Wednesday, May 1, 2013

He Was a Friend of Mine” Traditional Song

“He Was a Friend of Mine” Traditional Song

For articles with similar titles, see Friend of Mine (disambiguation).
"He Was a Friend of Mine" is a traditional folk song in which the singer laments the death of a friend. The earliest known version of the song is titled "Shorty George" (Roud10055) and was first recorded by musicologist couple John . and Ruby Terril Lomax in 1939 at the Clemens State Farm in Brazoria County, Texas in a version performed by African-American inmate Smith Casey, who accompanied himself on guitar. Alan Lomax described the song as a "blues" that was "a dirge for a dead comrade."

The song has since been recorded by many artists, including Bob DylanDave Van RonkThe Washington SquaresBobby Bare,Mercury RevThe Black CrowesThe Mitchell TrioWillie NelsonNanci GriffithCat Power and, in a reworded version, The Byrds.[3][4]The version recorded by Willie Nelson was used in the film Brokeback Mountain and inaccurately credits Bob Dylan as the songwriter.[5]Dylan had arranged an early version of the tune in 1962 and his version can be heard on the compilation album The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991.[6]

The Byrds' version

"He Was a Friend of Mine"
Song by The Byrds from the album Turn! Turn! Turn!
December 6, 1965
November 11, 1965, Columbia Studios, Hollywood, CA
Traditional, new words and arrangement Jim McGuinn
Turn! Turn! Turn! track listing
"He Was aFriend of Mine"
"The World Turns All Around Her"

The Byrds included a recording of "He Was a Friend of Mine" on their 1965 album Turn! Turn! Turn! (see 1965 in music).[7] In The Byrds' version, the song's melody is altered and the lyrics are changed to lament the assassination of John F. Kennedy.[8] 

The band's lead guitarist Jim McGuinn rewrote the song's lyrics in late 1963 to give it a more contemporary slant and transform it into a  eulogy  for  President Kennedy.[4][9] 

McGuinn explained the origins of the song in an interview: "I wrote the song the night John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I suppose you could say it's one of the earliest Byrds songs. The arrangement used was as I'd always sung it. I just thought it was a good idea to include it on the Turn! Turn! Turn! album."[9] Due to the extensively rewritten lyrics of The Byrds version, the officially registered songwriting credit for the song is "Traditional/new words and arrangement McGuinn".[10]

Following its appearance on the band's second album, the song would go on to become a staple of The Byrds' live concert repertoire, until their final disbandment in 1973.[9] The band also performed the song during their appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival on June 17, 1967, where band member David Crosby made controversial remarks alleging that Kennedy had not been killed by Lee Harvey Oswald alone, but was actually the victim of a U.S. Government conspiracy.[11][12] The Byrds’ performance of "He Was a Friend of Mine" at Monterey was included in the 2002 The Complete Monterey Pop Festival DVD box set.[13]

In 1990, a reformed line-up of The Byrds, featuring Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Chris Hillman, re-recorded the song for The Byrds box set.[14]

Other cover versions

The Briarwood Singers, a five-piece folk group, released a version of the song that reached #126 on the Billboard charts in December 1963.[15] Bobby Bare also recorded "He Was a Friend of Mine" in 1964, in memory of air crash victim Jim Reeves. That same year, Petula Clark released a French version of the song under the title "Toi qui m'as fait pleurer", with Bobby Bare credited as writer.

Tom Goodkind of the Washington Squares sang the song with Marco Sin of Dirty Looks on bass and Billy Ficca of Television on drums at NYC's Paladium as a tribute to friend Abbie Hoffman. Dave Van Ronk sang the song at the memorial concert for Phil Ochs in New York City's Madison Square Garden Felt Forum, in May 1976, after Ochs' suicide. The English band, The Bishops, have also covered the song on their 2009 album, For Now.[16] The song was featured in an episode of the reality television series Jacob and Joshua: Nemesis Rising when the gay pop duo Nemesis recorded it for the album Rise Up. This version was produced by Barry Manilow and released June 26, 2007.

The Grateful Dead commonly performed a song called "He Was a Friend of Mine" during live concerts between 1966 and 1970, but that song was in fact based on the Mark Spoelstra song, "Just a Hand to Hold".[17]

^ "Shorty George". The Ballad Index. Retrieved 2012-02-29.
a b "Archive of American Folk song: Afro-American Blues and Game Songs". Library of Congress/The American Folklife Center. Retrieved 2012-02-28.
a b Hjort, Christopher. (2008). So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star: The Byrds Day-By-Day (1965-1973). Jawbone Press. p. 70. ISBN 1-906002-15-0.
^ "He Was a Friend of Mine". Bob Dylan Home Page. Retrieved 2006-09-17.
^ "Turn! Turn! Turn! album review"Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-12-01.
^ Fricke, David. (1996). Turn! Turn! Turn! (1996 CD liner notes).
a b c Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (2nd ed.). Rogan House. p. 145. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X.
^ Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited(2nd ed.). Rogan House. p. 641. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X.
^ Hjort, Christopher. (2008). So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star: The Byrds Day-By-Day (1965-1973). Jawbone Press. p. 134. ISBN 1-906002-15-0.
^ Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited(2nd ed.). Rogan House. p. 219. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X.
^ Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited(2nd ed.). Rogan House. p. 439. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X.
^ "The Briarwood Singers chart data". Ultimate Music Database. Retrieved 2010-01-01.
^ "He Was A Friend Of Mine by the Grateful Dead". Retrieved 2009-10-16.

External links
Dave Van Ronk - He Was A Friend Of Mine
Dave Van Ronk! Suddenly it's 1964, the Village, Phil Ochs, Mark Wenner and I going to see Gordon Lightfoot, running into Arlo Guthrie in a bearskin coat in the snow, all of us going across to the Bitter End to meet a new group, the Jefferson Airplane, that would help bring all the folk singers to an end. I haven't heard this since 1966, probably, and it's even better than I remember. I can't remember anyone ever saying anything bad about Dave Van Ronk. Universal affection for him.
Some of the comments on this video are incredible. Happy I posted something that resonated with so many people.

I remember sitting in a basement cafe on McDougle Street in the Village listening to Dave singing "Keep of Trucking Mama" "Salty Dog" and "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" 1964-1965. James Taylor was singing at the Night Owl. I had to stand outside because the Night Owl was expensive. Seems like yesterday.


  1. its interesting that the byrds' version is straight LN propaganda .. mcguinn says that he didn't appreciate crosby's grandstanding and saying "what everyone knew anyway", but in any case the song itself contradicts/cancels crosby's "warning", if that's what it was

  2. and mcguinn saying that he wrote (modified) the song *the same night kennedy was killed* makes the presentation of the familiar fantasy that with no reason or rhyme, a LN shot him down from a 6th floor window, seem rather like a "request" number. that's a lot of detail to be so sure about within 24 hours of the event