Robert Zimmerman ‘s “The Drunkard’s Son” Handwritten Manuscript

“The Drunkard’s Son” was re-released in April 1950 on the RCA Victor label, and is very probably another 78 that Bobby Zimmerman owned.

Manuscript written by “Bobby Zimmerman” supposedly inspired by a Jimmie Rodgers’ song MY DRUNKARD’S CHILD, Bob’s earliest known composition. Lyrics from the song are quoted in Clinton Heylin’s book “Bob Dylan Behind The Shades: The Biography Take Two” (Viking, 2000/Penguin, 2001). Other sources say that Bob simply copied the words from a radio performance by Hank Snow of his then-unreleased song THE DRUNKARD’S SON and left it on the kitchen table of a Julie Znidar!

In an old dusty attic 
In a little house, I happened to wander one day 
And there in the rafters, mid shavings and chips 
A drunkard’s poor little boy layOh why are you lying up there in the cold 
You look like you’ve never been fed 
My father’s a drunkard, and he beat me today 
My darling old mother is dead

I’m hiding from father and please sir, don’t tell 
He beat me ’cause I would not steal 
He said he would kill me the next time I failed 
And I’m so afraid sir, he will.

I’m leaving you here son I sadly replied 
But I will be back right away 
But when I returned to the attic I found

The Drunkard’s
Son (continued)

The chips and the shaving were there as before 
The little boy lie on his bed 
Whith tears on his face and his hands at his side 
The poor little fellow was deadA picture of mother lay close to his heart 
A faint little note by his head 
As I oppened [sic] the pages, my eyes filled with tears 
For these were the words that it said

I’m hiding with Jesus who I’ll always be by 
And my mother who I love, oh so well 
And thank you dear mister for your kindness and **** [ILLEGIBLE] 
And now it’s alright if you tell


Dylan’s transcription of of “The Drunkard’s Son” appeared in the August-September, 1992 edition of ISIS, which dated the manuscript circa 1952-’55, making the young Bob Zimmerman somewhere between 11 and 14.  Although I don’t have a copy of that magazine at hand, commentary on the Web suggests that the transcription was first thought – just like “Little Buddy” – to be a very early example of a Dylan attempt at songwriting, or more accurately poetry, apparently used by the young Bobby Zimmerman to woo a girl he was sweet on

After the manuscript was published, someone eventually pointed out that the young Zimmerman’s “Drunkard’s Son,” was actually Hank Snow’s “Drunkard’s Son,” almost exactly paralleling  the “Little Buddy” story.

In 1993 the Dylan fanzine Isis had published the text of a ‘poem’, written in Bob Zimmerman’s own hand, the original of which had been posted by an unnamed hand to the fanzine’s editor, Derek Barker.

This ‘poem’ was a mournful tale narrated as if by a scared boy in hiding to avoid being beaten by his drunkard father. Five issues later, reader John Roberts wrote in to say that he had found an album on the cheap RCA Camden label, dated 1962, titled The One and Only Hank Snow, and risked wasting his 75p on this unknown music because of its inclusion of a song, credited to Hank Snow’s original name, Clarence E. Snow, titled ‘The Drunkard’s Son’ and handily summarised in the sleeve notes as ‘the mournful tale of a scared boy in hiding to avoid being beaten by his drunkard father.’ Yes indeed.

As Roberts nicely observes, if the ‘Zimmerman Transcript’ is authentic, which now seems established, it is a ‘truly unique document—the first evidence we have of Bob’s plagiarism!’ Ironically, it’s an example of Snow’s plagiarism, too. Look back at the Jimmie Rodgers catalogue, and there, recorded in Atlanta in 1929, is Rodgers’ ‘A Drunkard’s Child’.

Perhaps it was still in Hank Snow’s repertoire when Dylan, in his youth, was in the audience for his show at the Veterans Memorial Building, Hibbing. Dylan mentions this in Chronicles Volume One—and a few pages later writes that before he encountered Woody Guthrie, when Hank Williams had been his ‘favorite songwriter’, Hank Snow had been ‘a close second’.



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