Dylanish, Hard-to-find

Pass it on….


In the 1930’s, Jimmie Tarlton had a tune he played on his guitar called ‘Mexican Rag’. I have read that it was captured somewhere on a field recording (possibly by Harry Smith or Alan Lomax) but extensive googling and raking arond in the depths of file sharing sites has not helped me find it. Anyway, around 1964 Bob Dylan appropriated/liberated/stole it and was caught on tape doodling around with it in the studio. It has since been named ‘Suze (The Cough Song)’, named after Suze Rotolo (that’s her on the cover of Freewheelin’) and due to the fact that he coughs near the end of it, mid-harmonica solo. I don’t think Dylan intended to do much with it but you never know. It sounds a wee bit like ‘Nashville Skyline Rag’, so maybe he kept it in mind for a few years. Who knows? The version I have is a work in progress but it is one of my favourite Bob-in-the-studio moments. Either way, it is a great wee tune that is good fun to pick along with on the guitar. You can get it on CD2 of the Bootleg Series 1-3, or you can hear it here.  

In the best folk tradition, the tune has been passed on and re-named many times, with words added, changed or dropped altogether. The new Elliott Smith compilation ‘New Moon’ has a track called ‘Whatever (Folk Song in C)’ that sounds very similar to Dylan’s tune above. A bit slower and less excitable, it features a fantastic vocal from Elliott. I bloody love Elliott Smith. I love the way his vocals are nearly always double-tracked (just like John Lennon). I love the effortless way he can pick out a tune on his guitar. I love the weird chords he throws in now and again. I love the absolute melancholy of it all. Almost makes me want to take heroin. Why his music is not held in the same regard as Nick Drake’s or even Kurt Cobain’s escapes me. I wish I had got to see him live. I wish I could sing and play guitar like him. I wish he hadn’t stabbed himself to death. Stupid bastard.  The whole ‘New Moon’ album is fantastic. If you like your music downbeat, melancholic and bathed in pathos you need it. ‘Whatever’ is my current favourite track. Get it here. Then get yourself over to Play or Amazon or wherever and get the album.


elliott smith 1969-2003

Bonus track added: Plain Or Pan’s version of Elliott’s ‘Miss Misery’, the song that won him an Oscar for the soundtrack of Good Will Hunting. Recorded on 4 track, it’s a bit hissy and crackly and I didn’t get the levels quite right. It has a ‘unique’ sound all of it’s own and might well give bedroom singer songwriters a bad name everywhere.

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