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John Wesley Harding (song)

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"John Wesley Harding"
Song by Bob Dylan from the album John Wesley Harding
Released December 27, 1967
Recorded November 6, 1967
Genre Folk rock, country rock
Length 2:59
Label Columbia
Writer Bob Dylan
Producer Bob Johnston
John Wesley Harding track listing

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"John Wesley Harding" is a song by Bob Dylan that appears on his 1967 album of the same name.

Writing and recording

Dylan told Jann Wenner in a 1969 Rolling Stone interview that the song "started out to be a long ballad. I was gonna write a ballad on ... like maybe one of those old cowboy ... you know, a real long ballad. But in the middle of the second verse, I got tired. I had a tune, and I didn't want to waste the tune; it was a nice little melody, so I just wrote a quick third verse, and I recorded that."[1] Biographer Clinton Heylin states that Dylan has had a well-documented interest in outlaw cowboys, including Jesse James and Billy the Kid,[2] and in the past Dylan has said that his favorite folk song was "John Hardy",[3] whose real-life title character in 1893 murdered another man over a game of craps.[4] John Wesley Hardin was another late-19th century outlaw.[2] Dylan has stated that he chose John Wesley Hardin for his protagonist over other badmen because his name "[fit] in the tempo" of the song.[1] Dylan added the g to the end of Hardin's name by mistake.[5][6]

The song was recorded in two takes on November 6, 1967 in Studio A of Columbia Music Row Studios in Nashville, Tennessee.[2][7] Both of these were considered for the album, but the second take was ultimately chosen.[2]


Dylan has said that he did not have a clear notion of what the song was about.[1][6] He told Cameron Crowe in 1985 that after recording the John Wesley Harding album, he "didn't know what to make of it. ... So I figured the best thing to do would be to put out the album as quickly as possible, call it John Wesley Harding because that was the one song that I had no idea what it was about, why it was even on the album. So I figured I'd call the album that, call attention to it, make it something special..."[6] It was the only title that he considered for the album.[1] He told a Newsweek interviewer in 1969 that the songs on his country Nashville Skyline album: "These are the type of songs that I always felt like writing. The songs reflect more of the inner me than the songs of the past. They're more to my base than, say, 'John Wesley Harding'. There I felt like everyone expected me to be a poet so that's what I tried to be."[8]

Cover versions

"John Wesley Harding" has been covered by McKendree Spring on their 1969 eponymous album,[9] as well as Tom Russell,[10] Wesley Willis,[11] Michel Montecrossa,[12] and the Dutch band Second Floor.[13]


  1. ^ a b c d Wenner, Jann. "Interview with Jann S. Wenner," Rolling Stone, November 29, 1969, in Cott 2006, p. 158
  2. ^ a b c d Heylin 2009, p. 447
  3. ^ Shelton 1986, p. 448
  4. ^ John Hardy Found Guilty
  5. ^ Sounes 2001, p. 227
  6. ^ a b c Crowe 1985
  7. ^ Heylin 1995, p. 69
  8. ^ Reprinted in Shelton 1986, p. 458
  9. ^ McKendree Spring
  10. ^ Ruhlmann
  11. ^ Black Light Diner
  12. ^ Michel & Bob Dylan Fest 2006
  13. ^ Second Floor: Plays Dylan


External links