....Just Another Tune

Songs & Their History


Bob Dylan, "Call Letter Blues"



1) Introduction

"Call Letter Blues" was recorded in September 1974 during the sessions for "Blood


The lyrics to "Call Letter Blues" from BobDylan.com

About Big Maceo:
Greg Johnson - Blues In History
Paul Oliver

T. S. Eliot’s “Portrait Of A Lady" is available online at Bartleby.com

On The Tracks". It was left off that record in favor of "Meet Me in The Morning", a song musically nearly identical, and was only released in 1991 on "The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3". It's build on the 12-bar Blues form and is surely one of Bob Dylan's most impressive Blues based songs ever. Michael Gray has described this song as "a Blues of the highest order: carefully constructed, with real artistic detachment [...] All through it there is a tense and multi-layered struggle between the lashing out and a stepping back. It seethes with the vitriol of bitterness, the rage of betrayal, but in the midst of it, the singer fights for, and achieves, moments of wry equilibrium".

Of course it is always difficult to decide if parallels in motive structure or in phrases are really a proof of direct influence. It could be artifacts taken from the big storehouse of material assimilated in 50 years of listening to music, it could be half remembered lines from a song fitting into the context of the song just being written. The motif bag of popular music - especially love songs - is somehow narrow and writing about a standard topic allows inclusion of lines and motives from songs about the same or similar topic. On the other hand it's always possible that parallels stem from a conscious reworking of an older song, a technique Dylan has used all through his career. In case of "Call Letter Blues" there is a song audible in the background, Big Maceo's "32-20 Blues", recorded in 1945 with Tampa Red on electric guitar and Tyrell "Little T" Dixon on drums.

    I walked all night long with my 32-20 in my hand.
    I walked all night long with my 32-20 in my hand.
    Lookin' for my woman, while I found her with another man.

    While I found that woman, they were walking hand in hand.
    While I found that woman, they were walking hand in hand.
    While she didn't surprise me, while I found her with another man.

    She started screamin' murder, and I had never raised my hand.
    She started screamin' murder, Baby, and I had never raised my hand.
    Tampa, she know I had him covered ' cause I had the [???] in my hand.

    I ain't no bully and I ain't the baddest man in town.
    I ain't no bully and I ain't the baddest man in town.
    When I catch a man with my woman I [???] to tear this playhouse down.

The most obvious parallel is the opening phrase:

    I walked all night long [...]

It sounds virtually identical in phrasing and meter. Both songs share an insistent, nervous rhythm that defines and shapes the performance. Also some of Tampa Red's low key but effective guitar work seems to have found its way into the arrangement of "Call Letter Blues". Of course there are still enough differences: Big Maceo's performance is piano-based, Dylan has turned it into a guitar Blues. Also the melodies are definitely different and Dylan sings in a higher vocal register.

But most interesting is the fact that Dylan in his own lyrics refers to and reworks all four motives of Maceo's opening verse. Besides the parallel use of the opening phrase  the "32-20" is replaced by another death related motif, the "church bells".  "Lookin' for my woman" is reworked in verse 4 into:

    I gaze at passing strangers
    In case I might see you

This is also a parallel to "Simple Twist Of Fate"  where he used the same motif - walkin' alone and searching - but arrived there from a completely different source:

    He hears the ticking of the clocks
    And walks along with a parrot that talks,
    Hunts her down by the waterfront docks
    Where the sailors all come in.

"I found her with another man" occurs in verse 5 as:

    "I know you're with some other man"

This is of course also a parallel to "You're A Big Girl Now":

    Oh, I know where I can find you, oh, oh,
    In somebody's room.      

At this point it seems reasonable to assume that Big Maceo's "32-20 Blues" has attracted Dylan because of its motific analogies with other lyrics he was writing at that time, so he came to use it as a starting-point for a new song. But at first it is necessary to demonstrate the historical context of the "32-20 Blues" because this story also belongs to the pre-history of "Call Letter Blues".


