Thursday, April 2, 2009

Roots of Bob Dylan: "Corrina, Corrina"

Bob Dylan recorded his version of the popular standard "Corrine, Corrina" (lyrics from with a band (including Bruce Langhorne, Dick Wellstood et al.) on October 26th 1962. One take was released on Freewheelin', another one as a single b-side with "Mixed-Up Confusion". Two solo performances have survived: one studio outtake recorded 24.4.1962 and one live version from Gerde's Folk City 16.4.1962. A demo for Whitmark (November 1962) is not in general circulation.

Though there were "Corrinas" already in 19th century music the original inspiration for the 20th century song family may have been a popular song published in 1918, "Has Anybody Seen My Corinne" by Roger Graham and pianist and songwriter Lukie Johnson. Vernon Dalhart's recording (Edison, 1918) is available from the Cylinder Preservation And Digitization Project, an instrumental version by Wilbur Sweatman’s Jazz Orchestra (1919) can be found on

My girl ran away last night,
I did my best to treat her right,
For no reason I can see

I was crazy 'bout her 'fore she was wild about me.

I'm so worried 'bout to cry
To think she left and never said good-bye
Heartbroken and alone
I want my baby to come home.

Has anybody seen my Corrine?
Oh, she's a dream
She is my baby doll
Just like a banfire
She set my heart on fire

I regret the day,
The day that I was born,
[?] my lovin' Corrina has gone
She has done me wrong


If anybody has seen my Corrine?

No matter where Corrina may be,
Tell my Corrina to come right back to me,
I want some lovin' sweetie dear.

This song must have been quite popular at that time. In 1919 songwriters Edward B. Ellison and H.H. Sangston produced a follow-up with the title "Lovin' Corrine Is Comin' Home" (sheet music) to tell the world that the girl in fact did return:

So I'm writing to my Billy boy
That his lovin' Corrine is comin' home.
I'm writing a letter that will make him feel better
And I'm tellin' him that never more will I roam
That my heart is not on my sleeve no more.

But is kept inside with a lock on my door
Oh, about him I'm silly as I'm writing my Billy
That his lovin' Corrine is comin' home

Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Corinna Blues" (1926) refers only in one verse - that looks as if it was inspired by "Has Anybody Seen My Corinne" - to that particular girl:

If you see Corrina, tell her to hurry home.
I ain't had no true love, since Corrina been gone.
I ain't had no true love, since Corrina been gone.
I ain't had no true love, since Corrina's been gone.

In 1927 Frankie “Half Pint” Jaxon recorded a hilarious parody called "Corrine" (revived in 1929 as "Corrine Blues" and in 1939 as "Callin' Corrine", these two versions are available on, but that was another completely different work although it might allude to the song by Graham & Johnson.

The very first recording of the "Corrina" known today was "Corrine, Corrina" by Chatman [sic!] & McCoy in New Orleans in November or December 1928 (Brunswick 7080, Supertone S2212, Vocalion 02701).

Corrina, Corrina, where you been so long?
Corrina, Corrina, where you been so long?
I ain't had no lovin', since you've been gone

Corrina, Corrina, where'd you stay last night?
Corrina, Corrina, where'd you stay last night?
Come in this mornin', sun was shinin' bright.

I met Corrina, way across the sea.
I met Corrina, way across the sea.
She wouldn't write no letter, she didn't care for me.

Corrina, Corrina, what you gonna do?
Corrina, Corrina, what you gonna do?
Just a little bit of lovin', let your heart be true.

I love Corrina, tell the world I do.
I love Corrina, tell the world I do.
Just a little bit of lovin', let your heart be true.

Corrina, Corrina, you're a pal of mine.
Corrina, Corrina, you're a pal of mine.
Now she left me walkin', she'll roll in them dimes.

Corrina, Corrina,what's the matter now?
Corrina, Corrina, what's the matter now?
You wouldn't write me no letter, you didn't love me nohow.

Goodbye Corrina, it's fare you well.
Goodbye Corrina, it's fare you well.
When I's gettin back here, can't anyone tell.

