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Note: If you’re reading along, Part 2 of the transcript begins approximately 58:12 into the show
A transcript of the second half of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour 2020 Special: “Whiskey.” First broadcast September 21, 2020 on SiriusXM Radio.
Another man who died much too young was the bard of Ayrshire, Robert Burns, who died at the age of 37. Burns was known as the Ploughman’s Poet, because his works touched on subjects that the working man could appreciate. No New Year’s Eve celebration would be complete without his “Auld Lang Syne.”
But at 1782, he wrote a poem about two lovers, who meet for a bit of canoodling in a field of rye. Actually, Burns really just cleaned up a dirtier, older poem. His version is still pretty risqué, but if you bother to look up the early version, I think you might be shocked by some of the language. I won’t repeat it here, because I know we have some younger listeners. But I do love the way my buddy John C. Reilly recites Burns, so I think I’ll give him a call to see if he’ll do it for us.
John C. Reilly: Hello?
Bob Dylan: Hey, John, it’s Bob.
John C. Reilly: Oh, hey Bob!
Bob Dylan: I’m just doing a radio show about whiskey. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind reading Robert Burns’ “Coming Through The Rye.”
John C. Reilly: Oh, it’d be my pleasure! You want me to recite it or sing it?
Bob Dylan: Sing it?
John C. Reilly: Yeah, that’s what they used to do when people didn’t read so much, they gave all the poems melodies so folks could remember them.
Bob Dylan: Well, if you don’t mind singing it…
John C. Reilly: No, I’d be happy to. Let’s see here…
[“Coming through the Rye” — John C. Reilly]
Bob Dylan: John, that’s just beautiful. We’ve got to get you into the studio!
John C. Reilly: Anytime, Bob.
Bob Dylan: Watch your mailbox now, there’s a bottle of rye heading your way.
John C. Reilly: Well, thank you very kindly, Bob.
You know, I always like it when John sings in movies. He’s great in “Prairie Home Companion,” when he sings that “Whoopie Ti Yi Yo” song with Woody Harrelson, and he really captured Oliver Hardy, as well. He should have been nominated for Academy Award. Maybe he’ll play Robert Burns in a movie someday.
But in the meantime, here’s Julie London, with another approach to “Coming Through the Rye.”
[“Coming Through the Rye” — Julie London]
Mrs. Jack Webb and Bobby Troup, “Coming Through the Rye.”
We haven’t done a show in a while, but we still get emails. This one is from B. Plunkett, up in Napa Valley, California. B. writes, “Dear Bob, I worry that I may be drinking a little too much. How do I know if I have a problem?”
Well, B, if you go to wipe something off your shoulder, and it’s the floor, or if you walk into a bar and say to the bartender, “I’ll have one too many.” You might have a problem. But, seriously, if drinking is getting in the way of your life, there are individuals and organizations that are there to help you. Seek them out. You don’t have to do it alone. Drinking should not stop you from being fun and functional, and the folks at Heaven’s Door encourage you to drink responsibly.
You know, there was a time when the government didn’t trust us to drink responsibly. It was called Prohibition.
Speaker on Prohibition
“Full enforcement does not justify you in drinking poison, patronizing the bootlegger, or tramping underfoot the laws of the land you love. Prohibition has given you an opportunity to let booze alone.”
But of course, people still drink. Some booze was brought into the country illegally by Bugsy Siegel, who later founded Las Vegas. But, isn’t it strange, there’s no statues of him there. But lots of people made their own whiskey. Some just for themselves, but plenty of folks sold it for profit.
It might have been called tanglefoot, ruckus juice, white lightning, moonshine, yack yack, tiger sweat, corn squeezings, stump water, panther piss (laughs), or as Ralph and Carter Stanley sing about here, that good old mountain dew.
[“Mountain Dew” — The Stanley Brothers]
The Stanley Brothers. They had an Uncle Snort who was four feet short, but he felt like a giant when you gave him a pint of that good old mountain dew.
