The Battle of Wichita — the full story

OK, here’s the full story of the battle of Wichita, as requested.

It sounds pretty easy at first — just a run down similar to so many other songs (The Wicked Messenger, Down the Highway, and quite a few others), but when it came down to figuring out the details…

One thing was for certain: the highest string had to be tuned to the tone that is ringing throughout — there was no way in the world that that was going to be a fingered tone, the dexterity that would have been involved in that, would have been quite alien to Dylan (no offense). So there was one string…

For the rest, I worked with the different tunings that I knew Dylan used at that time, and I worked on alternative tabs in each of them, but I never even got through the initial run. (I can’t — at least I don’t want to — count the hours I’ve spent, listening to 3-second segments at reduced speed.) The special things about the tuning that he actually uses are the fifth between the first and second string and the major third between the bass strings (4th and 5th). The second of these has the acoustic effect of producing a lot of clashes between overtones in the audible range, which might create the impression of a different tuning. This, together with the bassy/slightly distorted sound of the two Freewheelin’ outtakes, made me believe that the deepest sounding string was lower than it actually is. I had made a tab in open D, I think it was, which was acceptable, but still clearly wrong, both because it was impractical to play and because it had the wrong tones in it.

Now, working out a tab when you know the tuning, is fairly straightforward. It may take some concentrated listening and occasionally some extra technological aid, but it’s not that hard, once you’re used to it. Working out the tuning is usually also straightforward — each of the common tunings have their specialties (I’ve expanded on this elsewhere — in the FAQ section of the main site). But this was an unknown tuning, with specialties that pointed in different directions. The figure that is heard in the second bar of the downward run, on the 4th and 5th strings, sound like the common E-Esus4-Em-E figure in standard tuning (Baby Please Don’t Go, Lost Highway, etc.), but other traits pointed clearly to an open tuning. I had worked out which pairs of strings had to be at which distances from each other, but putting it all together…

The CD had another version, the live version he played in Cynthia Gooding’s appartment some time before he recorded it, but in the same arrangement. There, he used some other chord shapes more consistenly (the A7 chord 003300), which gave me hope that I might break it because of them, but again, …

The CD only has the song itself, but since it was originally from a longer tape, where this was the second song, there ought to be some useful information to be gained from what happened before and after the performance itself, I thought. So the other night I posted a request at the pool. The morning when I got up, there was indeed a file waiting for me.

With trembling fingers, tossed between Schylla and Charybdis, high hopes and deepest desperation, [etc. — building up to the dramatic climax] I played the file, and what do I hear, if not Dylan tuning the guitar, string by string… Exactly what I wanted. All I had to do was, then, to follow his tuning, put on the capo, and play along…

4 thoughts on “The Battle of Wichita — the full story

  1. Thanks so much for the whole story, Eyolf! What a (musical) adventure. The finished product is always fantastic, but I’ve never gotten to read a “how-it’s-done” before. Even though I’ve never even heard this song (can’t find it/not released) it makes me feel total confidence in the tabs I get on your site to know you put all that effort into even obscure songs to be sure you’ve got it down. It makes me appreciate the work you do even more.

  2. hello,
    i was wondering if you could please tab ‘hard traeviln’ from the folksigers choice performance. i would greatly appreciate it.

  3. hello,
    i was wondering where i can find chord chart diagram for open A tuning?

    A diagram of chord chart in open A tuning, who show where to put your fingers when you have tune your guitarr to open A.

    (* Open A: EAEAC#E!

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