Bob Dylan’s Missing Key To The Highway

“Key to the Highway” baffled the Swedish Bob Dylan fan in the one-man-show but it is a well know blues song

By Stephen Pate – “Key To The Highway” is the blues song Fredrik Wikingsson of Experiments Alone could not name in the Bob Dylan played his 4-song concert.


Key to The Highway by Bob Dylan

As the last song in the one-man-4-song show at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia PA, Dylan played “Key To the Highway” with a slow groove and changed the lyrics which is not unusual for a blues song.  Bob Dylan One Man Four Songs – Just The Music

Charles Segar and Big Bill Broonzy

“Key to the Highway” was written by Charles Segar and Big Bill Broonzy about 1940.  Segar claimed the song as his but both admitted they knew it from an earlier song that was circulating among blues artists in the US south.

“Some of the verses he [Charlie Segar] was singing it in the South the same time as I sung it in the South. And practically all of blues is just a little change from the way that they was sung when I was a kid … You take one song and make fifty out of it … just change it a little bit. (Big Bill Broonzy)

Big Bill Broonzy (1893 – 1958) was a blues singer and guitar player with more than 300 songs to his credit. Originally, a southern country blues artist, he was an early developer of the Chicago blues style popularized by Chess Records.

Broonzy, born Lee Conley Bradley, was an exceptionally gifted musician who played the Carnegie Hall Spirituals to Swing concert in 1938  and played a unique and complicated guitar style. Happy Traum

, friend of Bob Dylan and guitar instructor, took lessons from Big Bill and most people consider his style difficult to master.

Sensing the rising interest in folk music, Big Bill reverted to acoustic style of guitar playing and established himself as a major force on the 1950s folk music scene. It was as an acoustic blues artist that I first came across Big Bill Broonzy.

Little Walter

Big Bill Broozy died in 1957. Little Walter  (1930 – 1968) the man who created the modern amplified blues harmonica, recorded “Key to the Highway” as a tribute to Big Bill Broonzy.

Little Walter, born Marion Walter Jacobs, was the first harp player to mic his harp through an amp instead of a PA system. His distortion rich harp technique changed the blues harp forever.  There are two people blues harp players emulate – Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter.

Originally a member of Muddy Waters band and the Chess Records house band, Little Walter was a prime member of the post-war Chicago blues scene.

Fed up with being a sideman,  Little Walter went on his own in 1952 with his own band.  Little Walter had 14 top-ten hits on the Billboard R&B charts.

Originally a member of Muddy Waters band and the Chess Records house band, Little Walter was a prime member of the post-war Chicago blues scene.

Fed up with being a sideman,  Little Walter went on his own in 1952 with his own band.  Little Walter had 14 top-ten hits on the Billboard R&B charts.

Little Walter was a known brawler and heavy drinker. He died as a result of injuries in a street fight in 1968.

Eric Clapton

“Key to the Highway” was performed by several artists including Eric Clapton.  Eric Clapton recorded the song with Derek and The Dominos as a road house blues song featured on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.

Later Clapton reverted to the acoustic style of Big Bill Broonzy for the song starting with the Eric Clapton Unplugged version.

His duet CD with B.B. King Riding With the King an even better version of the song.

Listening to Clapton play the song like Big Bill Broonzy gives you a better appreciation for Broonzy’s blues guitar skills.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan included “Key to The Highway” in his Theme Time Radio Hour show and it wound up on the compilation CD.
The bootleg Bob Dylan ‎– The Genuine Never Ending Tour Covers Collection 1988-2000 has that performance.

Bob Dylan’s “Key to the Highway” was recorded at Toad’s Place (New Haven, CT), Jan 12, 1990 according to Eyolf Østrem (Dylan Chords).

I found the recording and put together this video which shows Dylan playing the electric road house style version of the song.


Key To the Highway Connecticut by Bob Dylan – Key to the Highway

Bob Dylan is a walking encyclopedia of music from civil war ballads, sea shanties, folk, country, rock, pop and blues music. He likes to cover other people’s songs which means his fans get a broad swath of music once they start listening to the bootlegs.

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By Stephen Pate, NJN Network

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