The Songs he didn’t write: Bob Dylan See that my grave is kept clean





See That My Grave Is Kept Clean is a blues song recorded by Blind Lemon Jefferson in two slightly differing versions in October 1927 and February 1928 that became one of his most famous compositions.

Bob Dylan recorded the song for his 1962 debut album Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan does a great interpretation of the song. It is the last song on the album, and what a send-off. It is stunning, great guitar playing, fantastic singing, understated and insistent at the same time. Dylan’s voice is remarkable

Bob Dylan – See That My Grave Is Kept Clean live at Gerdes Folk City 1962:

It was also recorded with The Band released on The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 – The Basement Tapes Complete. Listen to a part of it 20 minutes into this wonderful audio story called, The Many Voices of Bob Dylan.

The “original”: See That My Grave Is Kept Clean’ by Bind Lemon Jefferson (1928):

The song is credited to Blind Lemon, but I’ve seen sources that says it’s a traditional spiritual that Jefferson re-worked as a blues song. This is very common in the folk/blues tradition. So is the ever changing lyrics, all is part of the so called “folk process”. I also found a web site (Jkadock.blogspot.no) with a picture of different lyrics dated back to 1898, the song was then called, See That My Grave Is Kept Green. It also has references to the song as far back as 1893 and 1892!

Source: http://jkadcock.blogspot.no/

The lyrics that Bob Dylan sings. Dylan’s lyrics vary from Jefferson’s in some significant ways:

Well, there’s one kind-a favor I’ll ask of you
Well, there’s one kind-a favor I’ll ask of you
There’s just one kind favor I’ll ask of you
You can see that my grave is kept clean

And there’s two white horses following me
And there’s two white horses following me
I got two white horses following me
Waiting on my burying ground

Did you ever hear that coughin’ sound?
Did you ever hear that coughin’ sound?
Did you ever hear that coughin’ sound?
Means another poor boy is underground

Did you ever hear them church bells tone?
Have you ever hear that church bells tone?
Did you ever hear them church bells tone?
Means another poor boy is dead and gone

And my heart stopped beating and my hands turned cold
And my heart stopped beating and my hands turned cold
And my heart stopped beating and my hands turned cold
Now I believe what the Bible told

There’s just one last favor I’ll ask of you
And there’s one last favor I’ll ask of you
There’s just one last favor I’ll ask of you
See that my grave is kept clean

Jefferson’s lyrics:

Well, there’s one kind of favor I’ll ask of you
Well, there’s one kind of favor I’ll ask of you
Lord, it’s one kind of favor I’ll ask of you
It’s see that my grave is kept clean

It’s a long lane that’s got no end
It’s a long lane that’s got no end
It’s a long lane ain’t got no end
& it’s a bad way that never change

Lord it’s two white horses in a line
Well it’s two white horses in a line
Well it’s two white horses in a line
Goin’ take me to my burying ground

My heart stopped beating and my hands got cold
My heart stopped beating and my hands got cold
Well, my heart stopped beating, Lord my hands got cold
It wasn’t [???] that bible told

Have you ever hear that coffin sound
Have you ever heard that coffin sound
Have you ever hear that coffin sound
Then you know another poor boy’s in the ground

Dig my grave with a silver spade
Dig my grave with a silver spade
Dig my grave with a silver spade
You may lead me down with a golden chain

Have you ever hear that bell moan
Have you ever hear that bell moan
Have you ever hear that church bells moan
Then you know another poor boy’s dead and gone

– Hallgeir




3 thoughts on “The Songs he didn’t write: Bob Dylan See that my grave is kept clean”

  1. PS. The story I mentioned is on pages 108 and 109 of Scaduto’s book. I’ve got some other good Dylan tales in a book that I’ve written called “This Singin’ Thing.” It’s available on Amazon if your interested.

  2. Along with Woody’s songs, Bobby sang a lot of blues back in the Village days. This is one I heard him sing both at the Gaslight and Folk City. I was in my 20’s and his rendition gave me shivers. Now that I’m 83 it still does, only more so ’cause of my age. I had my own career going at that time when he, Tom Paxton, Ramblin’ Jack, myself and a host of other members of the Village tribe were invited to sing in a concert at Riverside Church in NYC. I believe the year was 1962. In Anthony Scaduto’s book, “Dylan” he recounts a story about some fooling around we were doing in a sound room as remembered by Suze Rotolo. She tells a hilarious tale about a conversation she had with Ramblin’ Jack about women’s skirts and then describes an impromptu song that Bobby and I made up about “All the beautiful people wearing their beautiful underwear.” Pretty funny stuff. Bob Shelton wrote a review of the concert for The NY Times mentioning Bobby, Tom Paxton and I as new talents on the scene worthy of note. I had the voice of a lyric ballad singer yet I was drawn to Bobby’s songs especially when he began to write. But because of the difference In styles I was discouraged by every one that knew us from trying to sing his songs. Now that I’m in the twilight years of my career and though my voice is overly well seasoned by age I’ve taken to chronicling some of his songs on videos. Here’s My Old Troubadours version of one of his most pivotal songs, “It’s all over now Baby Blue”.You probably won’t get the shivers as I did listening to him sing , “See that My Grave is kept clean” but if you’ve got ears to hear, listen and you might hear echos of those halcyon days in this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVVjEW28RDQ

    1. Thanks again for your stories, keep’em coming!

      This is great stuff and we’re very grateful that you take the time to tell us about the times in NY.

      – Hallgeir

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