John Wesley Harding
Was a friend to the poor
He traveled with a gun in every hand
All along this countryside
He opened a many a door
But he was never known
To hurt an honest man

It was down in Chaynee County
A time they talk about
With his lady by his side
He took a stand
And soon the situation there
Was all but straightened out
For he was always known
To lend a helping hand

All across the telegraph
His name it did resound
But no charge held against him
Could they prove
And there was no man around
Who could track or chain him down
He was never known
To make a foolish move

Lyrics submitted by Cake

John Wesley Harding Lyrics as written by Bob Dylan

Lyrics © BMG Rights Management, Universal Music Publishing Group

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John Wesley Harding song meanings
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  • +1
    General CommentAfter the Beatles released SPLHCB and the rest of the musical community was knee-deep in psychedelia Dylan took the polar opposite approach to John Wesley Harding. Clearly by sound alone you can hear the simple American traditionalism it's rooted in, written and recorded in Nashville, Tennessee. But in addition to that, while The Beatles, Byrds and Jefferson Airplane were dealing with the very esoteric aspects of existence and reaching out as far as they could with their thoughts and music, Dylan reared back and examined things in their bare nature from the start.
    John Wesley Harding which is the first track and title of the album groups things together as well as Dylan's previous 'album-starters'.
    Clearly reminiscent of Woody Guthrie's Pretty Boy Floyd, John Wesley Harding is a glorified outlaw whose sins are forgotten and virtues extolled. In this sense it is stylistically and musically a tribute to folk Americana.
    However history would note that John Wesley Harding is a fictal character while John Wesley Hardin was a real man. Is this misspelling intentional? Also history would note that the JWH initials are comprable to the Hebrew moniker for Jehovah. Could this also be intentional?
    Throughout the album Dylan draws on numerous Biblical references dealing with traditional Christian themes. It only makes sense that the album title and first song would serve to encompass this.
    nigelmustaphaon December 24, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentCan anyone tell me the meaning of this song?
    bobdylaniscoolon January 23, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentHmm... perhaps about John Wesley Hardin ?…
    tswaterson March 09, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIsn't it about the emptiness/falsity of hero worship and futility of 'outlaw' living itself - at the end of the album Dylan sounds like someone who is finally willing to live a 'normal' settled life.
    efforton June 12, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentwell it is about John Wesley Hardin and is admittedly one of Dylan's most lackluster lyrical efforts
    personally i enjoy the song a great deal and think the lyrics are interesting, but they lack the true social commentary of Dylan's better folk works,
    John Wesley Hardin wasn't born in Cheney county and he would probably hurt an honest man, he was renowned in history as 'the meanest man alive' and the song is about that outlaw and the outlaw life
    Dylan said in an interview that Hardin as a figure interested him and he had a tune that he really liked, when he sat down to write it he just kind of fumbled a bit, but then he said, in an attempt not to make the song seem like just a filler he made it the album title and lead off song
    that's bobby
    nmustaphaon September 06, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI have concluded on several ideas that lead me to believe that this has album has one central story, with several characters, all of which are mentioned in the story told in the liner notes. I believe there are a couple instances of altar egos and schitzophrenia.
    theweeks123on October 02, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentyeah
    I totally agree with theweeks123
    The thing that nmustapha must realize is that Dylan's interviews are VERY misleading, as he himself tends to diminish his work and the effort he puts into it. He doesn't like the worshiping he gets, and is very private about his life, so he will always try to make it seem like no big deal
    But it SO is
    cavernon March 14, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentStephan King uses some verses from this song in the book "The Dark Half." King uses the lyrics because they decribe the character George Stark.
    gillyguitaron December 11, 2010   Link

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