Whence Goes Quinn?

Among the more interesting things that have happened during this summer of face masks and cultural squabbles (and neither of those things will go away anytime soon) were the decisions by the professional football teams based in Washington, D.C., and Edmonton, Alberta, to drop their nicknames of long standing.

Both teams will eventually select new nicknames, but until then on will compete, respectively, as the Washington Football Team and the Edmonton Football Team (or EE Football Team).

I applaud the changes. I’ve been advocating quietly in my personal sphere for such changes since the Minnesota Twins faced the baseball team from Atlanta in the 1991 World Series, and the American Indian Movement – based in Minneapolis – made known its opposition to the Atlanta baseball team’s nickname (and corollary opposition to the nicknames of several other athletic entities, the Washington football team among them).

When the subject arose this summer and the Washington team announced it would change its name, I figured it wouldn’t be long until the team that plays in Edmonton would do the same in response to complaints that the team’s long-standing nickname trivialized the native Inuit culture. So the second move did not surprise me.

And those decisions, and other events in the past few months, now make me wonder – on what may be a truly trivial track – what does a music fan do now with “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo),” written by Bob Dylan and first recorded with The Band (in 1967 during the Basement Tapes era) and recorded since by many.

(I’ve had similar discussions with myself over the years regarding the title of, and the war whoops in, the Cowsills’ 1968 hit “Indian Lake” and the performer’s name and title of the 1969 hit “Keem-O-Sabe” by Electric Indian. I’ve also pondered the place in my listening and in the larger cultural milieu of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” There are likely other tunes that spark such thoughts, but they do not come to mind immediately.)

The genesis of “The Mighty Quinn,” at least according to some sources, was Dylan’s having seen Anthony Quinn’s performance as an Eskimo in the 1960 movie The Savage Innocents. Dylan, says Wikipedia, “has also been quoted as saying that the song was nothing more than a ‘simple nursery rhyme’.”

The song, according to the website Second Hand Songs, has been recorded at least eighty-one times since Dylan and The Band created it in 1967. That first recorded version wasn’t released until six years ago, when it was part of The Basement Tapes Complete – The Bootleg Series Vol. 11. The version by Dylan that most folks likely know comes from his 1969 performance at the Isle of Wight festival, released in 1970 on Self Portrait and two years later on his second greatest hits collection.

The first cover versions came from Manfred Mann in January 1968, from a group of British studio musicians for an album titled Hits ’68 in May of that year, and in August of that year from a performer calling himself Uncle Bill for an album titled Uncle Bill Socks It To Ya. (From what I can tell, “Uncle Bill” was a man named Burt Wilson, and the album was a collection of songs recorded as if performed by the long-dead W.C. Fields.)

The covers have continued – they were sparse in the 1980s – with the most recent one listed at SHS coming last year on an album titled Strictly Dylan Vol. 3 by a group called the Clarksdale Brothers. (The album is also of interest as it’s home to one of only three covers listed at SHS of Dylan’s 1971 song “George Jackson.”)

There are eleven different versions of the song (and a few duplicates) on the digital shelves here, three of them by Dylan and The Band. Other performers whose covers are in my collection are Brewer & Shipley, the Brothers & Sisters Of Los Angeles (for an album titled Dylan’s Gospel), Kris Kristofferson, the Grateful Dead, Ian & Sylvia, Julie London, Hugo Montenegro, and Klaus Voorman & Friends, featuring the Manfreds. (The Manfreds, according to Wikipedia, are former members of the group Manfred Mann but did not include Mann himself. Voorman was a member of the band during the late 1960s.)

So, do I include a version of the song with this post? I will, but I might not ever again. I have to think about it. But in the meantime, here’s the version from the 1969 album Dylan’s Gospel by the Brothers & Sisters Of Los Angeles (a credit shortened to just the Brothers & Sisters in re-release).

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One Response to “Whence Goes Quinn?”

  1. David Young says:

    Edmonton Eskimos are in the CFL (Canadian Football League). I favour the name Washington Foreskins.

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