BY FOGGY OTIS | FROM THE SPRING 2023 ISSUE OF UKULELE
With only the release of the Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits compilation, and his spending much of the year in Woodstock, New York, recovering from the motorcycle crash that cut short his world tour the summer before, 1967 seemed on the surface a rather quiet period in Bob Dylan’s booming career. In actuality, however, he recorded over 100 songs in ’67, about 30 of them new.
That winter, Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko, and Richard Manuel—musicians who had backed Dylan on his controversial acoustic-electric tour the previous year—began visiting him at his Woodstock home, where they’d make music in the den. (Drummer-singer Levon Helm would join them later in the year.) In May they moved their gear to Big Pink, a house in nearby Saugerties, named by the locals for its salmon-pink siding. Working there through October, the sessions we now know as The Basement Tapes birthed such future classics as “I Shall Be Released,” “Tears of Rage,” “This Wheel’s on Fire,” “Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn),” and the song we’re about to play together, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” The other musicians, of course, became known as The Band the following year when they released their fantastic debut album, Music from Big Pink.
“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” has been recorded by numerous artists over the years, but its first appearance was in 1968, on the Byrds’ groundbreaking country-rock masterpiece Sweetheart of the Rodeo. (Dylan’s own version wouldn’t see the light of day until 1971, when it was included on Greatest Hits Vol. II.) The album was a radical departure from the Byrds’ signature jangly psychedelic pop. Opening the record, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” finds group leader Roger McGuinn singing Dylan’s words, urging listeners to buckle up for the unexpected: “Strap yourself to a tree with roots, you ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
Having only three chords and a strumming pattern that repeats throughout makes this a perfect song for players of all ability levels. I keep the fingers on my strumming hand closed, sort of like a loose fist, and for the downward strums I use the flat part of the fingernails on my first three fingers. For the upstrokes I use the flat part of my thumbnail. My strumming fingers and wrist are very loose and relaxed—no stiffness at all. I’ll add embellishments to my strums here and there for color.
To capitalize on the ukulele’s percussive nature, I mute the strings on the second downstroke of each chord (as indicated by an X in the notation) using a combination of both hands. While holding the shape of the chord, I lift my fingers off the fretboard slightly then squeeze them back down. At the same time, I place the base of my strumming-hand palm on the strings to briefly dampen the sound. It takes a bit of practice to get both hands working in sync, but with patience and persistence it will pay off.
A retired schoolteacher, Foggy Otis is a Connecticut-based ukulele player and instructor.
Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post notation or tablature for this musical work. If you have a digital or physical copy of the Spring 2023 issue of Ukulele magazine you will find the music on page 43.