Dobson’s Lyrics Will Live On

DobsonI didn’t know him. I didn’t know of him. Man, I love when awareness smacks me so hard I have to spend days in study, listening mode, and one mind-blowing rationalization leads to another.

In this case I’m talking about Texas-born songwriter and novelist Richard Dobson, who last week passed away in Switzerland, where he lived with his wife much of the last 17 years. He was 75. His songs were recorded by the likes of Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Guy Clark, David Allan Coe, Nanci Griffith, Kelly Willis, Carlene Carter and many others. One of his books is entitled: Pleasures of the High Rhine – A Texas Singer in Exile.

“Forever, For Always, For Certain,” “Baby Ride Easy,” “Old Friends,” “Piece of Wood and Steel,” and the one that’s been running continually in my head for the last week, “Hard By The Highway,” are a few of his many song titles. None were mainstream hits, but Dobson’s songs were poetic and visual.

Dobson was no follower. But he followed three of his renegade songwriting brothers, Townes Van Zandt (“Poncho and Lefty,” cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers” at the end of The Big Lebowski), Steve Young (Seven Bridges Road), and Clark (Desperados Waiting on a Train) to eternity.

These free spirits and outlaw tunesmiths can be seen in the 1976 documentary Heartworn Highways (or many youtube titles), sitting around with a few other up-and-comers – Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Coe, Gamble Rogers, Jim McGuire, The Charlie Daniels Band, Larry Jon Wilson taking turns picking their tunes, chatting, telling stories, coming down from gigs in prisons and high schools. Here are the lyrics to “Hard By The Highway”:

 

Five hundred miles from the Mexican border

The days getting shorter, the nights getting colder

Hard by the highway, he leans on her shoulder

A little bit tired and a little bit older

The days keep on running, down through the seasons

Running like a prairie fire, wild with no reason

The Devil’s to pay for the moments he’s seizing

Still nothing is lost that’s left to believe in

 

He’s got little to lose and his only companions

Are the liquor that he loves, the rambling and the gambling

The coyote answers from back in the canyon

Hungry for more than plain understanding

Sometimes it gets hard, sometimes it’s amusing

When kindness repaid is just an illusion

When blind men know best what to make of confusion

And dead men know nothing at all

 

Still he dreams of a lady who’ll lay down beside him

He prays for the day when the sweet Lord will guide him

To one who might drain all the poison inside him

Let him hang up his boots with his traveling behind him

But it’s five hundred miles from the Mexican border

The days getting shorter, the nights getting colder

As hard by the highway he leans on her shoulder

A little bit tired, a little bit older

See it at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-O0UOPPzycg

 Rodney Crowell’s new “Nashville, 1972” mentions many in the group: https://www.rollingstone.com/country/videos/watch-rodney-crowell-busk-in-nashville-1972-video-w472431

 John Prine called Dobson one of the country’s finest songwriters. He was tabbed the Hemingway of country music by Nanci Griffith, which to me means he will not be forgotten, and his words will live on.  

© 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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