2) The Historical Background

Major "Big Maceo" Merriweather (1905 - 1953) was one of the most beloved Blues artists of his era, "[...] very much liked by all musicians and Blues singers all over the States [...] one of the greatest Blues singers" as Big Bill Broonzy noted in his autobiography. In fact he had one of the great voices of the genre and he was also an influential and impressive piano player. For example both Otis Spann and Johnny Jones owe him a lot. Big Maceo had a "left hand so powerful it could seemingly summon up the dead. His brief solos, generally rolling funereal bass lines and simple percussive treble trills, effectively bracketed the irony and disillusionment of his lyrics and fatigued smoky vocals" (Don Palmer). As a songwriter he can be described as one of the most gifted "compilers" and "collagists" of the Blues. Most of his songs are based on other artists works  but he gave all of them an impressive personal stamp.

In 1941 at his first session in Chicago for Bluebird with Tampa Red (his partner for most of his dates) on guitar he recorded "Worried Life Blues", one of the great Blues classics, a song that  also belongs to the prehistory of Bob Dylan's "Pledging My Time" and "Someday Baby". After a stroke in  1946 he was only a shadow of himself and  needed a piano player for his last sessions where he was only able to sing.  In 1953 he died much too early from an heart attack. Dylan mentioned him in November 1977 in the Ron Rosenbaum Interview as one of his favorites.  Some of his live performances of "Pledging My Time" in the 80s and 90s sound like a tribute to "Worried Life Blues".

Big Maceo's "32-20 Blues" is part of a group of songs that have as the main topic the man with the gun threatening to kill his untrue or mistreating girl and/or her lover. Well known examples are Skip James' "22-20 Blues" (1931) and Robert Johnson's "32-20 Blues" (1936). But Maceo's source surely was Roosevelt Sykes, "44 Blues", first recorded in 1929 and revived 10 years later in 1939. Both songs share the same opening verse that - to my knowledge - can't be found anywhere else: 

    Lord, I walked all night long with my forty-four in my hand.
    Lord, I walked all night long, my forty-four in my hand.
    I was lookin' for my woman, found her with another man.

    Lord, I wore my forty-four so long, it made my shoulder sore.
    Lord, I wore my forty-four so long, it made my shoulder sore.
    After I do what I wants to, I ain't gonna wear my forty-four no more.

    Lord, my baby say she heard the Forty Four whistle blow.
    Lord, and my baby say she heard that Forty Four whistle blow.
    Lord, it sound just like, ain't gonna blow that whistle no more.

    Lord, I got a little cabin, lord, it's number Forty-Four.
    Lord, I've got a little cabin, lord, it's number Forty-Four.
    Lord, I wake up every mornin', the wolves be scratchin' on my door.

According to Paul Oliver's research this song type has an interesting and complex prehistory. It's part of a greater family of songs and also musically related to "Vicksburg Blues" and "Rollin' And Tumblin'". Obviously the "44 Blues" was originally an  instrumental "piano piece for dancing  [...] the shimmy" (Paul Oliver). At first the "44"  referred to a train.  It was still a train in Lee Green's "Number Forty-four Blues" recorded in 1929 (some month after Sykes' session).

Roosevelt Sykes (also most likely the source for Skip James, and - via James - for Robert Johnson) was the first one to turn the train into a pistol although in his original version he still played with the meaning and identified it also as a train as well as an address. Later variants by Sykes use a more consistent story line, for example the "32-20 Blues" (1930):

    Lord, I've got a 32-20, shoots like a .45.
    Lord, I got a 32-20, shoot just like a .45.
    Lord, if I happen to go at my woman, I'm gonna bring her dead or alive.

    Lord, I carry my 32-20 in my right hand.
    Lord, I carry my 32-20 in my right hand.
    Lord, I'll shoot my woman 'bout wastin' time with a monkey man.

Also the "New 44 Blues" (1933) has a more thematic approach:

    Lord, listen, kind mama, you can just bid this big world farewell.
    Just listen, kind mama, you can bid this big world farewell.
    When this forty-four hits you, you know you is bound for hell.

