Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Odetta: Tomorrow Is A Long Time

The other night I was watching the season finale of “The Walking Dead” and as the survivors were exiting Atlanta, they played Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow is a Long Time.” It was fitting song for the last scene of the season's closing episode.

While Bob’s official release of the song did not occur until 1971’s release of “Greatest Hits Volume II,” it was a tune that was well known in the folk community. This was largely because of a demo recording the Dylan recorded for his publisher M. Witmark and Sons and a subsequent bootleg release of the song.

Nearly every major folk act of the day performed or recorded “Tomorrow is a Long Time.” The list of cover artist includes Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Ian and Sylvia, The Silkie, and The Kingston Trio. The song also was recorded by Elvis, Sandy Denny, Nickel Creek, Nick Drake, and others. The one recording that stands out in my mind is the 1965 version by Odetta from her LP “Odetta Sings Dylan.”

The recording of an album of all Dylan material was cyclic in nature as Odetta Holmes was an early influence on Dylan. In a 1978 interview, Dylan reminisced about hearing her LP “Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues”: “The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta. I heard a record of hers in a record store, back when you could listen to records right there in the store. Right then and there, I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustical guitar, a flat-top Gibson.”

Odetta, who had been classically trained as opera singer, began singing folk music in 1950. This was a decade before the folk music craze of the early 60s, so there were plenty opportunities for her to influence scores of folk musicians in addition to Dylan. Even Elvis' version of this song is more akin to Odetta's rendition than to the other recordings of the period.

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