This week I bought a rare Bob Dylan CD from a small second-hand record store in Nottingham.
The album is called ‘Bob Dylan – Keep In The Background’ and features a young Dylan on his first ever studio recording.
That’s right – this is a CD of Dylan’s first studio recording.
He had just arrived in New York and played harmonica on the Harry Belafonte track Midnight Special, with more details here.
The CD features 20 takes from the actual studio session – a totally uncut recording with starts, stops and mistakes. There’s also tracks from the Carolyn Hester session with Dylan on harmonica, Vigtoria Spivey session tracks with Dylan once again on harmonica, and six tracks from the Dick Farina & Eric Von Schmidt session with Dylan on harmonica and backing vocals.
Now, the interesting thing was the third verse of Midnight Special.
‘If you’re ever in Houston, well, you better do the right; You better not gamble, there, you better not fight, at all’
This is very similar in rhythm and tone to the verse from If You Ever Go To Houston, the fourth track from Dylan’s 2009 album Together Through Life.
If you ever go to Houston, Better walk right, Keep your hands in your pockets, And your gun-belt tight
You’ll be asking for trouble, If you’re lookin’ for a fight, If you ever go to Houston, Boy, you better walk right
This same line, with the rhythm and tone of that the Harry Belafonte song, forms the basis of the the whole tune – perhaps the most memorable and catchy song of the entire album.
Dylan is known for revisiting his old songs, getting inspiration not just from his own work but other people’s too.
Could it be that he took the line from the 1962 track, expanded it and based the whole new song around it?
Here’s a video of the Belfonte track, with Dylan on Harmonica, and below is Dylan’s song written with Robert Hunter, If You Ever Go To Houston.