' I've lost the power I had to distinguish between what to ignite and what to extinguish' – Rowland S. Howard

Month: September, 2012

Rowland S Howard: Freddie White; Barry Moroe

Just to get away from Dylan/Phil Ochs/Paul Clayton  related matters , here is a few clips of some of my favourite songs at the moment.


Let’s start with the late great Rowland S. Howard’s fine song ‘Autoluminiscent’ – for my money, Howard was a far better songwriter and a much more interesting character than the enormously over-rated Nick Cave:


We will follow it up with Freddie’s White ‘s great version of ‘The Parting Glass’ (please forgive the Irish Tourist board video)- for comparison’s sake, will also add the Liam Clancy version:

Just to round this up with Barry Moore’s (now, of course, Luka Bloom) superb version of the Bob Coltman song ‘Lonesome Robin’:


Should add that Bob Coltman actually wrote a biography of Paul Clayton, so we haven;t completely escaped the Greenwich Village net.





Dont Think Twice – Revisited

Carrying on from my previous post, It is also worth noting here that Paul Clayton’s own accounts of how he discovered ‘Who’s Gonna Buy Your Chickens’ were inconsistent ones. According to Bob Coltman’s biography of Clayton, he claimed, at different times, to have discovered the sheet music of ‘Who’s Gonna Buy Your Chickens’ in the University of Virginia while, at another, he suggested he had recorded a version of it by the Virginian singer, Mary Bird McAllister.

Coltman has pointed out, however, that no version of this song have been found among the recordings Clayton made of McAllister,. For these, see:


Its also worth noting here that the Dylan scholar, Todd Harvey, has suggested that the connection,  between “Who’s Gonna Buy You Ribbons (When I’m Gone)” and the earlier song, “Who Gon Bring You Chickens?” is a very tenuous one.

Given Clayton’s tendency to give largely original songs a spurious folk pedigree (a tendency mentioned in Dave Van Ronk’s book ‘The Mayor of MacDougal Street and in the clip from Izzy Young below), I have come to the conclusion that ‘Whos going to buy your Ribbons’ was (at least in part) his own work.


If this is true, Dylan’s lifting from it can be viewed in quite a different light than heretofore..


Don’t Think Twice – Dylan & Paul Clayton

Speaking of Paul Clayton, I have been doing some digging into the origins of the song ‘Who’s gonna buy your Chickens’ which allegedly was the song on which he based his ‘Who’s going to buy your Ribbons’ -, a song which Bob Dylan later adapted for ‘Don’t Think Twice’. Dylan’s borrowing ultimately led to a court-case between the two men, which eventually was settled out of court.

Here is the Paul Clayton song:

From reading biographies of Dylan, one would think that Clayton had simply borrowed the music & lyrics for his song from the earlier song, which was in the public domain. This seems to me to be far from the truth. What Clayton tended to do, it appears to me, is to draw from various sources when putting together his own songs – funnily enough, in a similar manner to the way that Dylan works today.


It is also sometimes claimed that ‘Who’s going to buy your Ribbons’ is derived from the folk song, ‘Scarlet Ribbons; although, for anybody who knows both songs, this is patently untrue:

In relation to ‘Who’s gonna buy your Chickens’, the only version I can so far is this work song, which has only a very minor resemblance to Clayton’s song:

Six months in jail ain’t so long, baby,
It’s workin’ on the county farm.
Got my pick an’ shovel now, baby,
Yo’ true lub is gone.
Who’s gwine to be yo’ true lub, baby,
When I ‘m gone?
Who gwine to bring you chickens, honey,
When I’m workin’ on the county farm?

Found this version at http://books.google.com.au/books?id=Ys3T_6clobAC&pg=PA231&dq=Folk+Songs+WHO+GON+BRING+YOU+CHICKENS?&hl=en&sa=X&ei=C-18T5XbBdCWiQempM3FCQ&ved=0CDwQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false.

Have not yet found any recordings of this song, so it is hard to know if Clayton borrowed the melody.