The end of Prohibition helped bring about the beginning of NASCAR. Bootleggers and moonshiners were always on the run for revenuers who kept trying to shut them down. They drove souped-up cars and learned to handle the back roads at high speeds. But, when Prohibition was repealed, they still had that need for speed. In 1947, Big Bill France, a guy trusted by both hot rodders and bootleggers, standardized some racing rules in Daytona, Florida. A few months later, the first official NASCAR race was held.
You’re listening to Theme Time Radio hour, with a jug of moonshine liquor.
I always wondered why it was called moonshine. I thought maybe it was because it was made at night. A few years ago I met up with Van Morrison on Philopappos Hill, in Greece. That’s up above the Athens Basin. They call it the hill of the muses. Anyway, he told me this crazy story about brandy, smuggled into England in the 1700s in Wiltshire. Wiltshire is a county in Southwest England. It’s where Stonehenge is, and in the 18th century, smuggling French brandy, it was a big business there.
Locals would hide the barrels in local ponds, and retrieve them at night with long rakes, when the law men and revenuers finished searching the area. If any of these revenuers returned while they were doing it, they would pretend to be simple-minded. They would point to the moon’s reflection in the pond and tell the constabulary that they were trying to rake in a wheel of cheese. The gullible lawmen would laugh at the foolish moonrakers, and leave. Now, Van swore to me that this is where “moonshine” got its name.
This song is not only about moonshine, but also mentions Hot Pants, Arkansas, bubbles in the water, and streamline promenade. Here’s Van the man, in “Moonshine Whiskey.”
[“Moonshine Whiskey” — Van Morrison]
Van Morrison, and “Moonshine Whiskey.” You’re listening to Theme Time Radio Hour. Let’s get frisky with a little more whiskey.
[“Bourbon from Heaven” (excerpt) — Dean Martin]
You might know this next song by David Bowie, or The Doors, but it is originally from a short opera called “Mahagonny-Songspiel,” written by Bertolt Brecht, with music by Kurt Weill, in 1927. Actually, Elisabeth Hauptmann, another collaborator of Brecht’s, wrote the English lyrics to this particular song as a parody. In this song, Lotte Lenya played Jenny (sic), a prostitute, who is leaving her small town for a wild and wooly city, not unlike Vegas in its heyday.
Lotte was an Austrian singer who lived much of her life in the United States. She was the great love of Kurt Weill’s life. She must have been, he married her twice. Lotte utilizes a singing technique called sprechstimme, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as a style of dramatic vocalization intermediate between speech and song. You know, half speaking, half singing. I’ve been known to use that, myself.
On April 13th, 1956, Lotte Lenya met another distinctive voice when she visited a Louis Armstrong recording session. Satchmo was recording a version of “Mack the Knife,” a song Lotte’s husband wrote with Bertolt Brecht. You’re going to hear Louis ad lib a “hello” to Lotte in the song.
[“Mack the Knife” (excerpt )— Louis Armstrong ]
But here’s the lady herself, full of ambition and sprechstimme. Lotte Lenya, in “The Alabama Song.”
[Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar) — Lotte Lenya]
Lotte Lenya, and for the life of me, I still don’t know what that song has to do with Alabama, or sprechstimme [laughter].
Hey, it’s Billy Gibbons and you’re listening right here, right now, to Theme Time Radio Hour, with Bob Dylan.
You know, if you go to the track, they might check to see if the horse you’ve got on is full of sodium bicarbonate. That’s right, simple baking soda. It reduces the buildup of lactic acid in muscles, and allows the horse to run longer without getting tired. The danger is, the horse feels no pain, and keeps running, unaware it might be causing permanent damage. There’s also steroids, pain meds, stimulants of all sizes and colors, there’s even a powerful painkiller opiate that trainers discovered can be administered by having the horse lick the back of a South American Waxy Monkey Leaf Frog. Hmm.
They keep finding new things to test the horses for, but I’m not sure if they test the jockeys for anything. You might be there watching the sixth race with money on a five to one favorite, the horse is stone sober, but riding him is a jockey full of bourbon. Here’s Tom Waits.
[“Jockey Full of Bourbon “— Tom Waits]
“Jockey Full of Bourbon,” Tom Waits. A good bourbon drink you’ll find around a lot of racetracks is a Mint Julep. It’s the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, though it predates the derby by more than a century. Joshua Smith was a southern journalist and judge, son of Michael and Matilda, husband of Alice, father of Lottie, Nelly, and Florence. But, perhaps most importantly, a Kentucky colonel, fully recognized, like myself, by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Sometime in the 1890s, he wrote a love poem to that easy-to-make drink, known both for its sweetness and potency, which was published in the Lexington Herald.
Here’s how that poem, titled “The Sweet Dream of Drunks” concludes:
“Then comes the zenith of man’s pleasure, then comes the julep, the mint julep. Who has not tasted one who has lived in vain? The honey of brought no such solace to the soul. The nectar of the Gods is tame beside it. It is the very dream of drinks, the vision of sweet quaffings. The bourbon and the mint are lovers, in the same land they live, on the same food they’re fostered. The mint dips its infant leaf into the same stream that makes the bourbon what it is. And then when it’s made, sip it slowly. August suns are shining. The breath of south wind is upon you. It’s fragrant, cold, sweet, it is seductive. No maiden’s kiss is tenderer or more refreshing. No maiden’s touch could be more passionate. Sip it, and dream.”
You’re listening to Theme Time Radio Hour, and we played a version of this next song on our Tennessee episode. by, one of my favorite outlaws, Edgar Allen Poe, no, I mean David Allen Coe. But, I can’t imagine doing a show about whiskey and not playing this song. I also can’t imagine not playing George Jones, so I can kill two birds with one stone. Maybe one of them should be a raven! (snorts).
George took this up to number two on the country charts in 1983, and just a couple of years later, in 2015, Chris Stapleton took it to number one on that same chart, after doing a duet of it with Justin Timberlake, on the CMA Music Awards.
But, for now, let’s pour out a shot of Tennessee whiskey with the old Possum.
[“Tennessee Whiskey” — George Jones]
George Jones. He’s staying stoned on love all the time. Hold on a second, let’s take a call. Hello, caller.
Allison Janney: Hey, Bob, it’s me, Allison Janney.
Bob Dylan: Oh, Allison, congratulations on that Academy Award.
Allison Janney: Aw, thanks!
Bob Dylan: I got one of those, too.
Allison Janney: Uh-huh.
Bob Dylan: How the hell are you?
Allison Janney: Well, I’m doing fine, like sparkling wine. I’m really enjoying the show. I’m listening on my Smart Toaster.
Bob Dylan: I knew that’s how people were listening.
Allison Janney: I have a question.
Bob Dylan: Go ahead, shoot.
Allison Janney: You know how you played “Tennessee Whiskey?”
Bob Dylan: Yeah?
Allison Janney: I thought that was a Chris Stapleton song.
Bob Dylan: I just explained that.
Allison Janney: I heard, but a friend of mine was telling me that the same thing happened with that Metallica song, “Whiskey in the Jar?”
Bob Dylan: Well, your friends are right, Allison. “Whiskey in the Jar” is an Irish folk song. Most people probably heard it first by The Dubliners, but Metallica learned it from the Thin Lizzy version.
Allison Janney: Wow. Gosh, I’d love to hear it.
Bob Dylan: Happy to play it for you.
Allison Janney: Thanks, Bob. And speaking of cover versions, I love the way you sang “Once Upon A Time” on that Tony Bennett special.
Bob Dylan: Oh, Allison, you’re embarrassing me. Hey, that’s a pretty good rhyme. Somebody get me a pencil.
Allison Janney. I wonder if that’s the same Jenny from “Coming Through The Rye.” Here’s Thin Lizzy, “Whiskey in the Jar.”
[“Whiskey in the Jar” — Thin Lizzy]
Thin Lizzy, “Whiskey in the Jar.” It’s become kind of a hard rock staple, but when you hear Thin Lizzy do it, you can still hear its DNA as an Irish folk song. The kind that’s been sung in pubs for years, and years. And here, it made me realize, we can’t do a subject on this show without hearing from the Clancy Brothers.
And even though the Clancys were as Irish as leprechaun teeth, the next song actually has its roots in Scotland, where it was known as the Stirrup Cup, a final drink for the Scottish fox hunters, before they mounted and rode off to chase the quarry. If Frank was singing it, he might have called it “One For The Road.”
Seeing as we’re getting near the end of our show, I can think of no one I’d rather share a parting glass with more than the Clancy Brothers.
[“The Parting Glass” — The Clancy Brothers]
The Clancy Brothers. The third show we did was about drinking, so you could tell how important a theme we considered it. Back then, Liam Clancy told a wonderful story about the Clancys’ early days of recording. Now, we don’t usually like to repeat ourselves, but the story does concern a bottle of whiskey and, more importantly, I really wanted to hear my friend’s voice again. Here’s Liam Clancy.
Our first A&R man was Teo Macero, and Teo Macero said, “I’m the A&R man.” I said, “What does that mean?”
He said, “Artist and repertoire, and I have to find your songs for you.”
I said, “How can you find our songs for us? They’re 200 years old, we found them from old timers in Ireland. I learned them from my mother, I learned them from Tommy Makem’s mother. And he said, “Yeah, I’ve been wondering about that. So, what are you going to do?”
I said, “Put up the microphones, we’ll sing. It’s our job.” Set up two microphones, remembering my brother Paddy, then he took a bottle of whiskey out a brown paper bag, opened it up, Tommy Makem never could drink it in his life, but the rest of us had a few drinks. And we sang, we just started blasting into songs, and we churned out an album, we had it done within a few hours, and the next recording session, Teo Macero walks in, gets out a brown paper bag, unleashes the whiskey, and said, “Gentlemen, your arranger has arrived.”
Liam Clancy, here on the special Whiskey edition of Theme Time Radio Hour.
“I have, on occasion, your honor got on that phone myself, disguised by liquor. On that night, I went out, and got absolutely stocious, and came home pixelated, and swizzled. The next day, I woke up feeling like I had a forehead full of carpenters.”
We’ve all overindulged occasionally. Sometimes, you tie one on with your friends, and you wake up with a hangover. Everybody’s got a cure to recommend, it’s like hiccups. They don’t always work. But, here’s another type of hangover, the kind you get from drinking alone, from a love gone wrong, and no hair of the dog or poached egg and milk, or eating a Bermuda onion like an apple is going to cure it.
Byllye Williams, she spells it B-Y-L-L-Y-E, she knows the cure, but it might not be in her reach. Miss Williams is a little known singer, who was born in Michigan, but made her living in Chicago, recording for Cornelius Toole’s Theron record label. She died at the age of 36, and only recorded a few sides, but was a popular attraction at many of the top night spots around Chicago’s loop, including the 113 Club, Millie’s Cocktail Lounge, The Groove Circle Inn, McKay’s Disc Jockey Lounge, The Sunny Side Room, Duke Slater’s Viceroy Tavern, The Elbow Room, Manny Alameda’s Ringside Lounge, Faye’s Rose Bowl, Cadillac Bob’s Flame Show Bar, just to name a few.
Here’s Byllye Williams, painting a bleak picture of that morning after, when the bottle, her heart, and her bed are all empty. “Hangover Blues.”
[Hangover Blues — Byllye Williams]
No drums, piano’s out of tune, guitar way in the background, doesn’t matter. Perfect. Everybody’s so busy fixing their mistakes, and auto-tuning, they wouldn’t know how to make a record like this anymore. That was Chicago’s Byllye Williams. She’s got empty bottles in the sink, but it ain’t no use, she’s all alone.
While we’re on the subject of Chicago, and night clubs, I’m going to read you a poem by Hayden Carruth, a poet who won a National Book Award for his collection of poems, “Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey.” This is the one that gave that book its title.
Scrambled eggs and whiskey
in the false-dawn light. Chicago,
a sweet town, bleak, God knows,
but sweet. Sometimes. And
weren’t we fine tonight?
When Hank set up that limping
treble roll behind me
my horn just growled and I
thought my heart would burst.
And Brad M. pressing with the
soft stick, and Joe-Anne
singing low. Here we are now
in the White Tower, leaning
on one another, too tired
to go home. But don’t say a word,
don’t tell a soul, they wouldn’t
understand, they couldn’t, never
in a million years, how fine,
how magnificent we were
in that old club tonight.
Hayden Carruth, overeasy poet.
Hi, this is Sarah Silverman, and you’re listening to Theme Time Radio Hour, with Bob Dylan.
Now, we’re just about done, and there’s one thing we got to do before it gets too late, and I’m going to let a musical legend from Memphis, named Tuff Green, give us our marching orders. Tuff got his start playing bass with Jimmie Lunceford, one of the truly exemplary swing bands, and added the bottom to all sorts of important records. That’s him on B.B. King’s “Three O’clock In The Morning Blues.” Roscoe Gordon’s “No More Doggin,” which was actually recorded in Tuff’s living room.
[“Tuff” (excerpt) — Ace Cannon]
In the background is a big instrumental hit that Ace Cannon had, on High Records in 1962, that he had the good sense to entitle, you guessed it, “Tuff.”
Tuff’s band was legendary, Mose Allison, Amy’s father, said they were the first rock and roll band he ever saw when he first caught them in 1947. On the record we’re about to hear, recorded in Memphis in 1949, for the Bullet label, you’ll hear Phineas Newborn Sr., as well as his son on piano, who went on to play with legends like Charlie Mingus, Lionel Hampton, and Zoot Simms.
Tuff Green, standing at the nexus of swing, soul, jazz, jump, blues, and rock and roll. How is he not a household name?
[Let’s Go to the Liquor Store — Tuff Green]
Tuff Green. Not sure I’m happy with his shopping list. I’d add a couple of things if I were him, but then again, my liquor store knows me pretty well. I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Charles Bukowski might beg to differ. Bukowski was a beloved poet of the gutters, whose alcohol-drenched stories and poems about low-lives, drunkards, whores, and forgotten men and women who populate the Skid Rows, and tent cities of every country in the world, allowed him to remain an outsider even after selling millions of books.
In his novel, “Mother” (sic) he had this to say about becoming too well-known at your local package store:
“I like to change liquor stores frequently, because the clerks got to know your habits if you went in night and day and bought huge quantities. I could feel them wondering why I wasn’t dead yet, and it made me uncomfortable. They probably weren’t thinking any such thing, but then a man gets paranoid when he has 300 hangovers a year.”
Charles Bukowski, hard drinking poet.
Well, it’s just about time for us to say goodbye. I can’t believe it, that it’s over so soon. I didn’t even get to much of records I wanted to play, and I never had a chance to talk about Bourbon Street, or the French dynasty from whence it got its name. I never got around to Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, or if rye bread is related to rye whiskey, which by the way, it is. But there’s plenty more to say on this subject, so why don’t you gather up some friends, lay in a couple of bottles, crack some ice, rustle up some snacks, keep the party going.
As for us, we’ll be up here in the Abernathy Building, and when you least expect it, we’ll be back with more Dreams, Themes, and Schemes. So, until then, here’s a toast David Crosby taught me: Some ships are wooden ships, and other ships may sink. But the best ships are friendships, and to those ships, we drink. So stay safe, we’ll see you soon, bottoms up. For heaven’s sake, it’s Heaven’s Door.
[“Top Cat” (underscore) — Hoyt Curtin]