On December 17th the same outfit - now calling themselves the Jackson Blue Boys - recorded the song for another label and changed the girl's name to "Sweet Alberta"(Columbia 14397-D), using for the most part the same lyrics but this time including Jefferson's "tell her to hurry home" line.

Tell me, Alberta, tell her to hurry home.
If you see Alberta, tell her to hurry home.
Haven't been no lovin' since she been gone.

And in December 1930 they recycled the same melody for a song called "The Northern Starvers Are Returning Home" (Okeh 8853) so all important record labels had a chance to get a slice of the cake and the musicians managed to get paid three times for one song.

Bo Chatmon played the fiddle. As Bo Carter he was very busy as a recording artist - specialized in "dirty" songs like "Banana In My Fruit Basket" - until 1940. Charlie McCoy - the brother of Joe McCoy, who was married to and recorded with Memphis Minnie - was an excellent guitar player and mandolinist who took part in many recording sessions. In the 30s he and his brother Joe were members of the Harlem Hamfats, a very popular and influential proto-Rhythm & Blues group with horns. The guitar player on this sessions most likely was Walter Vinson who from 1930 on recorded with the Mississippi Sheiks All three were part of a circle of very versatile Mississippi string band musicians . They used to perform everything from current popular songs to Blues both for black and white audiences. From the late 20s to the early 40s they were among the most often recorded African American artists.

"Corinna" is often called a "Folk-Song" or a "traditional". But the history of this song most likely only began with its first recording and I know of no evidence that it existed before that date. It's for example not mentioned in Dorothy Scarbourough's On The Trail Of The Negro Folk Songs (1925). "Stylistic lineages in this song tend to be fairly transparent, suggesting that transmission occurred not orally, but through the recorded medium" (Harvey, p. 21). Bo Chatmon was an excellent songwriter well-versed in Blues, string-band music and popular song traditions. By all available evidence he was the creator of "Corrine, Corrina".

Maybe he was inspired to write this song by the original "Has Anybody Seen My Corinne". This kind of adaptions of popular songs were not that uncommon. The foremost example is of course the Mississippi Sheiks' "Sittin' On Top Of The World". That song's lyrics were built around a line borrowed from the 1926 hit "I'm Sitting On Top Of The World". Their "Lazy Lazy River" (1931) was surely inspired by - though of course very different from - Hoagy Carmichael's "Lazy River" (first recorded in November 1930).

But it's of course also possible that Bo Chatmon simply took that "Corrina"-verse from Blind Lemon Jefferson's song, rewrote it and built a new Blues with a different melody around that topic. The rest of the lyrics look like a pastiche of popular songs and Blues from the 10s and 20s. Songs like "I Ain't Got Nobody", "Nobody's Blues But Mine", "What's The Matter Now" - all recorded for example by Bessie Smith in 1925 and 1926, or "Oh What A Pal Was Mary" - a 1919 Pop hit - may have been the source of some ideas and floating lines.

Among the earliest and most important covers was one by Tampa Red & Georgia Tom recorded in December 1929 ("Corrine, Corrina", Vocalion 1450). This one must have been very successful as they followed it up four month later in April 1930 with "Corinne Corrina No 2" (Vocalion 1496) including a set of new verses. From then on this song became very popular and crossed all race and genre barriers. McKinley Morganfield recalled it as one of the most popular numbers at local dances in Mississippi (Wald, p. 58) and David Edwards in the early 40s performed it at country dances for his white customers (Edwards, p. 117):

"I played all different kinds of music. We'd all play anything to make that nickel - I'd holler my ass off about that nickel! Sometimes white folks would hire me from off the streets to play at country dances. They liked 'St. Louis Blues', 'Bring it On Down', 'Corinna'. They'd dance all over the floor to 'Corinna', them white folks".

There have been a great number of of covers and adaptions, according to one list I saw there were at least 30 until 1945. The Mississippi Sheiks (Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon) renamed her "Alberta" in 1930. Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell adapted "Corrina" in 1934 as "Hold Them Puppies" and wrote some new lyrics. Lead Belly called her "Roberta" (1935) and Big Joe Turner recorded two fine versions of "Corrine, Corrina" in 1941 and in 1956.