However, as a lyric, it bears only a very slight resemblance to Clayton’s song, which runs:


It ain’t no use to sit and sigh now, darlin,
And it ain’t no use to sit and cry now,
T’ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, darlin,
Just wonder who’s gonna buy you ribbons when I’m gone.


So times on the railroad gettin’ hard, babe,
I woke up last night and saw it snow,
Remember what you said to me last summer
When you saw me walkin’ down that road.


So I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road,
You’re the one that made me travel on,
But still I can’t help wonderin’ on my way,
Who’s gonna buy you ribbons when I’m gone?


‘Dont Think Twice’ shares many more features with this lyric, of course, and it has always seemed strange to me that Dylan should have had a problem with sharing credit for this with someone who was , it appears, a very close friend.





Bob Dylan Rory Gallager

Some quotes from Rory Gallagher, the great Irish guitarist who is one of my favourite artists about my favourite artist, Bob Dylan:

Rory: That would be brilliant. I worked with JERRY LEE LEWIS as well, which was great. – I want to work with some of the Irish musicians and some English players. My dream is to play with MARTIN CARTHY, who to me is a supreme acoustic player, BERT JANSCH as well and DAVY GRAHAM. You can`t play with them all. And I`m very inspired by BOB DYLAN`s new album (the equally all-acoustic “Good As I Been To You” which just came out). Even though the critics didn`t like it. I think it`s a fantastic project. I would like to work with BOB DYLAN, that would be my absolute maximum at the moment. That song “Could Have Had Religion” that I do, it`s not my song. I re-wrote it, it`s an old song. He was considering that for his acoustic album. But I would love to do an album and be his MlKE BLOOMFlELD for him, like on the “Highway 61”-song, on “Blonde On Blonde”, I`d love to work with him. I`d also like to work with JOHN HAMMOND, the New York Blues singer and guitar player and a million other people I`d like to work with.

Rory: I met BOB DYLAN, I was very fortunate. I met him once, he came to a show in Los Angeles in 1976, and it was the end of a tour and it looked like our spirits were kind of a bit low. It was a great tour, but we met at the end of it. He walked into the dressing room and I nearly collapsed. He came in with his kids and he was talking about BLIND BOY FULLER. It was very interesting – Country Blues, you know. But I`m still a school boy: I still hero-worship people, it`s a terrible thing for a man of my age to be like that. But if I`d work with DYLAN, that would be my dream. I know some people in Gerrnany don`t like him, cause some of his shows are good, some are bad, but you either respect him or you don`t, and I do.”

There is also a superb version of I shall be Released by Rory on:

This was recorded not long before he died & maybe this accounts for the passion behind it.

Phil Ochs Topical Songs

Perhaps its the fact that my training is as a historian, but I have always liked the historical specificity of Phil Ochs’ song.

An example would be the reference to the United Fruit Company in one of his greatest songs, ‘I ain’t marching anymore”:

For critics of the idea of topical songs, this kind of reference dates the song and renders it instantly disposable. This view is stated, perhaps, most clearly in Suze Rotolo’s book ‘A Freewhelin’ Time’ where she makes a case that bears a striking similarity to the kind of arguments that Bob Dylan made after he had abandoned the writing of ‘protest’ songs.

But, for me, this argument misses the point of such songs by a long way. The fact that Ochs’ songs are grounded in a particular historical reality seems to me to make them more universal, not less..These topical references also seem to me to invite important questions: what was the United Fruit Company’s stance towards Cuba? Why is it that the kind of injustices/exploitation that Ochs wrote about so vividly in his best work still carry on today?

This, of course, should not be taken as implying that there was no ‘bad’ protest music or that the emphasis on writing particular types of songs was not restrictive.

But it does seem to me that Ochs tough-mindedness and emphasis on detail saved him from writing the kind of windy generalities that make up ‘Blowing in the Wind. (pun intended). Some of Dylan’s protest songs appear to imply that the evils of the world would be solved by the moral superiority of his generation.

And what a canard that turned out to be….

Phil Ochs

I think this video very eloquently makes the case for the continuing relevance of Phil Ochs’ work:



All I will add here is another video of one my favourite Phil Ochs’ songs: