Car Tunes: Highway 61 & Highway 61 Revisited
Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bob Dylan, Johnny Winter

Route 66 may be America’s “mother road” but Highway 61 is the blues highway. It runs roughly parallel to the Mississippi River from the Delta in the deep South to the Great Lakes in the north. The legendary “crossroads” where Robert Johnson went down to flag a ride and possibly sold his soul to the Devil is an intersection on Highway 61 not far from Clarksdale, Mississippi. At the opposite end of the highway, Bob Dylan was an amateur musicologist from his early days listening to R&B on clearchannel radio stations late at night in his parents’ Hibbing, Minnesota home, maybe 60 miles from Highway 61.

Dylan was probably familiar with Mississippi Fred McDowell’s own Highway 61, hence the title “Highway 61 Revisited”. My guess is that most folks who know of the Dylan tune are unfamiliar with McDowell’s original take on the road. I can’t find Dylan’s original 1965 version, but here is Mississippi Fred’s song, a live version Dylan performed last year, and Johnny Winter’s magnificent slide guitar take on Dylan’s masterpiece, accompanied by Butch Trucks, recorded at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads festival. Like Robert Johnson’s “land of California” in Sweet Home Chicago, McDowell doesn’t quite get the geography right, putting the route of Highway 61 from “New York City down the Gulf of Mexico”.

Lyrics for both songs after the jump.

Highway 61 – Fred McDowell

Lord that 61 highway is the longest road i know

Lord that 61 highway may be the longest road i know

She run from new york city down the gulf of mexico

 

Lord it’s some poor sand down greyhound buses don’t run

Lord it’s some poor sand down greyhound buses don’t run

Just go to work with me baby look down highway 61

I said “please please see somebody for me”

I said “please please see somebody for me”

If you see my baby tell her she’s alright with me

 

I’m gonna buy me a pony can pay for fox-trot and run

I’m gonna buy me a pony can pay for fox-trot and run

Lord when you see me comin’ pretty mama i’ll be on highway 61

 

I started school one monday mornin’ lord i throwed my books away

I started school one monday mornin’ baby i throwed my books away

I wrote a note to my teacher lord i’m gonna try 61 today

Lord if i have to die baby fo’ you think my time have come

Lord if i have to die baby now fo’ you think my time have come

I want you to bury my body out on highway 61

Lord it’s amazin’ baby lord don’t want you to have no fun

It’s amazin’ baby don’t want you to have no fun

Just come down to my little cabin out on highway 61

 

Highway 61 Revisited – Bob Dylan

Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
God says, “Out on Highway 61”

Well Georgia Sam he had a bloody nose
Welfare Department they wouldn’t give him no clothes
He asked poor Howard where can I go
Howard said there’s only one place I know
Sam said tell me quick man I got to run
Ol’ Howard just pointed with his gun
And said that way down on Highway 61

Well Mack the Finger said to Louie the King
I got forty red, white and blue shoestrings
And a thousand telephones that don’t ring
Do you know where I can get rid of these things
And Louie the King said let me think for a minute son
And he said yes I think it can be easily done
Just take everything down to Highway 61

Now the fifth daughter on the twelfth night
Told the first father that things weren’t right
My complexion she said is much too white
He said come here and step into the light, he says hmm you’re right
Let me tell the second mother this has been done
But the second mother was with the seventh son
And they were both out on Highway 61

Now the rovin’ gambler he was very bored
He was tryin’ to create a next world war
He found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor
He said I never engaged in this kind of thing before
But yes I think it can be very easily done
We’ll just put some bleachers out in the sun
And have it on Highway 61

Copyright © 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1993 by Special Rider Music
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