John Wesley Harding – why did you call the album that?
Well, I called it that because I had that song, "John Wesley Harding." It didn't mean anything to me. I called it that, Jann, 'cause I had the song "John Wesley Harding," which started out to be a long ballad. I was gonna write a ballad on . . . like maybe one of those old cowboy . . . you know, a real long ballad. But in the middle of the second verse, I got tired. I had a tune, and I didn't want to waste the tune, it was a nice little melody, so I just wrote a quick third verse, and I recorded that.
But it was a silly little song [laughs] . . . I mean, it's not a commercial song, in any kind of sense. At least, I don't think it is. It was the one song on the album which didn't seem to fit in. And I had it placed here and there, and I didn't know what I was gonna call the album anyway. No one else had any ideas either. I placed it last and I placed it in the middle somewhere, but it didn't seem to work. So somehow that idea came up to just put it first and get done with it right away, and that way when it comes up, no one'll . . . you know, if someone's listening to "All Along the Watchtower" and that comes up, and they'll say, "Wow, what's that?" [Laughs.]
You knew that cowboy . . .
I knew people were gonna be brought down when they heard that, and say, "Wow," what's that?" You know a lot of people said that to me, but I knew it in front. I knew people were gonna listen to that song and say that they didn't understand what was going on, but they would've singled that song out later, if we hadn't called the album John Wesley Harding and placed so much importance on that, for people to start wondering about it . . . if that hadn't been done, that song would've come up and people would have said it was a throw-away song. You know, and it would have probably got in the way of some other songs.
See, I try very hard to keep my songs from interfering with each other. That's all I'm trying to do. Place 'em all out on the disc. Sometimes it's really annoying to me, when I listen to all these dubs; I listen to one, and then I put on another one, and the one I heard before is still on my mind. I'm trying to keep away from that.
Why did you choose the name of the outlaw John Wesley Harding?
Well, it fits in tempo. Fits right in tempo. Just what I had at hand.
What other titles did you have for the album?
Not for that one. That was the only title that came up for that one. But for the Nashville Skyline one, the title came up John Wesley Harding, Volume II. We were gonna do that . . . the record company wanted to call the album Love Is All There Is. I didn't see anything wrong with it, but it sounded a little spooky to me . . .
What about Blonde on Blonde?
Well, that title came up when . . I don't even recall how exactly it came up, but I do know it was all in good faith. It has to do with just the word. I don't know who thought of that. I certainly didn't.
Of all the albums as albums, excluding your recent ones, which one do you think was the most successful in what it was trying to do? Which was the most fully realized, for you?
I think the second one. The second album I made.
Well, I got a chance to . . . I felt real good about doing an album with my own material. My own material and I picked a little on it, picked the guitar, and it was a big Gibson – I felt real accomplished on that. "Don't Think Twice." Got a chance to do some of that. Got a chance to play in open tuning . . . "Oxford Town," I believe that's on that album. That's open tuning. I got a chance to do talking blues. I got a chance to do ballads, like "Girl From the North Country." It's just because it had more variety. I felt good at that.
Of the electric ones, which do you prefer?
Well, sound-wise, I prefer this last one. 'Cause it's got the sound. See, I'm listening for sound now.
As a collection of songs?
Songs? Well, this last album maybe means more to me, 'cause I did undertake something. In a certain sense. And . . . there's a certain pride in that.
It was more premeditated than the others? I mean, you knew what you were gonna go after?
Where did the name Nashville Skyline . . .
Well, I always like to tie the name of the album in with some song. Or if not some song, some kind of general feeling. I think that just about fit because it was less in the way, and less specific than any of the other ones on there.
Certainly couldn't call the album Lay, Lady Lay. I wouldn't have wanted to call it that, although that name was brought up. It didn't get my vote, but it was brought up. Peggy Day – Lay, Peggy Day, that was brought up. A lot of things were brought up. Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With Peggy Day. That's another one. Some of the names just didn't seem to fit. Girl From the North Country. That was another title which didn't really seem to fit. Picture me on the front holding a guitar and Girl From the North Country printed on top. [Laughs.] Tell Me That It Isn't Peggy Day. I don't know who thought of that one.
What general thing was happening that made you want to start working with the Band, rather than working solo?
I only worked solo, because there wasn't much going on. There wasn't. There were established people around . . . yeah, The Four Seasons . . . there were quite a few other established acts. But I worked alone because it was easier to. Plus, everyone else I knew was working alone, writing and singing. There wasn't much opportunity for groups or bands then; there wasn't. You know that.
When did you decide to get one together, like that? You played at Forest Hills, that was where you first appeared with a band? Why did you feel the time had come?
To do that? Well, because I could pay a backing group now. See, I didn't want to use a backing group unless I could pay them.
Do you ever get a chance to work frequently with the Band? In the country.
Work? Well, work is something else. Sure, we're always running over old material. We're always playing, running over old material. New material . . . and different kinds of material. Testing out this and that.
What do you see yourself as – a poet, a singer, a rock & roll star, married man . . .
All of those. I see myself as it all. Married man, poet, singer, songwriter, custodian, gatekeeper . . . all of it. I'll be it all. I feel "confined" when I have to choose one or the other. Don't you?
You're obligated to do one album a year?
Is that all you want to do?
No, I'd like to do more. I would do dozens of them if I could be near the studio. I've been just lazy, Jann. I've been just getting by, so I haven't really thought too much about putting out anything really new and different.
You've heard the Joan Baez album of all your songs . . .
Yeah, I did . . . I generally like everything she does.
Are there any particular artists that you like to see do your songs?
Yeah, Elvis Presley. I liked Elvis Presley. Elvis Presley recorded a song of mine. That's the one recording I treasure the most' . . . it was called "Tomorrow Is a Long Time." I wrote it but never recorded it.
Which album is that on?
I'm not familiar with it at all.
He did it with just guitar.
This story is from the November 29, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone.
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