I got a bird that whistles, I got a bird that sings

Loathe to admit it but I wasn’t much of a Dylan fan as a teenager.  It was only after I’d been in college for a few years, and begun to chum around with a friend who had just spent a year in Guatemala, that he began to click for me.

My buddy was renting a room at Charlesgate East, a Romanesque Revival survivor from the 19th Century.  In its day it was considered the most luxurious hotel on the eastern seaboard, before becoming a women’s seminary, then a Boston University dorm, then an Emerson College dorm and finally a rooming house with a sketchy reputation for disreputable activity and paranormal phenomena.

These days, of course, it houses fashionable condominiums but when my friend lived there it was a haven for struggling artists, recent immigrants and down-and-outers, all of which suited him to a tee. The reason he’d ended up in Guatemala was because he’d been working on an oil tanker and decided to jump ship there. Now he was pursuing a degree and living a rather Spartan existence with a limited wardrobe, a decent record collection and a first rate espresso machine.

No food, just coffee, and I fondly remember wandering down one of those grand tenement halls late, late one night with a hefty can of Medaglia D’Oro, knocking on people’s doors in search of a can opener. We ultimately found ourselves caffeinated enough for any endeavor save for sitting still and moved on to who knows where.  But before we did we intently listened to both sides of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” Dylan’s second studio album that will reach the half-century mark this May.

Featuring classics like “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Girl from the North Country” “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” and (especially) “Don’t Think Twice it’s All Right,” Bob Dylan suddenly made perfect sense (I was certainly up for it) and I have been a great fan of his earlier records ever since.  Still, the track that most impressed me was “Corrina, Corrina” … and who knew it had such a history?

A song with various traditional roots it was first recorded as “Corrine, Corrina” by Bo Carter in 1928, then by the Mississippi Sheiks in 1930, and then significantly by Roy Newman and His Boys in 1935, on what is the first use of an electrically amplified guitar found on a recording. By the 1940s it had become a Blues standard and thanks to Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys it became a Western Swing and Cajun standard as well.

It was Dylan who renamed it “Corrina, Corrina” and readapted it as an acoustic folk number by lifting the melody and some of the lyrics from a 1927 Robert Johnson song called “Stones in My Passway” and variations on this version have since been released by Joni Mitchell, Willie Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis and Eric Clapton….And now it’s time for another cup of coffee.

 LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Saturday 19 January

Corrina, Corrina

 Corrina, Corrina

Gal, where you been so long?

Corrina, Corrina

Gal where you been so long?

I been worr’in’ about you, baby

Baby, please come home

 I got a bird that whistles

I got a bird that sings

I got a bird that whistles

I got a bird that sings

But I ain’t a-got Corrina

Life don’t mean a thing

Corrina, Corrina

Gal, you’re on my mind

Corrina, Corrina

Gal, you’re on my mind

I’m a-thinkin’ about you, baby

I just can’t keep from crying


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