I presume Big Maceo knew all these recordings. Other lines were also lifted from different songs. Mary Butler's "Mary Blues" (1928, recorded with Charlie McCoy and Walter Vincson) includes this verse:

    All these women screamin' murder, I swear I ain't raised my hand.
    All these women screamin' murder, I swear I ain't raised my hand.
    I'm just lookin' for the woman that's restin' with my man.

"[...] tear your playhouse down" is a variant of a standard Blues phrase, too. Michael Taft has nine related examples in different motific contexts in his corpus of pre-war Blues. In fact Big Maceo rarely used a line of his own, really important and impressive is the way he personalized this song and made it completely his own, no matter who has written the melody or where individual lines are taken from.

The "32-20 Blues" and most of the related songs are aggressive fantasies about someone wishing to kill the untrue lover and/ or the rival. This was a standard topic in prewar Blues, extremely popular with both singers and audiences but often enough turned into a tired cliché. Well-known examples can be found in Blind Blake's "You Gonna Quit Me Blues" (1927):

    The day you quit me, baby, that's the day you die

or in John Hurt's "Nobody's Dirty Business" (1928)

    Some of these mornings, going to wake up crazy.
    Gonna grab my gun and kill my baby

Often enough this motif is turned into an excessive, exaggerated fantasy, as in Tampa Red's "Down In Spirit Blues" (1931):

    Now, if I find her, I'm gonna beat her, gonna kick and bite her too.
    Gonna take my German Luger, goin' to shoot her through and through

or in his "Georgia Hound Blues" (1931):

    So if I find her, I'm gonna kill her, and then I'm going to hang myself.
    If I find her, I'm gonna kill her, and then I'm going to hang myself.
    And if she don't have me, she sure won't have nobody else.

    I done bought myself a razor, a rifle and a Gatlin' gun.
    I done bought myself a razor, a rifle and a Gatlin' gun.
    Gonna cut her if she stands and I'm gonna shoot her if she run.

Of course this is an universal topic, maybe as old as mankind. A Folk ballad like  "Frankie & Johnny/Albert" belongs into this context and surely had an influence on these kind of songs. In Blues it is also a radicalized variant of the standard motif "someday you will be sorry/you will have to pay for mistreating me", as in Bessie Smith's "Down Hearted Blues" (1923):

    The day you quit me honey, it's comin' home to you

Dylan later used it that way in "Cry A While", a song that is partly related to "Call Letter Blues":

    I always said you'd be sorry and today could be the day
    I might need a good lawyer, could be your funeral, my trial

Interestingly this topic - revenge on a mistreating lover - was very popular with female Blues singers in the early twenties. Bessie Smith, Clara Smith, Victoria Spivey used to sing this kind of songs and created the role model of the "vengeful woman who acted out her violence" because she had been abused (Daphne Duval Harrison). These records were often advertised in a very sensationalist way. "I Have Killed My Man - Bloodthirsty Woman Confesses - Never Seen So Much Blood" said the ad to Ms. Spivey's "Bloodthirsty Blues".  "Bessie Smith spills fire and fury in Hateful Blues" or "Clara Smith has murder in her eyes when she sings [Mean Papa Turn Your Key]". So there might  also be a kind of comical element underneath the surface that leads back to the Minstrel Shows and the "coon" songs where this kind of reversal of gender roles - the violence of women against men -  was used as a motif in songs that portrayed African Americans in demeaning caricatures.

 It should be noted that the male singers from the mid-20s usually plundered the songs of their female precursors. A lot of violent Blues were first written by or for women and later adapted by men. Those quoted lines from Tampa Red's "Down In Spirit Blues" were in fact lifted from "Hateful Blues", written by Edith Johnson and recorded by Bessie Smith:

    If I see him I'm gon' beat him, gon' kick and bite him, too
    Gonna take my weddin' butcher, gonna cut him two in two.

