One Too Many Mornings
Written by Bob Dylan
Notes by Peter Viney
One Too Many Mornings looks like the only Band release of 1999, appearing on the House of Blues "this ain't a tribute" album Tangled Up in Blues: Songs of Bob Dylan. It was also on Live 1966 released in 1998, with a thirty three year time gap separating the two versions.
1964 The Times They Are A-Changing
Back in 1964 the song was a contrast, in retrospect it was a welcome change, to the polemic of The Times They Are A-Changing. The quiet, resigned voice, the lovely lilting melody, the succinct lyrics stood out on the album, giving an indicator of things to come. It had one of Dylan's sweetest harmonica solos. It formed a pair with Restless Farewell, sharing mood (as well as the word "restless"). Andy Gill is kind to say that the melody of the latter is reminiscent of The Parting Glass: the melody is The Parting Glass. But One Too Many Mornings is an original melody.
The song, almost certainly written to Suze Rotolo 2, was a favourite of the many who liked Dylan's more tender side.
When it came to 1966 and Dylan reworked his old material, what did he choose to electrify? Some of the earlier protest songs would have gone over easily to an electric interpretation, as covers by The Byrds, Cher and others, and later live versions were to show. The recent material from Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 and the current Blonde on Blonde were obvious too. So Bob chose to electrify a gentle and tender song instead, One Too Many Mornings. It wasn't a shock to hear I Don't Believe You electrified. It was sitting there begging for the treatment. Of all the re-interpretations, One Too Many Mornings was the most shocking.
It starts off with chords from Robbie, then Mickey Jones smashes in and we're into it with Garth Hudson embellishing the completely different tone of the singer. That signature Mickey Jones pounding of the drums propels the song, reminding us how much Mickey's style was an integral part of The Hawks 1966 sound.
The huge shock comes in the chorus, a wondrous moment that sends a tingle of surprise and pleasure up the spine. Dylan sings:
There's one too many mornings and a thousand miles ...
Then that Mickey Jones drum tattoo to emphasize it and jump us to the next verse. This was the ultimate in heresy. Not backing vocals, not verse swapping (as with Joan Baez on early 60s EPs), but finishing his sentence for him. OK, Dylan sings the word as well, but Danko is louder, contrasting and soars above the leader. This is one of the great moments of Live 66. Danko was stepping where no man had dared to go before. As The Basement Tapes indicate, Danko sang with Dylan more than anyone, and seemed to have the creative license to go where he wanted. And he was up front singing right into the mic to add to the visual surprise. Dylan's voice was stretching the words at the end of every line, holding them out for the music to catch up. With a superb, restrained Robbie Robertson guitar solo as well, this is a magnificent treatment.
Which is why The Band needed courage to repeat it. The album is part of the House of Blues series of tribute albums, the most notable of which was Paint it Blue, a tribute to the songs of The Rolling Stones. The album has a fascinating array of covers from Taj Mahal's opener, It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry via Mavis Staples' Gotta Serve Somebody and Isaac Hayes Lay, Lady, Lay to John Hammond Jnr on I'll Be Your Baby Tonight. The band close the album with One Too Many Mornings.
Unlike most of the tracks on their 1998 release Jubilation, this version features their complete current line-up, aided and abetted by Derek Trucks on slide guitar. Trucks also accompanies R.L. Burnside on Everything is Broken. Only Danko and Hudson remain from the 1966 version. Levon Helm had left The Hawks late in 1965, disenchanted by the booing, possibly not over-enamoured with the material. He stayed out till late 1967. Robbie Robertson left after The Last Waltz in 1976, and Richard Manuel died in 1986. The current six man line up have been together since the early 1990s, recording three albums, Jericho (featuring Dylan's Blind Willie McTell in its ultimate version, sung by Danko and Helm), High on the Hog (featuring Rick Danko on a minor and strictly third-rate Dylan composition, I Must Love You Too Much) and Jubilation.
