A couple of days ago, my mom and I were out running some of her errands, including a stop at the tailor shop at the far end of Waite Park, the city west of St. Cloud. Now, the St. Cloud area is not all that large, and the tailor shop is really not all that distant; when we were in the Twin Cities, the Texas Gal and I would drive that far for a quart of milk. But during the nearly eight years of living once more in the small scale of the St. Cloud metro area, my sense of distance has shifted back, and going to something “all the way on the other end of town” seems like a longer trip than it used to.
And on this trip, as we left the tailor shop with a few more stops left, the sky gave us the rain it had been promising all morning. As we wended our way east, we did so to flashes of lightning, the rumble of near-constant thunder and the heavy splash of rain on the car as it came down almost faster than the windshield wipers could deal with it. I drove slowly, but was never forced to stop as we made our way back to the East Side and her home in Sauk Rapids. The rain eased a little as we got near her place, and I realized I was half-humming, half-singing a Bob Dylan tune under my breath: “Crash On The Levee (Down In The Flood).”
The first time I heard the song was on Dylan’s second greatest hits package, which included an informal version of the tune recorded with Happy Traum. Here’s how the song sounded on New Year’s Eve 1971, when Dylan joined The Band at the New York Academy of Music near the end of the concert that wound up being released by The Band as Rock of Ages. (This performance and three others featuring Dylan with The Band were released in 2001 as part of a remastered and expanded version of Rock of Ages.)
At All-Music Guide, one can find listings for about a hundred CDs that contain versions of the song, whether it’s called “Down In The Flood” (as it was on that second Dylan hits set in the early 1970s), “Crash on the Levee” or “Crash On The Levee (Down In The Flood),” as it’s currently listed on Dylan’s website. And there are some interesting versions of the song out there. One of them comes from what seems to me an unlikely source: Blood, Sweat & Tears covered the song for the opening track of its New Blood album in 1972. It’s an odd arrangement. I don’t think the horn parts work, but there’s a nice groove that would otherwise have worked nicely if it had been left alone.
Another performer who covered the song early was British folksinger Sandy Denny, who included it on her 1971 album, The North Star Grassman And The Ravens. Here’s Denny performing the song as a member of Fairport Convention. I believe the performance is from May 4, 1974, at the Sanders Theater on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Thanks to The Night Owl Presents for some information.)
I wrote the other week about current bands I listen to, and I missed one: The Derek Trucks Band. Trucks is, of course, the nephew of Butch Trucks, long-time drummer for the Allman Brothers Band; that association brought the younger Trucks an apprenticeship that would be hard to match anywhere, and the Derek Trucks Band has been recording and releasing music since 1997. Last year’s Already Free led off with a blistering performance of “Down In The Flood.”
That should do it for today. Have a good Monday, and I’ll most likely be back here Wednesday with another installment of the Ultimate Jukebox.