Her "Black Mountain Blues" was the source for one of the verses quoted from Tampa's "Georgia Hound Blues":

    I'm bound for Black Mountain, me and my razor and my gun.
    Lord, I'm bound for Black Mountain, me and my razor and my gun.
    I'm gonna shoot him if he stands still, and cut him if he run.

This is an interesting demonstration how motives can migrate from one song to another and change their context and meaning. Aggressive female self-confidence is turned into helpless male chauvinism, although the comical undercurrent is still visible, at least in Tampa Red's variants. In fact a lot of well known Blues phrases and motives were first sung by women and then appropriated by male performers, a problem that to my knowledge has never been discussed by scholars of that genre.


3) "You Know I Always Understand..."

How did Dylan rework Big Maceo's "32-20 Blues", how does this song's narrative and motific structure relate to "Call Letter Blues" ? Step by step Dylan widens the emotional range and replaces the one-dimensionality of Maceo's lyrics with a much more complex image of emotional turmoil. But somehow the man with the gun is still waiting behind the scene, not at least proved by the aggressive undertones in the singing. This is exactly what Gray has described as the "struggle between lashing out and stepping back", as "the savage pull between the fury of betrayal and the galvanising of inner strength".

At first the murder fantasy  is turned into walking and meditating about a lost love some place else. This is a parallel to "Simple Twist Of Fate" but also a motif that was widely used in Blues, as for example in Blind Blake's "Hard Road Road Blues" (1927), a song that touches similar ground and comes rather close to the basic situation of "Call Letter Blues":

    Keep on walkin' and walkin', talkin' to myself
    Keep on walkin' and walkin', talkin' to myself
    Gal I love's with somebody else

    I got the hard road blues, walkin' on down the line
    I got the hard road blues, walkin' on down the line
    Maybe some day my gal will change her mind

    It's a hard, hard road when your baby done throwed you down
    It's a hard, hard road when your baby done throwed you down
    Goin' keep on walkin' from town to town

    I'm goin' find my baby, don't think she can be found
    I'm goin' find my baby, don't think she can be found
    Goin' walk this hard road till my moustache drag the ground

Then, with the line "[...] maybe something I've done wrong", there is a trace of self-criticism. This is a Blues motif, too, as in Tampa Red's "Reckless Blues" (1931), one of the most beautiful and touching Blues recordings ever. Also the same situation and a similar set of motives is used here. Maybe it's not  as complex as Dylan's work but equally impressive in depicting a state of emotional confusion by invoking perplexity, monotony, lack of comprehension, longing and eagerness.

    I feel so lonesome, so sad and blue today.
    I feel so lonesome, so sad and blue today.
    I had a good woman, but unkindness drove her away.

    It seem mighty hard, but I brought it all on myself.
    It seem mighty hard, I brought it all on myself.
    When I had a good woman. I was wild about somebody else

    I don't do nothin' but cry from door to door.
    I don't do nothin' but cry from door to door.
    But if she just come back, I won't be bad no more.

    I try to forget her and act like a reckless man.
    I try to forget her and act like a reckless man.
    But when I find myself, I'm somewhere cryin' again.

    I got peaches on my pantry and baking on my shelf.
    Got peaches in my pantry, got bakin' on my shelf.
    But I'm gettin' darned tired of sleepin' by myself.

But most likely this line is a quote from Dylan's own "I Don't Believe You" (1964):

    Or have done something wrong,
    I wish she'd tell me what it is, I'll run an' hide.

With these lines resonating in the background the tendency is more towards a bewildered lack of comprehension  than to self-criticism, it's more perplexity than understanding.

The greatest distance to the Blues motif bag can be found in the resigned acceptance of infidelity that has - to my knowledge - no parallels in that genre. It's very different from Maceo' more cynical "that didn't surprise me":

    [...] I know you're with some other man
    You know I always understand

But it turns "Call Letter Blues" into a companion piece of "You're A Big Girl Now" where a similar image of helpless resignation  is offered:

    I'm learnin' it these days [...] it's a price I have to pay

But " you know I always understand" could also be an ironic twist and paraphrase of a line in  T.S. Eliot, "Portrait Of A Lady" (1910/11), 

    The voice returns like the insistent out-of-tune
    Of a broken violin on an August afternoon:
    "I am always sure that you understand
    My feelings, always sure that you feel,
    Sure that across the gulf you reach your hand.     