Rick Danko was the natural choice to sing One Too Many Mornings, and he stretches out the words in pure Dylan-1966 style. I was waiting for a second voice to leap in on "behind" and was disappointed not to hear it. Sometimes I even thought I heard a second echo voice way back in the chorus (which would presumably have been Danko double-tracking), then I was convinced that it was subtle slide guitar instead. The Band's ability to make full use of their vocalists has been hampered by Levon Helm's recent throat problems, but on live shows and on Jubilation Randy Ciarlante has established himself as the third singing voice, and I felt they missed an opportunity to belt out "behind" here. Maybe they deliberately avoided such an overt nod at the 1966 version. Levon Helm was not to be content with a backing role. As well as playing drums, he plays harmonica almost all the way through the song with great intensity, creating an extra voice to all intents and purposes.
The song starts, sounding almost as if it's about to turn into Long Black Veil. The overall sound is heavily reminiscent of Jubilation. It's busier than The Band used to be, with more going on simultaneously, and it's dominated by the same slapping drum sound as Jubilation. The rhythm is quite different from 1966, the urgency has gone, but they retain an anthemic feel, especially when played loud, that is very 1966. The richness of the instrumentation helps greatly. Twenty year old Derek Trucks adds touches of slide guitar that almost seem like an oohing, aahing female chorus. Levon's harmonica weaves in and out all the way through. Jim Weider switches guitar sounds and accents throughout, culminating in a beautifully textured, quietly blistering guitar solo. Richard Bell's rolling piano breaks take us all the way through. Rick Danko plays loud crunching bass notes, which differentiates it from the acoustic bass dominated Jubilation. And behind it all is Garth Hudson, the master magician keeping that swelling organ sound, though uncharacteristically on a Hammond B3 rather than a Lowery. But he was looking for a sixties organ tone, and the Hammond has it instantly.
Without much doubt, the 1999 version is the most-accomplished, most polished, on record, and repays many, many listenings revealing ever more subtle and varied bits of instrumentation. You could spend a happy few listenings tracing what Garth does, then switch and follow Jim Weider in the same way. Then Richard Bell. Oh, and Levon's harp. It also reveals what the current Band can do when the quality of the songs matches their abilities. They're stunning when they're playing Blind Willie McTell or Atlantic City. They're fun, but far less inspiring on the cheerful boogies, the likes of Caldonia, Stuff You Gotta Watch, Crazy Mama and Willie & The Hand Jive. With One Too Many Mornings the material is worthy of the talent.
I don't think I'm alone in saying that if I could only have one version of this song, it would have to be the one from Live 66 for Dylan's vocal at his peak. The sheer adrenaline that dripped into the grooves in 1966 comes smacking back out of the speakers. The sense of occasion points to the 1966 version. But if we always left the classics in a climate-controlled vacuum case it would be a sad thing. All credit to The Band for taking on the task, and making a wonderful new version.
This is a Dylan song with long Band associations. Paul Williams in the liner notes 3 points out that it was played at all "47 Concerts they played together in 1966". Most of the 1966 tapes are fragmented, with parts of the electric set missing. One Too Many Mornings is a frequent victim. However C.P. Lee in Like The Night agrees that "essentially the set list never strayed from the following ..." 4 and gives the Manchester set list.
It's missing from the principal 1965 bootlegs, Hollywood Bowl and Forest Hills (which featured only Robbie and Levon), and from the Berkeley Community Theatre Show with the Hawks released as Long Distance Operator and Before and After The Flood 5. As far as I can tell from bootleg lists, it wasn't performed at all on the 1974 Before The Flood tour. It appears on Isle of Wight festival bootlegs (August 31st 1969) in a jaunty, short and uninspiring version. Dylan has often performed it live since, and it's on Hard Rain from the 1976 Rolling Thunder Revue tour. It appears occasionally on recent shows, such as The San Jose Arena, from November 1997, but researching Dylan tapes between 1995 and 1997 is a lifetime's work, as everything has been taped, nearly everything has been bootlegged.