Bob Dylan’s best songs – Caribbean Wind (4 versions with lyrics)

“I couldn’t quite grasp what [‘Caribbean Wind’] was about, after I finished it. Sometimes you write something to be very inspired, and you won’t quite finish it for one reason or another. Then you’ll go back and try and pick it up, and the inspiration is just gone. Either you get it all, and you can leave a few little pieces to fill in, or you’re trying always to finish it off. Then it’s a struggle. The inspiration’s gone and you can’t remember why you started it in the first place. Frustration sets in.”
– Bob Dylan (to Cameron Crowe)

He spoke of one song he was particularly proud of, that he’d written “a while back”, that successfully functioned on the level of complexity of his mid-sixties material, taking the listener outside of time (I don’t know that he actually used these phrases; I’m just recalling my impression of what he told me). He said the song was called “Caribbean Wind,” and that he’d try to play it if I’d phone his assistant some afternoon before a show and remind him of my request.
– Paul Williams (BD Performing Artist 1973-86)

We have 4 versions of this brilliant song, the best one is the live versions he played on November 12, 1980.

Pedal Steel version

Rundown Studios
Santa Monica, California
23 September 1980

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & piano)
  • Fred Tackett (guitar)
  • Tim Drummond (bass)
  • Jim Keltner (drums)
  • Ben Keith (pedal steel guitar)


Released on: “Bob Dylan: Trouble No More. The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 1979-1981”, Disc Four: Rare and Unreleased, 3 November 2017

Sound starts after 10s

She was from Haiti, fair brown and intense
I don’t think she’d ever known about innocence
I was playing a show in Miami, in the theatre of mystery
Told about Jesus, told about the rain
She told me about the vision, told me about the pain
That had risen from the ashes and abided in her memory

Was she a virtuous woman? I really can’t say
Something about her said “Trust me anyway”
As the days turned into minutes and the minutes turned back into hours
Pretended to be sleeping, and he thought I was
But I was only paying attention like a rattlesnake does
When he’s hearing footsteps trampling on the flowers

The Caribbean winds still blow, from Mexico to Curacao
From Chinatown to the furnace of desire
And them distant ships of liberty on the iron waves so bold and free
Bringing everyone that’s near to me closer to the fire

Our shadows grew closer till they touched on the floor
Prodigal sons waiting close to the door
Preaching obscenities, waiting for the night to arrive
He was well connected, but her heart was a snare
She had left him to die in there
But I knew I couldn’t get him out while he still was alive

The stars on the balcony, flies buzz my head
Ceiling fan’s broken, there’s heat in my bed
Street band playing “Nearer, My God, to Thee”
She looked into my eyes, I hear them mission bells ring
She said “I know what you’re thinking, but there ain’t a thing
“You can do about it so you might as well let it be”

And them Caribbean winds still blow, from Mexico down to Curacao
From Chinatown to the furnace of desire
And them distant ships of liberty on them iron waves so bold and free
Bringing everything you’d ever want close to me closer to the fire

Atlantic city by the cruel sea, I hear a voice crying “Daddy,” I always think it’s for me
But it’s only the silence in the Buttermilk Hills that calls
Every new messenger bringing evil reports
‘Bout armies that are rioting whose fuses are short
And them ugly gargoyles and hate words written on walls

Would I have married her? I don’t know, I suppose
She had bells in her braids, fire in her clothes
But the curtain was rising, like they say, the show must go on
And I felt you come over me, some kind of gloom
I was gonna say “Come on with me, I’ve got plenty of room”
But I knew I’d be lying, and besides she had already gone

And them Caribbean winds still blow, from Curacao to Mexico
From Chinatown to the furnace of desire
And them distant ships of liberty, on iron waves so bold and free
Bringing everything that’s near to me nearer to the fire

Only live version

Fox Warfield Theatre
San Francisco, California
12 November 1980

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar)
  • Fred Tackett (guitar)
  • Willie Smith (keyboards)
  • Tim Drummond (bass)
  • Jim Keltner (drums)

Released on:

  • Bob Dylan: Trouble No More. The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 1979-1981, Disc Two: Live, Columbia –  3 November 2017

Caribbean Wind is the high point of the fall 1980 shows, a sublime performance of a Dylan masterpiece that never quite came together in the studio …..