    You are invulnerable, you have no Achilles’ heel.
    You will go on, and when you have prevailed
    You can say: at this point many a one has failed.

Reading these lines and "Call Letter Blues" side by side makes both works sound like a dialogue, an example of failed communication.

Verse 5 of "Call Letter Blues" is also enhanced by another reference to classic 60s Dylan, as Gray has shown:

    Way out in the distance I know you're with some other man

Here a listener may think of "Ballad Of Hollis Brown" and "All Along The Watchtower":

    Way out in the wilderness a cold coyote calls

    Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl

We "feel that Hollis Brown bleakness [...] and the singer's attitude to that 'some other man' is coloured in for us by the parallel conjured out of the earlier songs - the parallel of the predator [...] the echoes of the older lines [deepen] the meaning and the resonance of the line being sung" (Gray). Of course we may ask again if this was a conscious allusion to these older songs, but  but for a listener that doesn't matter that much - it can work this way. This is also another example for how the songs written for "Blood on The Tracks" offer allusions to Dylan's 60s classics. A lot of references to earlier songs through topics, motives, lines & music can be found in these songs. This familiarity - often  only working subconsciously - surely was one of the reasons this record met with a very positive reception by listeners waiting on the "old" Dylan to re-emerge.


4) "Listenin' to them church bells tone..."

The "church bells" are another central motif in "Call Letter Blues", symmetrically opening and closing the song from "[...] listening to them church bells tone" in the first verse to "[...] it must be convent bells".  "[...] its chime [...] is always the sound of death come around, or death nearby [signalling] the presence of the fear of loss", as Gray has noted. He sees it related to Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean", recorded by Dylan for his first LP:

    Did you ever hear them church bells tone
    Have you ever hear that church bells tone
    Did you ever hear them church bells tone
    Means another poor boy is dead and gone.

and to Dylan's own early song "Ballad For A Friend" (1962), but I think there is a more direct relationship to another set of songs from a related family. The Mississippi Sheiks' "Stop And Listen Blues" (1929) looks like a possible inspiration:

    Yes, today have been, baby, long old lonesome day.
    Now don't you hear me talking pretty mama?
    Yeah, today have been a long old lonesome day.
    Crying, seem like tomorrow be the same old way.


    Oh, stop and listen, hear the bells in tone.
    Now don't you hear me talking pretty mama?
    Oh, stop and listen, hear the bells in tone.
    I had a sweet little fairo, but she's dead and gone.

 This is a variant of the Blues song family where the death of the lover is lamented. The Mississippi Sheiks' inspiration for their lyrics might have been the "Death Letter Blues" by Ida Cox (1924), a song that found its way into the repertoire of male Blues singers (for example: Tampa Red, "Sad News Blues", Son House, "My Black Mama", Muddy Waters, "Buryin' Ground Blues" and "Sad Letter Blues").  Dylan also alludes to the "Death Letter Blues" in the title of his song. This song family was a 20th century remnant of the "dead lover" - motif of 19th-century popular song (Stephen Foster et al.), demonstrating how an outdated topic can survive outside of the mainstream. Also it shows how the Blues as a genre was influenced by popular song of an earlier era.   

The "Church bells" in this context were an invention of the Mississippi Sheiks, they can't be found in any other versions derived from the Ida Cox. Maybe they borrowed them from Blind Lemon Jefferson. Later variants built on the "Stop And Listen Blues" were the Sheiks' own "Church Bell Blues" (1930):

    Everytime I hear that lonesome church bell ring.
    Everytime I hear that lonesome church bell ring.
    It reminds me of a girl I loved last spring.

