The Songs he didn’t write: Bob Dylan In My Time of Dying





“The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing, thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness”
– Psalms 41:3

In My Time of Dying (also called Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed or variations on this) is a traditional gospel music song that has been recorded by numerous musicians. Bob Dylan recorded it for his debut album as In My Time Of Dyin’.

It was (as most of the songs on the album) cut in one take.

” I can’t see myself singing the same song twice in a row. That’s terrible.”
– Bob Dylan

“Dylan had never sung ‘In My Time of Dyin’ ‘ prior to this recording session. He does not recall where he first heard it. The guitar is fretted with the lipstick holder [ makeshift slide ] he borrowed from his girl, Suze Rotolo, who sat devotedly and wide-eyed through the recording session.”
– Liner Notes, Bob Dylan (album, 1962)

The variation “He is a Dying-bed maker” appears in the song “When I’s Dead and Gone” as transcribed in 1924 or 1925 in the south-east. A close theme in English hymnary is found in Isaac Watts,and many derivative hymnals. In October 1926, Reverend J. C. Burnett recorded “Jesus Is Going to Make Up Your Dying Bed”, but it was never issued. Blind Willie Johnson may have heard Burnett’s song or otherwise learned some of his lyrics.

Blind Willie Johnson recorded the song during his first recording session on December 3, 1927, as “Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed” and the second take was released as his first single in 1928, backed by “I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole”. Johnson performed the song as a gospel blues with his vocal and slide guitar accompaniment. It was one of Johnson’s most successful records.

In December 1929, Charlie Patton recorded a version with somewhat different lyrics as “Jesus Is A-Dying Bed Maker”.

On August 15, 1933, Josh White recorded the song as “Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dying Bed”. White later recorded it between 1944 and 1946 as “In My Time of Dying”, which inspired several popular versions.

Many writers have claimed that Dylan learned the song from a Josh White recording, although (as we’ve seen) many other performers, including Blind Willie Johnson and Bob Dylan favourite Charley Patton, also recorded it. Todd Harvey (author, The Formative Bob Dylan) says that he hears both Johnson and White’s styles in Dylan’s guitar playing. For me the playing isn’t the main issue, it’s all in the singing. Bob Dylan really infuses the song with intensity and feeling. A truly remarkable performance by Dylan, and the critic, Robert Shelton, also singles out this track as the most compelling song on the album.

The lyrics as Dylan sing them on Bob Dylan (album, 1962):

Well, in my time of dying don’t want nobody to mourn
All I want for you to do is take my body home
Well, well, well, so I can die easy
Well, well, well
Well, well, well, so I can die easy
Jesus gonna make up, Jesus gonna make up
Jesus gonna make up my dying bed

Well, meet me Jesus, meet me, meet me
in the middle of the air
If these wings should fail to me
Lord, won’t you meet me with another pair
Well, well, well, so I can die easy
Well, well, well
Well, well, well, so I can die easy
Jesus gonna make up, Jesus gonna make up
Jesus gonna make up my dying bed

Lord, in my time of dying don’t want nobody to cry
All I want you to do is take me when I die
Well, well, well, so I can die easy
Well, well, well
Well, well, well, so I can die easy
Jesus gonna make up, Jesus gonna make up
Jesus gonna make up my dying bed

– Hallgeir

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