It’s perfectly constructed to include rather than exclude the wide range of emotions generated by the story told; its relation to its listener/observer is every bit as skillful as what Dylan accomplished in “similar” constructions like “Visions of Johanna” or “Idiot Wind”
~Paul Williams (BD Performing Artist 1973-86)

His single greatest in-concert performance, it should have been released aeons ago.
~Clinton Heylin (Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol. 2, . 1974-2008)

This is a 12-string guitar. First time I heard a 12 string guitar was played by Leadbelly, don’t know if you’ve heard of him? Anyway, he was a prisoner in, I guess it was Texas State Prison, and I forget what his real name was but people just called him Leadbelly. (shout from the audience: “Huddie Leadbetter”) He was recorded by a man named Alan Lomax, I don’t know if you’ve heard of him? Great man, he’s done a lot of good for music. Anyway, he got Leadbelly out and brought him up to New York. And he made a lot of records there. At first he was just doing prison songs and stuff like that. Same man that recorded him also recorded Muddy Waters before Muddy Waters became a big name. Anyway, Leadbelly did most of those kind of songs. He’d been out of prison for some time when he decided to do children’s songs and people said oh, why did Leadbelly change? Some people liked the old ones, some people liked the new ones. Some people liked both songs. But he didn’t change, he was the same man! Anyway, this is a song called …, It’s a new song I wrote a while back. I’m gonna try and do it as good as I can. there’s somebody important here tonight who wants to hear it, so we’ll give it our best ….
–> Bob Dylan (intro to live performance)

Lyrics to the live version (from dylanchords.info)
(Transcription is unfinished)

She was from Haiti, fair brown and intense
And then i took over the Lord
Attendin’ the show in Miami, in the theater of divine company.
Talkin’ about Jesus, talked about the rain
She told me about the vision, told me about the pain
That has arisen from the ashes abided in her memory.

Is she a child or a woman? i really can’t say,
Something about her said, “Trust me” anyway
As the days turned to minutes and the minutes turned back into hours.
Could i’ve been used and played as a pawn?
It certainly was possible as the gay night wore on
But victory was mine, and i held it with the help of God’s power.
And that Caribbean wind still blows from Trinidad to Mexico
The circle of light and the furnace of desire
And them distant ships of liberty on them iron waves so bold and free
Bringing everything that’s near to me, nearer to the fire.
Shadows grew closer as we touched on the floor
Prodigal son sitting next to the door
Preaching resistance, waitin’ for the night to arrive.
He was well connected, but his heart was a snare
‘Cause she had left him to die in there
And i knew he could get out while he still was alive.

Stars on my balcony, buzz in my head
Slayin’ [Bob Dylan?] in my bed
Street band playin’, “Nearer My God To Thee.”
She never did see me where the mission bells ring
She said, “I know what you’re thinkin’, but there ain’t a thing
You can do about it, so you might as well agree to agree’.’
And that Caribbean wind blows hard from the Valley coast into my backyard
Drivin’ all your love to the furnace of desire
And them distant ships of liberty on them iron waves so bold and free
Bringing everything that’s near to me, nearer to the fire.
Atlantic City by the cruel sea
I hear a voice cryin’ “Daddy”, i always think it’s for me
But it’s only the silence in the buttermilk hills that call.
Bearin’ new messages, bringin’ evil reports
Of riotin’ armies and time that is short
And earthquakes and train wrecks and death threats written on walls.

Would I have married her? i don’t know, i suppose
She had bells on her braids and they hung to her toes
The curtain was risin’ and like they say, the ship will sail at dawn.
And i felt it come over me, some kind of gloom
My voice said, “Come on with me girl, I got plenty of room.”
But i know i’d be lyin’, and besides she had already gone.
And that Caribbean wind still howls from Tokyo to the British Isles
We never walked in to that furnace of desire
And them distant ships of liberty on ’em iron waves so bold and free
Bringing everything that’s near to me, nearer to the fire.