    As they come near the church house, bell begin to tone.
    As they come to the churchhouse, the bell begin to tone.

and Roosevelt Sykes' "Sad And Lonely Day" (1933):

    "Church bells tonin' [...] I won't see my baby's face no more"

Dylan's use of this motif is surely more in the tradition of these songs. He deliberately replaces one death-related motif with another, instead of fantasizing about killing the untrue lover he has the the church bells ringing,  signifying death, as if likening the lady's infidelity to her death.

The relationship to the "Stop And Listen Blues" is deepened by another parallel motif. The invocation of monotony in the lines:

    But the sun goes around the heaven
    And another day just drives on through

is a clear echo of "today have been a long old lonesome day [...] seem like tomorrow be the same old way".

But the feeling of monotony and dissonance in the 7th verse also leads again to Eliot:

    Inside my brain a dull tom-tom begins
    Absurdly hammering a prelude of its own,
    Capricious monotone

Here we find a different but related image, as impressive as Dylan's "My ears are ringin/Ringin' like empty shells/ [...]/It must be convent bells". Buddy Cage's terrific solo on the pedal steel guitar is in this context a fitting answer, a wordless last verse displaying all the wrath and anger accumulated during the first seven verses.

The influence of Eliot on "Call Letter Blues" is worth discussing. I'm still not sure about that, but it should be noted that "Simple Twist Of Fate" may include some more artifacts from "Portrait Of A Lady": the park, the parrot, the use of music ("[...] a saxophone some place far of played" instead of the "street-piano, mechanical and tired"), "we must leave it now to fate/[...]/perhaps it's not to late",  and a certain way of invoking an atmosphere of obsession. If this is the case then it is in no way a systematic borrowing but the reshaping of some ideas and motives  to make them fit into the context of Dylan's own lyrics. On the other hand: one of the main topics of "Portrait Of A Lady" seems to be the failure of communication between man and woman. And that is surely one of the most important and obvious topics on "Blood On The Tracks", too. 


5) Additional Motives

The basic outline, the core of the song is the meditation about a lost love with the church bells ringing in the background. But the description of emotional turmoil is deepened by adding more personnel to the scenery, as if painting a picture, as if staging a play : the "friends", the "children" crying for mother and the "call girls in the doorway". These are ideas, motives, in every case maybe inspired from wildly different sources and reworked to fit into the context. Again I don't know if these are only parallels or if the quoted sources were used as starting-points, but the relationships are visible and worth considering. Here a concordance wouldn't help. The major problem with Gray's approach is that he relies too heavily on quotes and verbatim analogies. A concordance doesn't show parallels in motivic structure.

For the "friends" one more look at Eliot's "Portrait Of A Lady" is illuminating:

    "For everybody said so, all our friends,
    They all were sure our feelings would relate
    So closely! I myself can hardly understand.
    We must leave it now to fate.
    You will write, at any rate.
    Perhaps it is not too late.

This is something that could be easily said by the lady in question, it's like a conversation happened before, adding color and context. And in fact he did "write"!

The "children" crying for the mother might be a faint echo of Irving Berlin's "Suppertime" (1933):

    Supper time
    Kids will soon be yellin' for their supper time
    How I'll keep from tellin' that that man o' mine
    Ain't comin' home no more?
    How I'll keep explainin' when they ask me where he's gone?
    How I'll keep from cryin' when I bring their supper on?

This song - first introduced by Ethel Waters - is about a mother who doesn't dare to tell and doesn't know how to tell her children about the death of their father.

Also the "call girls in the doorway" show a couple of connotations to different songs. First it is related to Blues lines like "I can get me another woman" (Mississippi Sheiks, "Sitting On Top Of The World") or "If I don't carry you/Going to carry somebody else" (f. ex. in Tommy Johnson's "Big Road Blues"). Also Tampa Red's "I'm getting tired of sleepin' all by myself" fits into the context. If he can't have her he will look for someone else. And it is also a kind of revenge motif, a threat, as in "I can be just like you" in "I Don't Believe You".

