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Paths Of Victory


In 1959, when he moved to Minneapolis Dylan swapped his electric guitar for an acoustic guitar – a Martin 00. He learnt all the songs from Odetta’s first solo album, Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues, which had been released in 1956. In fact it is said that he swapped from electric to acoustic after hearing this album.

Odetta's first solo album

Odetta’s first solo album

Odetta was a prominent figure  – her stature reminds me somewhat of Paul Robeson – multi-talented and politically active. Martin Luther King Jnr called her the Queen of American Folk Music and Rosa Parks declared she was Odetta’s number 1 fan.

Bob Dylan, in his Chronicles, says

Odetta was great. … She was a deep singer, powerful strumming and a hammering-on style of playing. I learned almost every song off the record right then and there, even borrowing the hammering-on style. (p. 237)

I remember her clearly. A voice deep and resonant, appearance strong and striking. I remember an engaging smile revealing a perfect gap (I’m sure it was my Mum who told me that gapped teeth meant money would come your way). Unfortunately, in the early days the smile seemed rare, probably why it made an impression.

But I also remember Odetta having a massive “afro” – yet I cannot find a single image that suggests this memory is accurate. Perhaps I have merged in my memories the images of Odetta and Angela Davis.

A powerful and striking woman.

Voice, deep & resonant. Appearance, powerful and striking.

A short 6 years after Dylan’s guitar swap and getting Odetta’s songs “down pat”, Odetta released her 13th album – Odetta Sings Dylan. With her activism in the Civil Rights Movement and Dylan’s poignant songs of civil “protest”, you’d expect this album to be a political “cracker” … but the focus is not civil rights at all – it is more a love & war album.

Paths of Victory is the last of the 12 tracks on this album. It very much in the vein of Woody Guthrie. The lyric has a wonderful optimism. The chorus:

Trails of troubles
Roads of battles

Paths of victory
We shall walk

And in every 4 line verse the hard traveling times are overcome by thoughts & visions of better times.

The trail is dusty
And my road it might be rough
But the better roads are waiting
And boys it ain’t far off

Dylan wrote this song in 1962, and performed it in his very first TV appearance – a show that include The Staples Singers, amongst others. Paths of Victory didn’t appear on any Dylan recordings, until The Bootleg Series Vol. 1 and then again on Vol. 9 of the same series. There is also no record of it in any of the known playlists for Dylan concerts.

How does Paths of Victory connect with John Brown?

Well … both were written by Bob Dylan, but that was not how I was thinking. It was more that Odetta was a big influence on Dylan who earned quickly his place in the annals of American folk and had the Queen of American Folk record an album of his songs.

They also both performed at The March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom.


Other Stuff You Might Enjoy.

* The Last Word– A New York Times interview. (19m 49s). Well worth the 20 minutes – you’ll hear that her age did not take the power from her voice.

* The National Visionary Leadership Project – This link is the Visionary Project’s page on Odetta. It contains 8 video interviews with Odetta. The subjects of the interviews are Childhood; My Family Tree; Racial Climate; Education; Unique Style/Name; Acting in Movies/Plays; Qualities; Life As An Activist.

* There’s A Hole in The Bucket  – this was Odetta’s first hit in the mid-50’s, a duet with Harry Belafonte. This performance is by the two of them during Belafonte’s 1960 Carnegie Hall concert.

* Odetta – Soul Stirrer 1930-2008 – Time Magazine’s obituary.

* Odetta, Voice of Civil Rights – New York Time obituary.

And the next road takes us to?

North:  Joshua Fit De Battle Ob Jericho by Paul Robeson
East:     Santy Anno by Spider John Koerner.
South:  John Brown we met at the last cross road.
West:   The Wayfarin’ Stranger by Johnny Cash.

Crossroad 11