I Went Looking For A Place To Hide

In 1958, on the recommendation of Conway Twitty, who considered Canada to be the promised land for a rock’n roll singer, rockabilly Ronnie Hawkins from Huntsville, Arkansas went to Hamilton, Ontario to play a club called The Grange.  Ronnie Hawkins is best known for doing ‘Who Do You Love?’ a song written by Bo Diddley and ‘Further on Up the Road’ which was written by ‎Don Robey‎ and ‎Joe Medwick Veasey.  Ronnie never left Canada adopting it as his home, becoming a permanent resident in 1964.  In 1957, Ronnie Hawkins was gathering musicians to tour Canada and he asked Levon Helm to be his drummer in a group called the Hawks.  In the late 1950s, Hawkins brought a bunch of musicians with him to Canada.  This included Fred Carter a Nashville session musician who played on Marty Robbins’ ‘El Paso’, Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘Lay Lady Lay’, rhythm guitar player Jimmy Ray ‘Luke’ Paulman, piano player Willard ‘Pop’ Jones and Levon Helm.  The Hawks made Toronto their adopted home in 1958.

One by one members of what would eventually become known as The Band entered the Hawks as the original Hawks left and went back to the States.  In 1960, Roy Buchanan replaced Fred Carter Jr. as guitarist in Ronnie Hawkins’ Hawks.  After a short period, he left the Hawks and teenager Robbie Robertson took over the lead guitar.  Robertson was a few months shy of his sixteenth birthday, but he had already played in Robbie and the Robots, Thumper and the Trambones and Little Caesar and the Consuls.  Seventeen year old Rick Danko also joined the Hawks in 1960 as the bass player and he had been playing guitar since he was twelve.  In the summer of 1961, composer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist Richard Manuel became the next Hawk.  Garth Hudson joined up a little before Christmas 1961 and he was hired from London Ontario to come in as a teacher, because the Hawks just lost Stan Szelest one of the greatest piano players in rock and roll, a living fountain of rock and roll piano, a one-of-a-kind player from Buffalo, New York.

Hawkins took off on his own in 1963, leaving Helm, Robertson, Danko, Manuel and Hudson behind.  In 1965, they joined the recently electrified folk rocker Bob Dylan as his back-up band.  A motorcycle accident forced Dylan to take some time off near Woodstock, New York and in 1968, they rented a big pink house that was nearby.  ‘The Weight’ is probably The Band’s greatest song, and it is certainly the most memorable track off their greatest album, Music from Big Pink.  ‘The Weight’ charted at #21 in the UK and #63 in the US and it is a story of a guy who visits Nazareth, and is asked by his friend Fanny to visit several of her friends.  ‘The Weight’ is in the Top 50 of Rolling Stone’s ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time’ and it is also in the Top 15 of Pitchfork’s ‘Best Songs of the Sixties’ and it is also listed as one of the ‘500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll’.

‘The Weight’ became the Band’s most enduring song and it represents a load that a traveler carries involving all these strange people that he promised he would check on for his friend Miss Fanny.  There has always been a controversy about whether or not this character was Annie or Fanny, but since Robertson is credited as the writer of this song and he said it is Fanny, I will have to go with that.  Actually there is a Fanny and an Annalee, who are different characters.  Ida Frances Stelov also known as Fanny, was the founder of the Gotham Book Mart in New York City and Robertson used to frequent her store to check out the film section in the late 1960s.  However, Levon Helm suggested that many of the songs were more collaborative than Robertson acknowledged and he said that Anna Lee was an old friend of his from Turkey Scratch Arkansas, the place where Hawkins recruited him from and also where Delta blues guitarist Robert Lockwood, Jr. came from.  Helm was seven months older than his longtime friend the blue-eyed blonde, now known as Anna Amsden.