But the most important relationship is to "Visions Of Johanna", not only because of the "all night girls" but because of the juxtaposition of carnal love and true love, a main topic of that song that is revived in this verse of "Call Letter Blues". Here we get exactly the same contrast: the true love is far away and unreachable while the possibility to make love to someone else is at hand. "Louise she's alright she's just near" corresponds to the "call girls in the doorway all giving me the eye". In "Visions Of Johanna" he took the chance - and had to stand the depression afterwards described there in the last lines of that song. In "Call Letter Blues" he will not take the chance at the moment: "my heart's not just in it", but maybe later judging from the way he stresses the word "just".


6) Conclusion

In "Call Letter Blues" Dylan employs the Blues form only as a frame. He creates an air of authenticity, an atmosphere,  through the allusion to a genre by using its form but clearly oversteps the self imposed limits of that genre, as a comparison with Big Maceo's "32-20 Blues" - the obvious starting point - proves. Further strength is achieved through the obviously deliberate use of death-related motives likening infidelity and the end of love to death.  In composition and approach this song is most closely related to "Simple Twist Of Fate" where we can find a similarly complex chain of motives and allusions, in that case not derived from Blues but from mainstream popular song. In both songs he creates - with the sensibility of a theater writer -  a scenery for the singer to step into: "In any song I write [...] I always become the character in it [...] It's all play" (Bob Dylan 1978, Philip Fleischman Interview).

It is not of much use to differentiate between traditional elements and "parts of the lyrics that are Dylan's alone" (Gray). In fact nearly everything in "Call Letter Blues" is in some way "traditional", be it - consciously or not - inspired by Big Maceo, the Mississippi Sheiks, Eliot, Berlin or Dylan's own old or contemporary songs. Something that we regard as "Dylan's alone" may in fact have parallels or its source in another song or poem. All borrowed elements are in the process of writing turned into lines of his own, no matter if it's a verbatim quote or a  reshaped motif. But all these quotes, allusions and parallels in motives  - not only from Blues - offer an additional dimension to understanding the song. 



  • Michael Gray, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, London & New York 2006, p. 112 – 115 (a thought-provoking and inspiring discussion about "'Call Letter Blues' and the 'shock of recognition'") [ also part of the chapter "Even Post-Structuralists Oughta Have The Pre-War Blues" in his Song & Dance Man. The Art Of Bob Dylan, London & New York 2000, p. 268 – 379, here p. 373 – 379; ]
  • Big Bill Broonzy, Big Bill Blues. William Broonzy's Story As Told To Yannick Bruynoghe, New York 1992 (or. 1955; p. 112 – 116)
  • Daphne Duval Harrison, Black Pearls. Blues Queens Of The 1920s, New Brunswick 1988 (p. 81; the ads mentioned are printed on p. 83, 84, 146)
  • Paul Oliver, Screening The Blues. Aspects Of The Blues Tradition, New York 1968 (p. 90 – 127: about the "44 Blues" - family of songs)
  • Don Palmer, Liner Notes to Big Maceo, The Bluebird Recordins 1941 – 1942, RCA 07863 66715 2 [The "32-20 Blues" can  be found on Vol. 2 of the collection: Big Maceo, The Victor Bluebird Recordings 1945 – 1947. This excellent edition is obviously out of print. Maceo's complete recordings are available at the moment from Document]
  • Michael Taft, The Blues Lyric Formula, New York 2006 (excellent work for searching out parallels in Blues songs. His complete concordance: Michael Taft, Talkin' To Myself. Blues Lyrics, 1921 – 1942, New York 2005 (or. 1983)) 
  • Lyrics quotations from different vols. of  Robert MacLeod's indispensable transcription books, Document Blues 1 – 5, Edinburgh 1994ff (Tampa Red, Roosevelt Sykes, Mississippi Sheiks et); Angela Davies, Blues Legacies And Black Feminism, New York 1998 (Bessie Smith; this book is indispensable for complete sets of transcribed lyrics to recordings by Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey); Robert Kimball, Reading Lyrics (Berlin, "Suppertime")


[first posted 14.12.2006 on www.morerootsofbob.com]


© Jürgen Kloss

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