The Songs he didn’t write: Bob Dylan Fixin’ To Die





In 1961,  Bob Dylan recorded “Fixin’ to Die” for his debut album, released the following year. The album liner notes indicate that it “was learned from an old recording by Bukka White”. However, Dylan’s arrangement uses a slightly different melody line and some new lyrics.

Album version:

The urgency and intensity of Dylan’s performance gets me every time, I love it.

Fixin’ to Die Blues is song by American blues musician Booker T. Washington “Bukka” White. It is performed in the Delta blues style with White’s vocal and guitar accompanied by washboard rhythm. White recorded it in Chicago on May 8, 1940, for record producer Lester Melrose. The song was written just days before, along with eleven others, at Melrose’s urging.

White was resuming his recording career, which had been interrupted by his incarceration for two and one-half years at the infamous Parchman Farm prison in Mississippi. While there, White witnessed the death of a friend and “got to wondering how a man feels when he dies”. His lyrics reflect his thoughts about his children and wife:

I’m looking funny in my eyes, an’ I b’lieve I’m fixin’ to die (2×)
I know I was born to die, but I hate to leave my children cryin’ …
So many nights at the fireside, how my children’s mother would cry (2×)
‘Cause I ain’t told their mother I had to say good-bye

– wikipedia

Bukka White – Fixin’ To Die Blues:

“…come as close to art song as traditional blues has ever dared to go, but without losing any of the essential qualities of the Delta heritage”
– Ted Gioia (music historian/author)

Fixing To Die is a song Bukka wrote after watching his mother die. This song looks death in the face. Bukka’s mother also appears in Strange Place Blues. Here we find him by his mother’s graveside wishing he could see her again.
– Louderthanwar.com

Bob Dylan Folksinger’s Choice – Fixin’ To Die & Conversation
Radio Show with Cynthia Gooding:

Bob Dylan sing the verses 1, 3, 5 and 7 as a chorus,  with the same lyrics. In verse 2 King Solomon fits better with the added text missing from the other versions.

My favourite, Bob Dylan – Fixin’ to Die (Carnegie Chapter Hall, NYC, 4th Nov, 1961):

“In the second version, Carnegie Chapter Hall 4-11-1961, there is another Bob, with a driving guitar. Small echo’s of that same kind of accompaniment can be found on the Bob Dylan album in Fixin’ To Die, Highway 51 and See That My Grave Is Kept Clean. Lyric structure is kind of the same, now with aches in his back in verse 3 and verse 5 surprisingly ending with hating to leave his friends behind. Perhaps he knew who the 53 people sitting in the audience were. Verse 2 has the introduction of King Solomon’s grave, but that doesn’t fit well, there’s something missing.

Bukka White three recordings of Fixin’ To Die, 1940, 1963 and 1967, had almost all the same lyric (with very small variations). Bob Dylan changed the lyrics on al his tapings.

The most known Bob Dylan version is the album version from Bob Dylan(album). Three takes were recorded on 20-11-1961, but the outtakes don’t circulate. Part of the 5 verses is close to Bukka White, but Dylan has some variations on the theme and borrows from other blues sources. In it’s structure verses 1, 3 and 5 deal with “funny”, in his mind, his eyes and his walking all connected to the title line and they all three end with his don’t mind to die but hate to leave his children cry.” (source: http://thetwinwithin.blogspot.no)

The Lyrics Dylan used on his debut album:

Feeling funny in my mind, Lord,
I believe I’m fixing to die, fixing to die
Feeling funny in my mind, Lord
I believe I’m fixing to die

Well, I don’t mind dying
But I hate to leave my children crying
Well, I look over yonder to that burying ground
Look over yonder to that burying ground
Sure seems lonesome, Lord, when the sun goes down

Feeling funny in my eyes, Lord,
I believe I’m fixing to die, fixing to die
Feeling funny in my eyes, Lord
I believe I’m fixing to die

Well, I don’t mind dying but
I hate to leave my children crying
There’s a black smoke rising, Lord
It’s rising up above my head, up above my head
It’s rising up above my head, up above my head
And tell Jesus make up my dying bed.

I’m walking kind of funny, Lord
I believe I’m fixing to die, fixing to die
Yes I’m walking kind of funny, Lord
I believe I’m fixing to die
Fixing to die, fixing to die
Well, I don’t mind dying
But I hate to leave my children crying.

– Hallgeir




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