
And Dylan certainly seems to be having fun on the piano. In the first two verses he’s very much in the background on the piano, but by the third verse we’re getting more glimpses.
We can hear the piano more clearly in the instrumental verse, and then suddenly as that break reaches its climax there he is pounding away the F sharp chord in semiquavers (four hits of the chord to each beat, making 16 in all). And then we fade out. Was it all because he wanted to play the piano on a blues?
There’s nothing wrong with the song, but with such a fun and well crafted pop song after it (I’ll be your baby), and such masterpieces of surreal storytelling like Drifter’s Escape and All Along the Watchtower, it really seems to be there to remind us all of where Dylan, and all the music, comes from.
Of course not every song can end with two riders approaching or a bolt of lighting destroying the integrity of the court house, but this doesn’t really tell us much at all.
Down along the cove
I spied my true love comin’ my way
and then… to conclude…
Everybody watching us go by
Knows we’re in love, yes, and they understand
And I guess all we can say is, well yes, Bob, if that’s how you feel, fair enough. You long before earned the right to do it any way you want.