Tag Archives: Drifting Too Far From The Shore

Drifting Too Far From The Shore

Bob Dylan finds a direction home via American vernacular music…

( … or, young Zimmy’s first encounter

with the old weird America)

In case you missed it the first time … it’s very No Direction Homenear the beginning of the film, and clocking in at fifty seven seconds,  it goes by quickly.

The scene begins at 3.10 into Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary film, No Direction Home, and it’s over by 4.07.  It firmly sets the film’s premise as Dylan relates a seminal musical event of his youth:

 Young Bob [3.10 Dylan speaking]:  “Maybe when I was about ten, I started playing the guitar. I found a guitar… in the house that my father bought, actually.

I found something else in there, it was kind of mystical overtones. There was a great big mahogany radio, that had a 78 turntable–when you opened up the top. Radio/78 Turntable

And I opened it up one day and there was a record on there–country record–a song called “Drifting Too Far From The Shore.”

The sound of the record made me feel like I was somebody else… and er, then, uh, you know, that I, I was maybe not even born to the right parents or something.” [4.07]

Boyhood Home

Dylan’s boyhood home 1947–1959  (until he left at the age of 18)

2425 Seventh Avenue East,  Hibbing, Minnesota 55746

Interpret Dylan’s comments as you will; at the very least it’s clear that this first encounter with music from the old weird America made a strong and lasting impact on young Bobby Zimmerman, an impact that  echoes throughout his career as an acolyte of American Vernacular Music.

Young Bob

Already deep into rhythm, holding a tom-tom and clasping a drum under his left arm (sitting, right).

Young Bobby Zimmerman… near the age when he would have first heard “Drifting Too Far From The Shore.”

Bobby Zimmerman was an unusually gifted child from a small town in the upper-Midwest, when, at the age of 10 years,  he heard a country gospel song with “mystical overtones.”  He recognized it as a touchstone, the standard by which judgments are made, a song  that placed him on the path to his creative/spiritual home.

Young Bob The persona of Bob Dylan had to begin somewhere for Zimmerman, and this may be as close to where it started as we can get.  Clearly, “Drifting Too Far From The Shore” was important for him and struck a chord that continues to sound.

Had another record been on that turntable, who knows? …the ultimate outcome might have been different… although I must admit, it’s difficult to envision Dylan as the king of Minnesota polka music had the 78 held a couple of popular Lawrence Welk tunes.

The song may be seen as a beacon, guiding and inspiring young Bobby early in his life… then, again, after drifting through the ’80s, bringing him back to shore in 1992/1993 with the releases of Good As I Been to You and World Gone Wrong–his back-to-back CD albums of prewar American Vernacular music.

It can be argued that immersing himself in folk music in the early 1990s reset his muse and has positively influenced his songwriting and performing over the ensuing two-plus decades… Young Bob

It’s clear that there was no stopping him once he heard the 78 rpm record’s tight musicianship; the steady, grounded guitar, ephemeral mandolin and vocal harmony full of warnings and redemption …playing on his family’s “great big radio [with] a 78 turntable.”

With that experience, there was no changing his new-found direction, no stopping the creative birth of Bob Dylan.

Sorting out the recordings:

Ok, so we know the name of the song that lit the fire, but that begs the question …who was performing on Dylan’s copy of “Drifting Too Far From The Shore?”

“Drifting Too Far From The Shore”                                                      [as heard on the soundtrack                                                                of No Direction Home]

Drifting too far from the shore

You’re drifting too far from the shore

Come to Jesus today, let him show you the way

You’re drifting too far from the shore


Out on the perilous deep

Where dangers silently creep

And storms so violently sweep

You’re drifting too far from the shore


Drifting too far from the shore  (from the shore)

You’re drifting too far from the shore  (peaceful shore)

Come to Jesus today, let him show you the way

You’re drifting too far from the shore


Why meet a terrible fate

Mercies abundantly wait

Turn back before its to late

You’re drifting too far from the shore


Drifting too far from the shore (from the shore)