Studio 55 version

best studio version

Studio A
Studio 55
Los Angeles, California
31 March 1981
3rd Shot Of Love recording session. Produced by Jimmy Iovine.

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar)
  • Steve Ripley (guitar)
  • Fred Tackett (guitar)
  • David Mansfield (violin)
  • Carl Pickhardt (keyboards)
  • Tim Drummond (bass)
  • Jim Keltner (drums)
  • Bobbye Hall (percussion)
  • Carolyn Dennis, Regina McCrary & Clydie King (backing vocals).

She was well rehearsed, fair brown and blonde
She had friends who was busboys and friends in the Pentagon
Playin’ a show in Miami in the theater of divine comedy.
Talked in the shadows where they talked in the rain
I could tell she was still feelin’ the pain
Pain of rejection, pain of infidelity.

Was she a child or a woman? I can’t say which
One to another she could easily switch.
Couples were dancin’ an’ i lost track of the hours.
He was well prepared, i knew he was
Paying attention like a rattlesnake does
When he’s hearin’ footsteps tramplin’ over his flowers.
And that Caribbean winds still blow from Nassau to Mexico
From the circle of ice to the furnace of desire.
An’ them distant ships of liberty on ’em iron waves so bold and free
Bringing everything that’s near to me, nearer to the fire.
She looked into my soul through the clothes that i wore
She said, “We got a mutual friend standin’ at the door.
Yeah, you know he’s got our best interest in mind.”
He was well connected, but her heart was a snare
And she had left him to die in there
Here were payments due and he was a little behind.

Well i slept in a hotel where flies buzz my head
Ceiling fan was broken, there was heat in my bed
Street band playin’, “Nearer My God To Thee.”
We met in secret where we drank from a spring
She said, “I know what you’re thinkin’, but there ain’t a thing
We can do about it, so we might as well let it be.”
The Caribbean winds still blow from Nassau to Mexico
From the circle of ice to the furnace of desire.
An’ them distant ships of liberty on ’em iron waves so bold and free
Bringing everything that’s near to me, nearer to the fire.
Atlantic City, two years to the day
I hear a voice cryin’, “Daddy” and i looked that way
But it’s only the silence on the buttermilk hills that call.
Every new messenger bringin’ evil reports
‘Bout riotin’ armies and time that is short
An’ earthquakes and train wrecks and hate words scribbled on walls.

Would i have married her? I don’t know i suppose
She had bells in her braids and they hung to her toes
But i heard my mirrored destiny said to be movin’ on.
And i felt it come over me, some kind of gloom
For the sake of “Come on with me girl, i got plenty of room.”
But i knew i’d be lyin’ and besides she had already gone.
And that Caribbean winds still blow from Nassau to Mexico
Circle of ice to the furnace of desire.
And them busy ships of liberty on ’em iron waves so bold and free
Bringing everything that’s near to me, nearer to the fire.

Biograph version

Clover Recorders
Los Angeles, California
30 April 1981
Shot Of Love recording session # 12. Produced by Chuck Plotkin and Bob Dylan.

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar)
  • Steve Ripley (guitar)
  • Fred Tackett (guitar)
  • Benmont Tench (keyboards)
  • Steve Douglas (saxophone)
  • Carl Pickhardt (piano)
  • Tim Drummond (bass)
  • Jim Keltner (drums)
  • Madelyn Quebec, Regina McCrary & Clydie King (backing vocals).

Released on:

  • BIOGRAPH, Columbia – 28 October 1985
  • SIDE TRACKS, Columbia – 5 November 2013

Soundcloud:

She was the rose of Sharon from paradise lost
From the city of seven hills near the place of the cross.
I was playin’ a show in Miami in the theater of divine comedy.
Told about Jesus, told about the rain
She told me ’bout the jungle where her brothers were slain
By the man who invented iron and disappeared so mysteriously.

