I remember the first time I heard Dylan’s version. It was a weekend in September 1973 and a fellow student Kevin Yeager and I drove back from college in Kentucky to our home in Pennsylvania as our first vacation from school as freshmen. I am not sure what precipitated such an early trip home from school, but several of us piled into Kevin’s white 64 Ford Galaxy 500 and made that 300 mile trek.
There were two memorable events from the radio that Friday – hearing “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and learning the news that Jim Croce had passed away in a plane crash the night before. Incidentally, it was the same week that former Byrd/Flying Burrito Gram Parsons had died as well and I can remember reading the strange story that appeared in Saturday’s paper of how his body was stolen and was burned in the desert by two of his friends. I clipped the article for a current events scrapbook for my World Civilization class.
It’s kind of strange – Gram Parsons – then Jim Croce – and the song “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” I never made any connection of the three until now and am amazed that nearly 40 years later it is a clear today as it was then.
Back to Clapton; his single was not released at the time on an album, although it later appeared on “Time Pieces: The Best of Eric Clapton” in 1982. Always cognizant of singles that were not album releases, I normally bought these 7 inch discs that might just never surface on an LP. I purchased my copy at one of the three outlets in Grayson, KY that sold singles – “the Sundry Store.” The other two record haunts in that small town of less than 4,000 was the “DJ Record Shop” and “Ralph’s.” I made my rounds every week to each one.
Clapton added his talents to another version of this song that he produced, played guitar, and sang back-up. Randy Crawford provided the accompaniment vocals that are the focus of the tune and David Sanborn the memorable saxophone parts. This version appeared on “Lethal Weapon 2” soundtrack.
It’s rare to find a Dylan studio original on YouTube and I am afraid this recording won’t last long before either Dylan’s management or Sony has it pulled. But in the meantime, enjoy this classic from 1973. It is really showcases Dylan’s ability to take a simple chord progression (G-D-Am7-Am7; G-D-C-C) and turn it into a thing of greatness. There’s only one thing wrong with this song – it’s too darn short.