“900 Miles” Special Edition: Bob Dylan/Dion/Esther & Abi Ofarim: Bob Dylan and the Band — “900 Miles from My Home”, Dion — “900 Miles”, Esther & Abi Ofarim — “900 Miles from My Home”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — May 13, 2023


Three killer versions of a traditional folk tune.

“900 Miles from My Home” is “a lament of a traveller far from home that is from the beginning of the last century or earlier” (https://mainlynorfolk.info/folk/songs/fivehundredmiles.html), “the old folk tale of the hobo roaming far, missing his straight life as a husband, and wishing he could come back, but he can’t because he’s ashamed of himself”. (Robert MacMillan, http://bobdylanhaiku61.blogspot.com/2015/07/900-miles-from-my-home.html) This folk classic was first recorded by Fiddlin’ John Carson in 1924. (https://secondhandsongs.com/performance/458185).

Mainly Norfolk notes that “Hedy West rewrote [it] as Five Hundred Miles with a different tune but several overlapping verses, and recorded it in 1963 for her eponymous album on the Vanguard label, Hedy West. It was a big hit for the Kingston Trio and for Peter, Paul & Mary in 1962.” Bobby Bare had a Top 10 hit with it in ’63.

As to Fiddlin’ John, John Bush writes that:

Fiddlin’ John Carson was already 55 when in 1923 the OKeh label released “Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane”/”The Old Hen Cackled” — the first recording by a strictly country artist and arguably the beginning of the country music recording industry. Carson was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia in 1868, and worked in cotton mills for over 20 years until his fiddling talents won several contests. He began performing in minstrel shows, and came to be quite popular around the Georgia area — so much so that Atlanta furniture salesman Polk Brockman recommended Carson’s name to OKeh field recorder Ralph Peer. Though Peer agreed to record the fiddler, he was disgusted with the results and sent only a few copies to the furniture store — then the only outlet for records. Brockman sold out of several pressings, convincing Peer that there was a market for hillbilly recordings. Carson was brought to New York late in 1923 to begin recording the first of his over 150 sides for the label. The following year, Carson updated his old-timey sound by recording with a string band called the Virginia Reelers. . . . Carson’s fortunes declined during the Depression, however; his final recordings were for Victor Bluebird in 1934. He later worked as an elevator operator at the Georgia State Capitol, a job he received from governor Eugene Talmadge in return for the popular musician’s campaign help.


823) Bob Dylan — “900 Miles from My Home”

Dylan and the Band laid down a majestic version in ’67 during the recording of the Basement Tapes. Robert MacMillan notes that “Dylan adds some oddball lyrics, particularly ‘Even down on the ocean side, no she don’t wade in just to bang my pride.'” (http://bobdylanhaiku61.blogspot.com/2015/07/900-miles-from-my-home.html)

The Basement Tapes need no intro, but Stephen Thomas Erlewine writes:

Preserving newly written Bob Dylan songs for copyright is the reason why the Band’s Garth Hudson rolled tape at Big Pink but The Basement Tapes were something much more than songwriting demos. . . . [T]his was the birth of what would be called Americana — the wondrous thing about The Basement Tapes [was that the] music [was] made with no expectation that anybody outside of a small circle would ever hear it. Of course, the opposite happened.  [They] leaked out and became an enduring part not only of the legacy of both Dylan and the Band, but also of American music as a whole, as it stood at the crossroads of so many different strands of American culture.


824) Dion — “900 Miles”

The Wanderer himself recorded “an especially glorious, atmospheric rendering . . . mesmerizing and authoritative” (Brian Miller, https://www.vivascene.com/dions-lost-masterpiece-wonder-where-im-bound-album-review/), “quality acoustic folk-blues”. (Richie Unterberger, https://www.allmusic.com/album/wonder-where-im-bound-mw0000849086)

Richie Unterberger writes that:

Of all the great rockers of the late 50s and early 60s, Dion DiMucci was nearly alone in making the transition to a new, more mature era, at a time when The Beatles and The Byrds were putting teen idols out to pasture. Yet it wasn’t as abrupt and unexpected as it appeared. Even before The Beatles hit the US, he’d recorded (in December 1963) . . . 900 Miles, though it wouldn’t find release until the Wonder Where I’m Bound LP in 1969. Also in late 1963 and early ’64, he recorded hard blues by the likes of Lightnin’ Hopkins, as well as cutting his own acoustic folk tune The Road I’m On (Gloria), which only surfaced as a rare 1964 B-side.

Just months after Dion had commercially returned from the dead with his [‘68 #4] smash “Abraham, Martin & John,” Columbia patched together [Wonder Where I’m Bound, an] assortment of odds and ends from the vaults, most of it apparently selected with an eye toward folk-rock material.

https://recordcollectormag.com/articles/lost-found, https://www.allmusic.com/album/wonder-where-im-bound-mw0000849086

Brian Miller adds:

What is not generally known about Dion is how good a blues guitarist he is. While his instrumental skills are a revelation on this record, equally astounding is how dramatically he reinvented himself from being one of the great pop singers to being perhaps the best white blues singer alive. . . . “Abraham, Martin and John” had received both critical acclaim and commercial success, with Billboard calling it one of Dion’s “best performances of all time” . . . . The challenge was to sustain this by releasing material that complemented Dion’s new folk rock sound. A number of unreleased recordings that Dion had made at Columbia were brought together [in Wonder Where I’m Bound].


As to Dion’s history’s, Unterberger writes:

When Dion began recording in the late ’50s, it was as the lead singer of a group of friends who sang on Bronx street corners. Billing themselves Dion & the Belmonts . . . their first few records were prime Italian-American doo wop. . . . [and their biggest single] was “A Teenager in Love,” . . . . Dion went solo in 1960 . . . moving from . . . more R&B/pop-oriented tunes with great success. He handled himself with a suave, cocky ease on hits like “The Wanderer,” “Runaround Sue,” “Lovers Who Wander,” “Ruby Baby,” and “Donna the Prima Donna[]” . . . . By the mid-’60s . . . heroin . . . was getting the best of him, and he did little recording and performing for about five years.


825) Esther & Abi Ofarim — “900 Miles from My Home”

Finally, here is a beguiling version from . . . Esther & Abi Ofarim! All Music Guide tells us that:

Esther Ofarim . . . and Avraham Reichstadt . . . were a husband-and-wife team who shot to fame in [Israel] during the early 60s. With a keen eye for the international market, Esther had represented Switzerland in the 1963 Eurovision Song Contest while the duo extended their appeal on the Continent via concert performances and foreign language recordings. They had their first hit in Germany in 1966 with ‘Noch Einen Tanz’, and the following year enjoyed even bigger success with their version of the Bee Gees’ ‘Morning Of My Life’. An appearance on the high-rating Eamonn Andrews Show on UK television, in which Esther and Abi sang a novelty love duet, proved so popular that the song became an overnight smash. ‘Cinderella Rockefella’ . . . topped the UK charts for three weeks in early 1968 and although the duo seemed likely one-hit wonders they managed a successful Top 20 follow-up with ‘One More Dance’. The partnership subsequently broke up when their marriage was dissolved.


Here they are live in ’69:

Here is where it all began with Fiddlin’ John Carson:

Here is Bobby Bare with “500 Miles Away from Home”:

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3 thoughts on ““900 Miles” Special Edition: Bob Dylan/Dion/Esther & Abi Ofarim: Bob Dylan and the Band — “900 Miles from My Home”, Dion — “900 Miles”, Esther & Abi Ofarim — “900 Miles from My Home”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — May 13, 2023

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