Was she a child or an angel? Did we go too far?
Were we sniper bait Did we follow a star
Through the hole in the wall to where the long arm of the law cannot reach?
Could I have been used and played as a pawn?
It certainly was possible as the gay night wore on
When men bathed in perfume and practiced the hoax of free speech.
And them Caribbean winds still blow from Nassau to Mexico
Fanning the flames in the furnace of desire
And them distant ships of liberty on ’em iron waves so bold and free
Bringing everything that’s near to me nearer to the fire.
Sea breeze blowin’, there’s a hellhound loose
Redeemed men who have escaped from the noose
Preaching faith and salvation, waitin’ on the night to arrive.
He was well connected but her heart was a snare
And she had left him to die in there
He was goin’ down slow, just barely stayin’ alive.

The cry of the peacock, flies buzz in my head
Ceiling fan broken, there’s a heat in my bed
Street band playing “Nearer My God to Thee.”
We met at the station where the mission bells ring
She said, “I know what you’re thinkin’, but there ain’t a thing
You can do about it, so let us just agree to agree.”
And them Caribbean winds still blow from Nassau to Mexico
Fannin’ the flames in the furnace of desire
And them distant ships of liberty on ’em iron waves so bold and free
Bringing everything that’s near to me nearer to the fire.
Atlantic City by the cold grey sea
Hear a voice crying “Daddy”, I always think it’s for me,
But it’s only the silence in the buttermilk hills that call.
Every new messenger brings in evil report
‘Bout armies on the march and time that is short
An’ famines and earthquakes and train wrecks and the tearin’ down of the walls.

Did you ever have a dream that you couldn’t explain?
Did you ever meet your accusers face to face in the rain?
She had chrome brown eyes that I won’t forget as long as she’s gone.
I see the screws breakin’ loose, see the devil poundin’ on tin
I see a house in the country bein’ torn from within.
I can hear my ancestors callin’ from the land far beyond.
And them Caribbean winds still blow from Nassau to Mexico
Fannin’ the flames in the furnace of desire
And them distant ships of liberty on ’em iron waves so bold and free
Bringing everything that’s near to me nearer to the fire.

5 thoughts on “Bob Dylan’s best songs – Caribbean Wind (4 versions with lyrics)

  1. The music backing Dylan on the live version sure is getting to the core of the song and has that building intensity that marks his best performances, and his singing, though a bit high pitched as was his wont in those preaching days, goes along with it pretty well, but the lyrics of this version just are weak in places, indicating he was indeed losing the plot, so to me this never can be the best version. The one with the brilliant pedal steel of Ben Keith beats it also in terms of music for me, and it has the unity of the original story, but also the marks of something not yet there, reason why he kept tinkering with it, yet his singing is beautifully in sync with the real storytelling, but sounding a bit tired, still it pulls me in. The one on Biograph has to me the most logical lyrics, and his voice is very good here, the playing also, but some people complain about the sheen and the background whooshing of the girls to indicate the wind, and also, it is not as intense as other versions, yet to me it is clear why this one was chosen as the official one. I do not understand the love for the other studio version.

  2. Great post. This is an all-time classic Bob composition in my book. It stands right up there with VOJ and TUIB as his greatest time/identity shifting songs. Pure genius. I’m taking the Studio 55 version all the way, but having the 4 versions allows us to see the evolution of the song … and hear it slipping away … Shot of Love could have been a magnificent album, maybe even a double.

  3. Each version has its own strengths, and any one of them might be considered the “best”. It seems that Dylan suffered from an embarrasment of riches with this song, and could not decide which lines to include. Or he kept getting alternative lines “through the ether” as it were. Having all four in one place is great, and one day I will see if I can’t make a 4 or even 5 verse song out of it!

  4. Shot of Love would have been greatly improved with the addition of “ Caribbean Wind and “Angelina”….also I spot a little theft from the Dead’s song Stagger Lee…..Dylan’s line…Street band playing “Near my God to Thee….The Dead’s line …A three-piece playing on the corner “Near my God to Thee”…no big deal both great songs

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