The Band / Bob Dylan

Bessie Smith

Composed by Rick Danko / Robbie Robertson

Song Review by

"Bessie Smith" is one of four songs on The Basement Tapes that Bob Dylan had no visable input in whatsoever; it is a "solo" piece from The Band, written and sung by bassist Rick Danko and guitarist Robbie Robertson. Arguably one of the slightest and most routine songs of all the "basement tapes", it lacks the idiosyncracies and plain weirdness of many of Dylan's compositions, or the good-time rustic flavour of The Band's better offerings. Simply a slow burning elergy to the blues great Bessie Smith, the song is rescued in the most part by Garth Hudson's mesmeric organ breaks, especially the solo, and Danko's bass playing, which is always a joy. The song is let down by some fairly awful singing, especially from Robertson, and it's overly sentimental lyrics ("Bessie was more than just a friend of mine/We shared the good times and the bad") are exceedingly trite in places. The song has a different feel to many of the other material they recorded, and many experts argue that the song was not recorded in "Big Pink" at all, but in a recording studio months after the "basement tape" sessions were over. It is easy to see their point. Neither The Band nor Dylan have performed the song in concert, while the only cover version of any note is a short, sharp take by Johnny Favourite on his album "Holiday Romance".

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
The Basement Tapes 1975 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 4:18
The Complete Album Collection, Vol. 1 2013 Columbia / Sony Legacy 4:17
blue highlight denotes editor's pick