"What about the Dave Van Ronk thing we heard about years ago, Bob?"
The four were sitting around a table at 3:30 AM at a closed Cafe Wha? in New York City, exchanging still more stories and memories of the early 1960's in The Village.
"Oh, 'the House of the Rising Sun' thing? OK, but first I got one about a blues guitarist named Lightning John that Ronnie Hawkins told me. Ronnie had the Band before me.
Hawkins and Robertson and Helm were down south ending a tour in South Carolina. Before going home to Canada they wanted to hear some local blues players and that's how they ran into one "Lightning John" who they jammed with till they passed out or went to sleep on the floor. Unlike us here, although we just lost..no, he's back.
Someone asked Lightning how he got his nickname, being fast on the strings? Lightning told them that his real name was Raymond after his dad. But as he grew up, everyone pronounced his dad's name as Raymond and his as 'Ray-Mond'.
Ray-Mond was at a little country store ran by his Uncle Jesse. He and Jesse got to talking about Ray-Mond's daddy, Raymond.
"Dad's gotta go by that graveyard up the road when coming from his job at the sawmill. It gets dark early now. Wonder if he'd shat his pants if something raised up out of that graveyard?"
They both laughed but then forgot about it until Lightning remembered it on Friday afternoon and took a sheet with him and hid in the old graveyard.
Sure enough, along comes daddy, tired and a little plastered, so Lightning raises up with that sheet over him "Woooooaa!!" His daddy lets loose a wild scream and begins running down the road.
But that was when Lightning quit making a noise and heard one behind him. There stood a real one!
You see, neither person knew the other was going to play the joke they had laughed about at the store, until each decided independently to do it on Friday night.
Lightning said he screamed as loud as he could and ran right past his daddy, with the sheet still under his arm.
"That was when they all began calling me 'Lightning'!"
(Lots of laughter, some too loud and long)
"But what about Van Ronk, Bob?"
'OK. Van Ronk always did his version of "House of the Rising Sun" using a special guitar rift that he invented when he performed at the Figaro or The Bitter End and I learned to copy it.
To make it short, I finally got to cut an album after Hammond talked me up to Columbia.
Thing is, I didn't know what to put on it so I finally decided some of mine like "Song To Woody" and traditional songs like "House of the Rising Sun". So I completed it and I used that rift Van Ronk invented.
Right after telling others the good news, I hurried over to see Dave & told him about the LP. Then I asked if I could use his rift.
"I don't know, Bob. That's sort of the center of my sessions."
Ronk never got mad when he heard it but he did tell me later, "Bob, after you put my rift in that song on your LP, every time I use it, people tell me, 'You're using Bob Dylan's version' so now I can't play my own rift."
Funny thing. A little later Eric Burdon put out that same 'House of the Rising Sun' as a rock number about a prison, where we had kept it about a whorehouse. After that, if I played it I'd hear someone say, "Hey, he's doing Eric Burdon's song."
So then I couldn't play it anymore either.