John Wesley Harding

Bob Dylan

Song Review by Tom Maginnis

Dylan returned from nine months of seclusion from a 1966 motorcycle accident by returning to his folk roots with the reflective John Wesley Harding album. Dylan once again strapped on an acoustic guitar to support tunes populated by a variety of characters of American rural myth. Here, Dylan spins his own version of the benevolent outlaw, a kind of Robin Hood of the American West theme adapted from the traditional folk ballad "John Hardy" -- a song documented by the likes of Leadbelly and Pete Seeger. The approach is subdued compared to the pre-accident rock classics, such as Highway 61 released a few years earlier with Dylan acting more as a folklorist, storyteller employing a gentler, more soothing vocal approach as he passes on the tale of legend, "John Wesley Harding was a friend to the poor/He traveled with a gun in every hand/All along this countryside, he opened many a door/But he was never known to hurt an honest man." The music is supported by soft cross stick percussion and a fluid flowing bass line, punctuated by harmonica interludes as we follow the outlaw as he cements his myth. Word is passed of our hero's deeds as he willingly bends the law to help those in need, "'Twas down in Chaynee County/A time they talk about/With his lady by his side/He took a stand/And soon the situation there/Was all but straightened out/For he was always known/To lend a helping hand." Recorded in Nashville, the music takes on a traditional country-folk air, one that Dylan would explore further on his follow-up to John Wesley Harding with Nashville Skyline released a year later.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
John Wesley Harding 1967 Columbia 2:58
Nashville Skyline/New Morning/John Wesley Harding 1997 Legacy / Columbia 3:00
The Essential Bob Dylan 2000 Columbia 0:00
Bob Dylan [Limited Edition Hybrid SACD Set] 2003 Legacy 3:00
Nashville Skyline/John Wesley Harding 2006 Col / Sony Music Distribution / Sony Music Entertainment 3:00
The Original Mono Recordings 2010 Columbia / Sony Music 2:57
The Complete Album Collection, Vol. 1 2013 Columbia Records / Sony Music 2:57
The Bootleg Series, Vol. 15: Travelin' Thru 2019 Sony Music 2:47