In February of 1969, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash spent a couple of days in Nashville’s Columbia Studio A, where they recorded informal versions of each other’s songs, as well as traditional tunes by Jimmie Rodgers and others. Save for “Girl From the North Country,” which appeared on Dylan’s 1969 album, Nashville Skyline, nothing else from the sessions saw the light of day (unauthorized bootlegs notwithstanding) until the recent released of Travelin’ Thru, 1967–1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 15.
From that three-disc set, “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” finds Dylan and Cash—incidentally, with rockabilly legend Carl Perkins on the electric guitar—putting a country spin on a New Orleans funeral standard. This arrangement depicts the vocal melody as sung by Cash. The song is quite straightforward, comprising two 16-bar verses (with an extra bar tacked onto the first verse) and a 16-bar chorus. Both sections are based on the same three-chord progression, containing the I, IV, and V (D, G, and A) in the key of A major.
The predominant accompaniment pattern in the first verse is based on a standard boom-chuck pattern—bass notes on beats 1 and 3 and chordal strums on 2 and 4, as shown below. If you listen closely to the main guitar in the second verse, you’ll hear a cool variation: strumming, flanked by bluesy single-note riffing on the bottom strings. Use these patterns only as guidelines—the most important thing here is to go for a laid-back feel.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.