You’re drifting too far from the shore (peaceful shore)

Come to Jesus today, let him show you the way

You’re drifting too far from the shore

 Listening to the soundtrack of No Direction Home, there is little doubt that the  “Drifting” we hear is a recording by Bill Monroe & his Blue Grass Boys… but hold it… here’s where it gets a bit murky:

Dylan was born in 1941, and if he heard the 78 of “Drifting Too Monroe LP/bbFar From The Shore” when he was ten–that would have been 1951.  Ok… but Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys didn’t record the song until 1962, releasing it in 1964…  an then, not on a 78, but rather, on an LP…  Decca, DL 4537, I’ll Meet You in Church Sunday Morning!

So how/why did the version with the Bluegrass Boys show up on the No Direction Home soundtrack?  In 2004-2005, at the time No Direction Home was produced, the 1964 version of “Drifting Too Monroe AnthologyFar From The Shore” by Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys, was readily and conveniently available to Scorsese on CD, including on the Bill Monroe CD, Anthology (released late April, 2003).

Bill Monroe  Anthology

If the version of  “Drifting Too Far From The Shore” that Dylan Acuff 78/bbheard in 1951 was not performed by Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys, then by whom? 

Fortunately, we know there were    but five pre-WWII recordings of “Drifting”  (and only four were released).  Roy Acuff So… based on widespread popularity and sales,  I would narrow the choice to two potential artists.  First, it could have been the popular and prolific Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys…

Roy Acuff

“Drifting Too Far From The Shore”  Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys

but more likely, I believe, it’s an earlier record featuring Bill Monroe (yes, Bill Monroe–but with his brother,  not with his later group, Bill Monroe Bros Bluebird 78/bbMonroe with the Bluegrass Boys).



Charles and Bill Monroe, the Monroe Brothers


Drifting Too Far From The Shore”    The Monroe Brothers

Given subsequent statements by Dylan (see interviews below) and the fact that it’s clearly Monroe on the soundtrack (albeit, not the correct recording), I think it’s a reasonably good bet that the influential 78 Dylan discovered in 1951 was performed by the Monroe Brothers, Charles, guitar/vocal and Bill, mandolin/vocal, Monroe Brosrecorded in 1936 in Charlotte, NC and released on Bluebird B-6363 and Montgomery    Ward M-4746.

Left to right:                              Bill And Charlie Monroe


Please notice the folk-process at work in the subtle – and not so subtle – differences in the lyrics and arrangements that are found among the four audio clips  of  “Drifting”  offered in this blog entry… 

  • Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys
  • Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys
  • The Monroe Brothers
  • Hank Williams and his Drifting Cowboys

A brief historical overview of “Drifting Too Far From The Shore” and Charles Ernest Moody:

“Drifting Too Far From The Shore” was written in 1923 by the gospel and string band musician/songwriter Charles Ernest Moody of Gordon County Georgia (1891-1977).

By the time the Monroe Brothers recorded in 1936, “Drifting” had been popular in hymnal/song book format for over a decade, and was well known in the Monroe Brothers cultural milieu.  Also, it’s a reasonable conjecture that the brothers might have heard the Carolina Gospel Singers version on Gennett Records, released some three years before the Monroe Brothers first recorded.  

Charles E. Moody was an oft-recorded musician as well as a prolific composer.  On the gospel side, Moody penned over 100 spiritual tunes and recorded gospel with the Moody Bible Sacred Harp Singers on the Paramount label (1929) and with The Moody Quartet on the  Vocalion label (1930).

He recorded both secular and gospel tunes with the North Georgia Four/Quartet on Paramount, Phil Reeve on Victor, and most successfully with the very popular, high selling (and mostly secular) Georgia Yellow Hammers on Victor (1927-1929). 

With the Georgia Yellow HammersYellow Hammers he sang, played guitar, and banjo-ukulele (in addition, it is thought that he possibly recorded some secular numbers with the Dixie Crackers, also on Paramount,(1929).

