Where he got it from is anybody’s business, but Paul Clayton slapped his copyright on it. There’s a long, long story in how the song came to be, narrated in glorious and excruciating detail by Bob Coltman.
They were all at the game in the early folkie years: even the sainted Pete Seeger sailed close to the wind with Wimoweh. So much so, there was a variant on that old morality, Keep your hand on your ha’penny, urging young song-writers to Keep your hand on your copyright.
It, in the Paul Clayton context, was Gotta Travel On. And therein, too, lies a story. On 31st January 1959, Robert Zimmermann was at a Buddy Holly concert at the Armory, in Duluth, Minnesota. On this tour Holly opened his set with an acoustic version of the Clayton-copyrighted Gotta Travel on. Two days later, Buddy Holly performed the same set at the Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa. That night Holly, Richy Valens and The Big Bopper were killed when their aircraft crashed.
On 5th March 1970 Bob Dylan (transmogrified from the young Robert Zimmermann) was at Columbia Studios in Nashville, Tennessee, and recorded three minutes and eight seconds of Gotta Travel On, for the Self Portrait album. Not one of the Bobster’s better efforts.
If I had to choose a version (and in this context I probably do), it would be the way I first heard it, as Done Laid Around, from The Weavers 1958 album, with Erik Darling depping for Seeger (who’d offed himself over the music policies dictated by Vanguard Records, and over a cigarette advertisement). I can’t see how to load up that version.
It’s a very elastic piece: you can have it frantic, as Bill Monroe did it:
Or, as I’d prefer it, more reflective and laid-back, as the re-booted Kingston Trio did in 1965:
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So, yesterday, we were off twenty miles up-country, and up-hill nearly four hundred feet, to Harrogate.
As far as I could see, the grain along the route hasn’t been harvested yet — but that can’t be long delayed. What I noticed — this much higher, perhaps a fraction cooler — were the leaves, especially on the oaks, were browning. There was a larger leaf-fall than I’d seen in York. Winter’s definitely coming on in these parts. And the winds getting round to the north.
Then, for reasons that are far too complicated to explain, but made perfect sense at the time, I re-read Kurt Vonnegut’s short-story, Long Walk To Forever.
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O.K., class, everybody eyes down. Look at that opening sentence:
They had grown up next door to each other, on the fringe of a city, near fields and woods and orchards, within sight of a lovely bell tower that belonged to a school for the blind.
Where’s the fore-shadowing there? Any other images that might be significant? You’ve noted them down? Back to the text:
“Could you come for a walk?” he said. He was a shy person, even with Catharine. He covered his shyness by speaking absently, as though what really concerned him were far away — as though he were a secret agent pausing briefly on a mission between beautiful, distant, and sinister points. This manner of speaking had always been Newt’s style, even in matters that concerned him desperately.
“A walk?” said Catharine.
“One foot in front of the other,” said Newt, “through leaves, over bridges—”