Black Jack Davy in His Various Forms

Posted by Miss Ess, April 7, 2009 03:16pm | Post a Comment
In many ways, the creature known in traditional folk songs as "Black Jack Davy," among other variants,bob dylan good as i been to you is one of the original bad boy rebels. His story has been passed down in poem and song since possibly the early 1700s, or, if you listen to Nick Tosches, since the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. Gypsy Davy wins the heart of an upper class maiden merely by letting his song ring through the woods. With one listen she is spellbound, leaving her fine feather bed/husband/baby (different objects in different versions, often all three), all for the love of Black Jack Davy, a rogue gypsy. "Black Jack Davy" can, and has, been reawhite stripesd approximately a zillion different ways over the aeons, and that is part of the enjoyment of the piece. I see it as a liberation in a way for the young maiden, who chooses to run off with a cunning and poor man she is (rather joltingly) in love with instead of remaining "kept" by her wealthy husband. Other interpretations of the story are all up to you.

Among the various permutations of "Black Jack Davy"...

Here's Warren Smith with one of the first recorded versions of the song, recording for Sun Records in 1956:

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Woody Guthrie's take:

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Since Bob Dylan is a known nicker, especially of folk traditionals, I believe he nicked the descriptive "Spanish Leather" from "Black Jack Davy" for his own "Boots of Spanish Leather" back in the early 60s. Through the magic of the internet, I now see that author Michael Grey [Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan] has also postulated the same theory. Here is Dylan's version of "Blackjack Davey":

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The Waterboys are a trad folk tinged rock band, so of course they had to weigh in with another interpretation of "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy":

I drove down to LA in 2001 to see Elliott Smith perform at the Sunset Junction Street Fair. It was one of the most disheartening experiences of my life -- he was at his disillusioned and drugged out worst, but one song that stood out at that show, and not just because it was one of the only ones he managed to complete, was "Black Jack Davy," something I had never heard him cover before. It was a sweet little surprise in an otherwise depressing as all hell performance. (FYI: The braided hair is in tribute to Willie Nelson, and the screaming in the background is due to the fair rides in close proximity to the stage.)

The White Stripes contribute probably my favorite version of "Black Jack Davey" to date. Thanks to Jack White's electrifying guitar work, the song has a compelling intensity that brings its story to life:

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Relevant Tags

Black Jack Davy (1), The White Stripes (5), Jack White (31), Bob Dylan (59), Woody Guthrie (3), Warren Smith (1), The Waterboys (4), Elliott Smith (14)