Country music artists like the Carter Family (for radio, available on On Border Radio Vol. 2), Milton Browne (1934), Cliff Bruner (1937) and Bob Wills (1940) have recorded it too as have Jazz bands like those of Red Nichols’ Five Pennies (1930, available from YouTube and, Cab Calloway (1931), Wingy Manone & His Orchestra (1939, available from or Cajun singers like Leo Sileau (1935) and Lawrence Walker (1940). In 1961 even Ray "Tell Laura I Love Her" Peterson had a hit with that song .

Bob Dylan may have known any of these versions and he surely knew the one printed by Alan Lomax in Folk Songs Of North America (1960) but his adaption was a rather drastic rewrite retaining very little of the original song. "He abandons the happy-go-lucky jugband feel of many interpretations" (Trager, p. 115, line borrowed by Trager from Matthew Zuckerman) and turns it into a slow, mournful Blues. Only very few original lines remain, instead he uses a variant of a verse from Robert Johnson's "Stones In My Passway":

I have a bird to whistle, and I have a bird to sing
Have a bird to whistle, and I have a bird to sing
I got a woman that I'm lovin', boy, but she don't mean a thing

The early live version from April 62 includes some more lines borrowed from Robert Johnson, like the "hellhound" and the "38 Special". In some way he tried to turn it into a "real" Blues á la Johnson and make it different from the Pop-music versions (see Harvey, p. 22). But on the other hand he worked exactly like a Blues writer by taking one element of a song and creating a new one around it. In fact his "Corrina" is so different from the precursors that he could have copyrighted it for himself as it is more or less a new song and not a rearranged "traditional" (besides the fact that this song never was a "traditional"). Interestingly his version became something like another link in the chain: Taj Mahal based his "Corrina" (on Natch'l Blues, 1968, a live performance 2008) on Bob Dylan's variant: he built it around the Robert Johnson - lines and completely abandoned the context of the original "Corrinas".

Sources & Credits:

Many thanks to Stew with whom I discussed this song some time ago & who has supported me with some of the information and links used here.

  • "Corrine, Corrine" by Chatman & McCoy is available at: and the Internet Archive
  • There were also other songs using the name "Corrina" that are not related to the original, for example Blind Boy Fuller's "Corrine What Makes You Treat Me So" (1937) or Walter Davis' "Corrine" (1939).
  • A transcription of Dylan's "Corrina, Corrina" by Eyolf Ostrem is available at
  • Todd Harvey, The Formative Dylan. Transmission And Stylistic Influences, 1961 - 1963, Lanham, Maryland & London 2001, p. 20-22.
  • Christopher Waterman, Race Music: Bo Chatmon, "Corrine, Corrina," And The Excluded Middle, in: Ronald Radano & Philip V. Bohlman (ed.), Music And The Racial Imagination, Chicago & London 2000, p. 167 -20 (most extensive discussion of the song's history available at the moment)
  • David Honeyboy Edwards, The World Don't Owe Me Nothing. The Life And Times Of Delta Bluesman Honeyboy Edwards, Chicago 1997.
  • Elijah Wald, Escaping The Delta. Robert Johnson And The Invention Of The Blues, New York 2004.
  • Oliver Trager, Keys To The Rain. The Definitive Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, New York 2004
  • Clinton Heylin, Dylan. Behind Closed Doors. The Recording Sessions [1960 - 1994], London 1996
  • Olof Björner, Still On The Road: 1962,
  • Robert M.W.Dixon/John Godrich/Howard Rye, Blues & Gospel Records 1890-1943. Fourth Edition, Oxford 1997
  • Robert MacLeod, Yazoo 21 - 83, Edinbugh 1992, p. 324 (lyrics of "Corrine, Corrina")
  • The "Corinne, Corrina" Website (includes a extensive list of recordings)
  • The Traditional Ballad Index: Corrina,
  • Cowboy Angel Sings: Corrina,
  • James Prescott, Folk Song Index
  • Jane Keefer, Folk Music - An Index To Recorded Sources
  • Wikipedia (includes now the precursors by Graham/Johnson and Blind Lemon)
  • Alan Fraser, Searching For A Gem: 1962 (everything about the single Mixed-Up Confusion/Corrina, Corrina)
This is a slightly revised version of a text first posted in July 2007 on .

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