There is a lot of other odd characters mentioned in this song like ‘Carmen and the Devil’, ‘Miss Moses’, ‘Luke’, ‘Crazy Chester’ and the place ‘Nazareth’ which I will try to make some sense out of, but basically they were people that the Band met while they were on the road.  The Hawks rhythm guitar player Jimmy Ray ‘Luke’ Paulman is Luke.  The Martin Guitar Factory is located in Nazareth, Pennsylvania which is about 70 miles north of Philadelphia and it is said to have the finest steel-string acoustic guitars in the world.  Crazy Chester was the cap-gun toting self-appointed sheriff of Fayetteville Arkansas and the Band thought of him like he was like Hopalong Cassidy.  Chester wore a cheap red dime-store cowboy hat and wore his britches legs tucked into his cowboy boots.  Crazy Chester was a friend of the Hawks and Ronnie would always check with him to make sure there wasn’t any trouble around town.  Robertson said that the image of “Carmen and the Devil walkin’ side by side”, was borrowed from an Ingmar Bergman movie “The Seventh Seal” and the famous chess game with Death.  ‘Go Down Moses’ is an American Negro spiritual that was written by Arlo Guthrie and it is a civil rights anthem that connects the plight of Southern American blacks to the ancient Israelite slaves.  ‘Miss Moses’ was a name that just seemed to fit the picture.

This traveler who told Miss Fanny that he was going to Nazareth is asked to give her regards to everyone in the town.  He is tired from his trip and he encounters a man and asks him if there is a place where he can sleep, but the man simply says “No”.  The traveler sees Carmen walking with the Devil, and asks her to go downtown with him.  She responds by telling the traveler that she has something else to do, but her friend the Devil can stick around with him.  Miss Moses doesn’t have anything to say, while Luke’s waiting on the judgment day.  The traveler asks Luke about young Annalee and Luke asks him to keep Annalee company.  The traveler meets Crazy Chester, who offers to provide him with a bed (fix your rag) if the traveler will take his dog, Jack and give him food when he can.  The traveler catches a Cannonball out of town as his bag is sinking low from the weight of his load that he carried doing all of these favors for Miss Fanny.  He knows that it is time to leave Nazareth and get back to see Miss Fanny.

I think this song has a morale, which is that if you are going someplace, then just go and don’t tell anyone, or otherwise you might be asked to do someone a favor or two.  Once you let the cat out of the bag, it will not take long before someone wants you to do them a favor.  Once you start doing anyone a favor, then one thing can lead to another and it will be like Holy Shit, I got sucked into this incredible predicament again.

I pulled into Nazareth, was feeling ‘bout half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head
Hey, mister, can you tell me, where a man might find a bed?
He just grinned and shook my hand, “No” was all he said.

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me

I picked up my bags, I went looking for a place to hide
When I saw old Carmen and the Devil, walking side by side
I said, “Hey, Carmen, c’mon, let’s go downtown”
She said, “I gotta go, but my friend can stick around”

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me

Go down, Miss Moses, ain’t nothin’ you can say
It’s just old Luke, and Luke’s waiting on the judgment day
Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Annalee
He said, “Do me a favor, son, won’t you stay and keep Annalee company”

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me

Crazy Chester followed me, and he caught me in the fog
Said, “I will fix your rag, if you’ll take Jack, my dog”
I said, “Wait a minute Chester, you know, I’m a peaceful man”
He said, “That’s okay, boy, won’t you feed him when you can”

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me

Catch the cannonball, now to take me down the line
My bag is sinking low, and I do believe it’s time
To get back to Miss Fanny, you know she’s the only one
Who sent me here, with her regards for everyone

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me

Written for 10/14/18 Helen Vahdati’s This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time Song Lyric Sunday Theme where the prompt is “hide/hiding/hidden”.

17 thoughts on “I Went Looking For A Place To Hide

  1. Great song. I watched a documentary about Levon a few years ago. It was really kind of sad, but it gave me a much greater appreciation for the song and their story.

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  2. I always thought it was “take a load off Annie,” not Fanny, but if memory serves, I think you wrote another post about this song a while back where I learned it was “Fanny.”

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