Señor: Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ Take on a Bob Dylan Classic
Amidst the global pandemic, many musicians have been spending their downtime writing songs, learning new material, and recording quarantine albums. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings joined those ranks and tracked a set of cover songs while hunkered down at home last spring. Those songs were quickly released in July on All the Good Times, giving fans a pleasant surprise.
Recorded on an “old tape machine,” as Rawlings explains on his website, All the Good Times has a comfortable and intimate feel, as if the duo invited listeners over to hang out in their living room as they worked through their new set. Rawlings says, “Sometimes we bumped the microphone, sometimes the tape ran out, but in the end we captured performances of some songs we love.” In a time when live music is a rare thing, the casual nature of this recording feels like a treasure.
The range of material covered on All the Good Times extends from traditional songs to music by Elizabeth Cotten, John Prine, and a particularly endearing version of Billy Edd Wheeler and Jerry Leiber’s “Jackson.” While the guitar playing is superlative throughout all ten of the album’s tracks, the duo’s work on Bob Dylan’s “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)” truly stands out. (The song title is shortened to “Señor” on Welch and Rawlings’ version.)
First released on Dylan’s Street Legal in 1978, “Señor” is a dark song with enigmatic lyrics. While Dylan’s original features a full backing band, Welch and Rawlings take a more subtle, quiet approach, creating a haunting and dramatic version of the song, a few ticks slower than Dylan’s.
The duo begins by articulating figures that work loosely around open chord shapes, a composite arrangement of which is shown here in notation. Pay close attention to the time signatures while making your way through this song—Dylan moved the downbeat around by placing two measures of 2/4 in the verse. Listen to the bass notes Welch and Rawlings play in those short measures as they guide the way through the use of bass note walk downs. You’ll want to play the open sixth string in between the F and D minor chords (between the third and fourth lines of each verse).
While their vocals are at center stage for most of the song, the solo section puts the spotlight on the rich combination of Welch and Rawlings’ guitar interplay, with Welch playing broadly strummed flattop chords while Rawlings’ archtop sings as he plays a gently soaring, melodic solo.
Rawlings sets the vibe as he runs through a series of pull-offs before settling into open position. He works his way around the fretboard sticking to notes in the A natural minor scale (A B C D E F G) played in various positions. Throughout the solo, Rawlings relies on dynamics to masterfully shape his phrases. When you’re working through this transcription, learn the notes first, but be sure to spend time listening to the detail in Rawlings’ use of dynamics in order to properly capture the drama in his playing.
Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post notation or tablature for this musical work. If you have a digital or physical copy of the November/December issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, you will find the music on page 70.