Although Moody published “Drifting” in gospel hymn books and was a prolific performer, he’s not known to have recorded the song.  

Georgia Yellow Hammers—C. E. Moody, top right, late ‘20s

The Five prewar 78 rpm recordings of       

“Drifting Too Far From The Shore” …

· Carolina Gospel Singers; Gennett 7188, September 1929.

· Monroe Brothers; Bluebird B-6363, Montgomery Ward-M4746, February 1936.

 MonroeBrosMW/bb· Arty Hall, ARC, 1937; unissued

· Roy Acuff; Vocalion 05297, OKeh 05297, Conqueror 9670, July 1939

· Judie & Julie; Bluebird B-8386, Montgomery Ward-M8445, August 1939.

Postwar is another matter:

… since 1946 “Drifting” has been covered well over 75 times, by the likes of:

· Jerry Garcia

· The Stanley Brothers

· Emmylou Harris

· Hank Williams

· Rose Maddox

· Ricky Skaggs

· Red Smiley

· Carl Story  and a host of others…

but never by Bob Dylan – although Dylan did use the title for an unrelated song of his own composition, released on his 1990 album, Knocked Out Loaded.

A fine cover of “Drifting Too Far From The Shore,” recently exhumed–but never released on 78–is by Hank Williams Williams[2]and the Drifting Cowboys.  Hank recorded “Drifting” in April of 1952. It was eventually released in 1998, on disc 9 of The Complete Hank Williams, a 10-CD deluxe box set, a performance of the song is available from YouTube:


(To open in a new window, right click on the above address,  then left click on “Open In New Window.”


Collecting “Drifting Too Far From The Shore”   (prices reflect excellent condition):

· 78 rpm: Carolina Gospel Singers; Gennett 7188–no comparables found for comparison, rough estimated value: $45-$60+

· 78 rpm: Monroe Brothers; Bluebird B-6363, Montgomery Ward -M4746– value range: $15-$30, Montgomery Ward somewhat less

· 78 rpm: Roy Acuff; Vocalion 05297, OKeh 05297, Conqueror 9670– value range: $6-$10

· 78 rpm: Judie & Julie; Bluebird B-8386, Montgomery Ward -M8445–no comparables found for comparison, estimated value: $10-$15, Montgomery Ward somewhat less

· LP: Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys, Decca, DL 4537, I’ll Meet You in Church Sunday Morning–value range: $15-$30+

· CD: Bill Monroe  Currently available on several CD reissues, including Rounder, Bear Family and JSP–value range: $10-$15+ for single CDs, $25 for the JSP set and $100+ for the Bear Family box set.

Dylan gets the last word:

His thoughts on folk music, The Monroe Brothers, his roots, Harry Smith Anthology, rural music, early influences and more.

RS 1987

Rolling Stone magazine  interview with Kurt Loder, November 1987  


(Dylan namechecks The Monroe Brothers, and supports the ongoing importance of Monroe and American Vernacular Music)

Loder: Do you still listen to the artists you started out with?

Dylan: The stuff that I grew up on never grows old. I was just fortunate enough to get it and understand it at that early age, and it still rings true for me… I’d still rather listen to Bill and Charlie Monroe than any current record. That’s what America’s all about to me. I mean, they don’t have to make any more new records — there’s enough old ones, you know?

PB 1966 Playboy magazine interview with Nat Hentoff,   February 1966

Hentoff: Do you feel that acquiring     a combo and switching from folk to folkrock has improved you as a performer?

Dylan: …folk music is a word I can’t use. …I have to think of all this as traditional music. Traditional music is based on hexagrams. It comes about from legends, Bibles, plagues, and it revolves around vegetables and death. There’s nobody that’s going to kill traditional music. All these songs about roses growing out of people’s brains and lovers who are really geese and swans that turn into angels–they’re not going to die.

RS 1978 Rolling Stone magazine interview   with Jonathan Cott, September, 1978

Cott: You’ve got a bigger sound now–      on record and onstage–than you’ve ever had before.

