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Yesterday I looked at the three gospel-by-way-of-bluegrass songs that Bob opened these 2000 shows with. Today, I'll explore the other four gosp-grass™ tunes he played on this tour, generally to close out the acoustic sets.
And we'll start with the one he played the least on this leg: “White Dove.” It's another song from - wait for it - the Stanley Brothers! Though, unlike yesterday's Stanley songs, this one was written by the other brother: Carter Stanley. He wrote it on the road late one night, as his daughter Jeanie later recounted:
My father wrote this particular song one night while he and Ralph were traveling. Ralph was aggravated because my father had the light on and it was bothering him. Then Ralph got miffed because my Dad had killed off their mother and father in the song when he heard it. Needless to say, it became one of my father’s most well-known songs. The words just touch your very soul and are like darts to the heart.
Carter Stanley died in 1966 at age 41 from complications related to alcohol abuse. Though Ralph had gotten mad that Carter killed off their mother and father in his song, the reality might be even more tragic: their mother outlived one of her sons by seven years.
Ralph, on the other hand, lasted until just a few years ago, when he passed at 89. Both the brothers’ tombstones feature their signature instruments:
Bob began playing "White Dove" himself just after his 1997 sessions with Ralph. He played it a few times through 1998, then retired it with one exception: April 3rd, 2000, a show we'll get to next week. That was the only time he's played "White Dove" live this century.
But he's played it since in another way - on Theme Time Radio Hour. In a 2008 episode on birds, he spun the Stanley Brothers' version. He didn't acknowledge that he himself had performed the song, but he did say by way of intro, "You can't go wrong if you see a Stanley Brothers record. If you're at a flea market or a yard sale and you see a record with their name on it, it's gonna be good."
"Pass Me Not, Oh Gentle Savior" was even rarer in Bob's repertoire, a song he only played five times total, three on this spring 2000 tour. This classic hymn was composed in the late 1860s by lyricist Frances J. Crosby, a humanitarian who worked for the New York School of the Blind yet somehow found time to write eight thousand hymns (!), and musician William H. Doane, who managed a couple thousand himself. But Bob's performance sounds less like a church hymn and more a lot like the version by - you'll never guess - the Stanley Brothers.
Want to hear a version that sounds nothing like Stanley Brothers though? It's one of my favorite covers that came out in 2019, by a musician who lives up near me in Vermont who records under the name Hallowell. He rewrote the music dramatically, making it sound more like a Sufjan Stevens song. Check it out:
Setlist.fm calls "Rock of Ages" a cover of The Band. It isn't. It's another hymn, a century older than "Pass Me Not," dating from sometime in the 1700s. As the story goes, the writer Augustus Montague Toplady (quite a name) was traveling when a sudden storm hit. He sheltered in a cave. While there, surrounded by rock, he imagined a rock of faith as shelter from the storms of life.
Dylan only covered it ten times, most of them on this spring tour. And you'll never guess where he learned it…
I'm joking of course. By now you know damn well whose version Bob modeled his after. And, in fact, he played the Stanley Brothers' recording on Theme Time Radio Hour too, on a show about rocks. Didn't give it much by way of intro though.
Now, ready for a shock? The gospel song Dylan played more than any other in the spring of 2000 did not come from the Stanley Brothers. They never played it. Instead, he likely learned it from another bluegrass duo: Johnnie and Jack. If Bob’s Stanley Brothers kick had started in 1997, two years later he apparently had swapped a Johnnie and Jack disc into the CD changer. In November 1999, he began performing a number of their songs: "Humming Bird," "Searching for a Soldier's Grave," and, the one he played a whole bunch on this 2000 tour, "This World Can't Stand Long."
"This World Can't Stand Long" often gets credited as written by early country singer Roy Acuff, but some sources say he merely bought the copyright from the song's actual writer Jim Anglin. This certainly makes sense in how the song go to Johnnie and Jack; Jim was Jack's brother, and had performed with him and third brother Van as The Anglin Brothers before Johnnie and Jack got going. I hope he held onto that copyright long enough to see his own brother make a hit out of it.
This is in many ways the defining gospel cover of this tour. Bob played it almost every night, usually to close out the acoustic set. It serves the same purpose as many of the openers: An upbeat acoustic number for the band to all sing together. It's not my favorite of the bunch (again, that's "Hallelujah, I'm Ready to Go") and I wish he'd swapped "Pass Me Not" into that acoustic-set-closer slot a few more times. But 2000 is an extremely consistent year. I haven't heard a single performances of any of these seven gospel covers that wasn't great, and "This World" offers a nice way to wrap the acoustic portion and lead into "Country Pie," the typical electric-set opener.
Full disclosure: Today’s show features none of the songs I just wrote about (it does open with “Hallelujah, I’m Ready to Go”). By this late in the spring tour, he often swapped out the second gospel song with his own “Gates of Eden,” its first performances since ‘96, to close the acoustic set. But “Rock of Ages” will return to the set tomorrow.
Tomorrow, our look back at Bob's spring-2000 covers continues with the section I'm titling, appropriately, Lookin' Back.