Interesting how they said it was the folk process at work but neglected to mention that Dylan had to give Jean Ritchie a big pile of money.
According to wikipedia: With many of his early songs [as we know
], Dylan adapted or "borrowed" melodies from traditional songs. In the case of "Nottamun Town" [which is certainly a traditional English folk song
], however, the arrangement was by veteran folksinger Jean Ritchie. Unknown to Dylan, the song had been in Ritchie's family for generations, and she wanted a writing credit for her arrangement. In a legal settlement, Dylan's lawyers paid Ritchie $5,000 against any further claims.
Ritchie's claim may or may not have had legal legs, but 5 grand to keep her sweet was probably worth paying...
And also because they had so much admiration and warmth for each other. They used to share a room, after all, and very happily. That was before he was known by many far less made it big. Everything changed after he became successful:
PIO!: Now I had always thought that you had written "Nottamun Town," or was that just the verses?
Jean Ritchie: No, no, no. It's just that we had preserved it. That's another story that comes under your copyright theme.
PIO!: Well, let's move onto that.
JR: Well, Bob Dylan had used my tune for "Nottamun Town" for his song "Masters of War," and I just wrote a little letter to what I thought was him. Of course, it went to his lawyer. I wrote that he was using a tune to my family song, and at least he should say, "Music traditional from the Ritchie family," because I believe in preserving sources. But there was no answer at all. So, it made me a little miffed! I told another lawyer about it, and he said, "I'll write for you." So little by little, I guess, Bob Dylan finally heard about it, because he said, "Oh, we'll settle this out of court." So, he sent some money and said that he would take his name off as composer, which he did. But he never did say where the music came from.
PIO!: Why was he averse to saying where it came from?
JR: I don't know. You can't talk to people when you're working through lawyers; they don't let you say anything. I never got to see him or anything, although you know when he first got started, we were friends and we were together in the Village [Greenwich Village, New York City] all the time. But all of a sudden he became unapproachable.
So then, the Kingston Trio came along, or maybe they came first—I'm not sure anymore, I get my dates mixed up. Well, the Kingston Trio was at the Newport Festival singing, and we met. Later George3 was taking pictures somewhere—maybe he was doing the picture for their album in the city—and Dave Guard said, "We put Jean's song 'Shady Grove' on our album in a medley." I never had any claim on "Shady Grove," but the way my dad sang it was our version, and I wanted them to say that on the album. So, that's how I got started copyrighting things. I asked the copyright people about it, and they said, "If you have had this in your family this many years, and have made changes that you know about, and it is a variant that is different than all others that you know about, it's copyrightable with these changes, and you have to say what they are." I do say things like, "Shady Grove (or Nottamun Town), Ritchie family version, new and additional words and music by Jean Ritchie." And I point out just what the changes are.
PIO!: And that's what it says on "Nottamun Town." I guess that's why I was thinking that you had written a bunch of new words for it.
JR: Not a bunch of them, but there is one verse that had two lines. The first two lines were missing. So I made them up. The one where "They laughed and they smiled, not a soul did look gay, they talked all the while, not a word did they say." Those are my words. And then it continues, "I bought me a quart to drive gladness away, and to stifle the dust for it rained all the day." So, if I add little things like that, I say what I've done. And I say where the song has come from. I believe that when scholars are looking for information on these songs, they should be able to find it instead of everyone speculating and guessing. You should tell them as much as you know, so that they have that information.