Dylan: I do–and I might hire two more girls and an elephant–but it doesn’t matter how big the sound gets as long as it’s behind me emphasizing the song. It’s still pretty simple. There’s nothing like it in Vegas–no matter what you’ve heard–and it’s anything but disco. It’s not rock & roll–my roots go back to the Thirties, not the Fifties.

RS 2001 Rolling Stone magazine interview with Mikal Gilmore, November, 2001

Gilmore: It seems that some of your most impassioned and affecting performances, from night to night, are your covers of traditional folk songs.

                                                                                                                   Dylan: Folk music is where it all starts and in many ways ends. If you don’t have that foundation, or if you’re not knowledgeable about it and you don’t know how to control that, and you don’t feel historically tied to it, then what you’re doing is not going to be as strong as it could be. Of course, it helps to have been born in a certain era because it would’ve been closer to you, or it helps to be a part of the culture when it was happening…

I think one of the best records that I’ve ever been even a part of was the record I made with Big Joe Williams and Victoria Spivey. Now that’s a record that I hear from time to time and I don’t mind listening to it. It amazes me that I was there and had done that.

Gilmore: In Invisible Republic — Greil Marcus’ book about you… Marcus wrote about the importance of Harry Smith’s legendary Anthology of American Folk Music and its influence on all of your work, from your earliest to most-recent recordings.               

Dylan: Well, he makes way too much of that.                   

Gilmore: Why do you say that?                                                  

Dylan: Because those records were around–that Harry Smith anthology–but that’s not what everybody was listening to. Sure, there were all those songs. You could hear them at people’s houses. I know in my case, I think Dave Van Ronk had that record. But in those days we really didn’t have places to live, or places to have a lot of records. We were sort of living from this place to that–kind of a transient existence. I know I was living that way. You heard records where you could, but mostly you heard other performers.

All those people [Marcus is] talking about, you could hear the actual people singing those ballads. You could hear Clarence Ashley, Doc Watson, Dock Boggs, the Memphis Jug Band, Furry Lewis. You could see those people live and in person. They were around. He intellectualizes it too much. Performers did know of that record, but it wasn’t, in retrospect, the monumental iconic recordings at the time that he makes them out to be.

It wasn’t like someone discovered this pot of gold somewhere. There were other records out that were on rural labels. Yazoo had records out. They weren’t all compiled like they are now. In New York City, there was a place called the Folklore Center that had all the folk-music records. It was like a library, and you could listen to them there. And they had folk-music books there. Certain other towns had it, too. There was a place in Chicago called the Old Town School of Folk Music. You could find the stuff there. It wasn’t the only thing that people had–that Anthology of American Folk Music. And the Folkways label itself had many other folk recordings of all kinds of people. They just were highly secretive. And they weren’t really secretive because they were trying to be secretive.

The people I knew–the people who were like-minded as myself– were trying to be folk musicians. That’s all they wanted to be, that’s all the aspirations they had. There wasn’t anything monetary about it. There was no money in folk music. It was a way of life. And it was an identity which the three-buttoned-suit postwar generation of America really wasn’t offering to kids my age: an identity. This music was impossible to get anywhere really, except in a nucleus of a major city, and a record shop might have a few recordings of the hard-core folklore music.

There were other folk-music records, commercial folk-music records, like those by the Kingston Trio. I never really was an elitist. Personally, I liked the Kingston Trio. I could see the picture. But for a lot of people it was a little hard to take. Like the left-wing puritans that seemed to have a hold on the folk-music community, they disparaged these records. I didn’t particularly want to sing any of those songs that way, but the Kingston Trio were probably the best commercial group going, and they seemed to know what they were doing.

What I was most interested in twenty-four hours a day was the rural music. But you could only hear it, like, in isolated caves [laughs], like, on a few bohemian streets in America at that time. The idea was to be able to master these songs. It wasn’t about writing your own songs. That didn’t even enter anybody’s mind.

