Monday, June 13, 2011

Very Early Bob Dylan Song Manuscripts Surface

by Stephen J. Gertz

Little Buddy (recto).
Hertzl Camp (Webster, WI), 1957.

Two scarce and very early Bob Dylan manuscripts of song lyrics have come to market.

Little Buddy, written for his summer camp's newspaper, the Hertzl Herald, in 1957 while Dylan, aged sixteen, was attending Hertzl Camp in Webster, Wisconsin, is the story of a boy and his dog. Buddy, alas, comes to a tragic end. The manuscript is signed, "Bobby Zimmerman."

Little Buddy (verso).

Little Buddy

Broken hearted and so sad
Big blue eyes all covered with tears
Was a picture of sorrow to see

Kneeling close to the side
Of his pal and only pride
A little lad, these words he told to me

He was such a lovely doggy
And to me he was such fun
But today as we played by the way

A drunken man got mad at him
Because he barked in joy
He beat him and he's dying here today

Will you call the doctor please
And tell him if he comes right now
He'll save my precious doggy here he lay

Then he left the fluffy head
But his little dog was dead
Just a shiver and he slowly passed away

He didn't know his dog had died
So I told him as he cried
Come with me son we'll get that doctor right away

But when I returned
He had his little pal upon his knee
And the teardrops, they were blinding his big blue eyes

Your [sic] too late sir my doggy's dead
And no one can save him now
But I'll meet my precious buddy up in the sky

By a tiny narrow grave
Where the willows sadly wave
Are the words so clear you're sure to find

Little Buddy Rest In Peace
God Will Watch You Thru The Years
Cause I Told You In My Dreams That You
Were Mine


As it turns out, however, the lyrics are not Bob Dylan's. Little Buddy was a slightly revised version of a song originally written by Canadian-born country-western star, Hank Snow, and first recorded by him in 1948 for the Canadian Bluebird label. The important thing to take from this is not that Dylan plagiarized but, rather, that teen-aged Bob Dylan was listening to country music and confounding expectations long before he was officially confounding expectations. Hell, Stanard Ridgway's Don't Box Me In (1983) could be his theme song, like Bob Hope's Thanks For the Memories or Jack Benny's Love in Bloom, though I don't think anyone has ever crooned it while in the shower or  housecleaning.

This Dylan manuscript first surfaced at Christie's on June 23, 2009. Estimated to sell for $10,000 - $15,000, the hammer fell at $12,500.

Man on the Street.
[In flight somewhere over America], 1961.

An early, if not the earliest, draft of Man on the Street, one of seventeen songs recorded at Dylan's first recording session, November 20, 1961, but unreleased, and then rerecorded as a demo for his then publisher, Leeds Music, on February 2, 1962, has also come to market. That demo recording remained buried treasure until October 2010, when it was included in  The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 (The Bookleg Series Vol. 9)

The draft was written in-flight on TWA stationary.

Man in the Street (as recorded)

I'll sing you a song, ain't very long,
'Bout an old man who never done wrong.
How he died nobody can say,
They found him dead in the street one day.

Well, the crowd, they gathered one fine morn,
At the man whose clothes 'n' shoes were torn.
There on the sidewalk he did lay,
They stopped 'n' stared 'n' walked their way.

Well, the p'liceman come and he looked around,
"Get up, old man, or I'm a-takin' you down."
He jabbed him once with his billy club
And the old man then rolled off the curb.

Well, he jabbed him again and loudly said,
"Call the wagon; this man is dead."
The wagon come, they loaded him in,
I never saw the man again.

I've sung you my song, it ain't very long,
'Bout an old man who never done wrong.
How he died no one can say,
They found him dead in the street one day.

Dylan manuscript material is now exceedingly rare and precious. Most of what was available was vacuumed up by collector George Hecksher, who, in the late 1990s, gave them to the Morgan Library as a generous gift.

When Dylan manuscript material has appeared in the past it has been acquired at dear prices: A few scraps of Dylan's student  poetry sold at Christie's, November 22, 2005, for $78,000. On June 23, 2010 the manuscript lyrics for The Times They Are a-Changin' sold at Sotheby's for $422,500.

The Times They Are a-Changin'.
Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

In contrast, these two early items of manuscript Dylaniana are bargains.  Little Buddy is being offered  for $25,000,  Man on the Street, $35,000.

Both are currently offered by Biblioctopus.

Images courtesy of Biblioctopus, except were noted, with our thanks.


  1. These are classic!!!!

  2. Wasn't one of Bob's tall yarns something about playing piano in Bobby Vee's band in Fargo the day after Buddy Holly died and Vee filled in? He would have only been 16 or 17. Active imagination, no question. Even more of a tangent: Hank Snow is pictured with Elvis at a Louisiana Hayride. Elvis dug him and they toured the Southeast on the same bill in 1955 but the crowds got younger and Elvis became the big draw; Snow dropped out of the tour. Of course, Elvis around then bombed at the Grand Ole Opry; a critic suggested he go back to driving a truck for a living.


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