RS 2007Rolling Stone magazine interview with Jann Wenner, May, 2007

Wenner: From the bottom up, what’s the view today?                  

Dylan: This style of music, which punctuates my music, comes from an older period of time, a period of time that I lived through. So it’s very accessible to me. Someone who was not around at that period of time, it wouldn’t be accessible to them. For them, it would be more of a revivalist thing or a historical thing. You’re from that time, too. I’m sure you know all these same things. The first time I ever went to London, which was in the early Sixties, ’61, they still had the rubble and the damaged buildings from Hitler’s bombs. That was how close the complete destruction of Europe was to the period of time when I was coming up.

Robert Johnson had just died, three years before I was born. All the great original artists were still there to be heard, felt and seen. Once that gets into your blood, you can’t get rid of it that easily.

Wenner: What gets in your blood?

Dylan: That whole culture, that period of time, that old America.

Wenner: When you write songs where you say you walk in “the mystical garden,” there’s a lot of religious imagery.

Dylan: In the mystic garden. That kind of imagery is just as natural to me as breathing, because the world of folk songs has enveloped me for so long. My terminology all comes from folk music. It doesn’t come from the radio or TV or computers or any of that stuff. It’s embedded in the folk music of the English language.

Wenner: Much of which comes from the Bible.

Dylan: Yeah, a lot of it is biblical, a lot of it is just troubadour stuff, a lot of it is stuff that Uncle Dave Macon would sing off the top of his head….

Wenner: How is it instilled in you?
It’s instilled in me by the way I grew up, where I come from, early feelings.

RS 1984Rolling Stone magazine interview with Kurt Loder, June, 1984

Loder: Did you get to see any of the original rock & roll guys, like Little Richard, Buddy Holly?

Dylan: …late at night, I used to listen to Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed and Howlin’ Wolf blastin’ in from Shreveport. It was a radio show that lasted all night. I used to stay up till two, three o’clock in the morning. Listened to all those songs, then tried to figure them out. I started playing myself.

… And then, either in Minneapolis or St Paul, I heard Woody Guthrie. And when I heard Woody Guthrie, that was it, it was all over.

Loder: What struck you about him?

Dylan: Well, I heard them old records, where he sings with Cisco Houston and Sonny [Terry] and Brownie [McGhee] and stuff like that, and then his own songs. And he really struck me as an independent character. But no one ever talked about him. So I went through all his records I could find and picked all that up by any means I could. And when I arrived in New York, I was mostly singing his songs and folk songs. At that time, I was runnin’ into people who were playing the same kind of thing, but I was kinda combining elements of Southern mountain music with bluegrass stuff, English-ballad stuff. I could hear a song once and know it. So when I came to New York, I could do a lot of different stuff. But I never thought I’d see rock & roll again when I arrived here.

Loder: Did you miss it?

Dylan: Not really, because I liked the folk scene. It was a whole community, a whole world that was all hooked up to different towns in the United States. You could go from here to California and always have a place to stay, and always play somewhere, and meet people. Nowadays, you go to see a folk singer—what’s the folk singer doin’? He’s singin’ all his own songs. That ain’t no folk singer. Folk singers sing those old folk songs, ballads.

I met a lot of folk singers in New York, and there were a lot of ’em in the Twin Cities…

Loder: Could folk ever become big again?

Dylan: Well, yeah, it could become big again. But people gotta go back and find the songs. They don’t do it no more. I was tellin’ somebody that thing about when you go to see a folk singer now, you hear somebody singin’ his own songs. And the person says, “Yeah, well, you started that.” And in a sense, it’s true. But I never would have written a song if I didn’t play all them old folk songs first. I never would have thought to write a song, you know….?

The fine print:

Images and media content from my personal collection are noted with a “/bb“ at the end of the title when hovering over the image (CLICK ON IMAGE TO INCREASE VIEWING SIZE).

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Inaccuracies, corrections, feedback or additions? Please let me know!

Bill Boslaugh okeh78@msn.com


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