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This was written by Bob Dylan, but Manfred Mann was the first to record it. Manfred Mann is a group named after their keyboard player. They had another hit in 1976 (as Manfred Mann's Earth Band) with "Blinded By The Light
," a song written by Bruce Springsteen. (thanks, chet - saratoga springs, NY)
Dylan released his version in 1970 on his album Self Portrait. It also appears on his 1972 album More Greatest Hits. Ron Cornelius was Dylan's guitarist for the Self Portrait sessions, and told us about the experience: "There's everybody and his brother flying into Nashville to play on that thing. If you look at the credits, it's amazing how many people were delighted to come and play on it. Out of everybody I've worked with, I don't know of anyone who's been any nicer than Bob Dylan."
This is also known as "The Mighty Quinn." It was featured in a 1989 movie with that name. The film starred Denzel Washington as a police officer named Xavier Quinn. The song was performed in the movie by Sheryl Lee Ralph.
It is possible that Dylan came up with the idea for this after seeing the 1959 Nicholas Ray movie called The Savage Innocents. In that movie, Anthony Quinn played an Eskimo named Inuk. The film is also notable as the first screen appearance of Peter O'Toole, who demanded that his name be removed from the film as all of his dialog was dubbed by another actor. (thanks, Bob - The Colony, TX)
This was also recorded by Leon Russell, The Hollies, and Gary Puckett and The Union Gap.
The Grateful Dead occasionally played this at their shows. Here's one story that circulated about the song: The Grateful Dead years ago had a wild LSD party in a New York City hotel during a tour visit. Allegedly, one of the party guests was Bob Dylan. One of the other guests at the hotel didn't appreciate the noise and voiced several complaints. It was actor Anthony Quinn who'd played an Eskimo in The Savage Innocents. That could have inspired a partying Dylan to write a strange and funny song like this. (thanks, Joe - Minneapolis, MN)
One theory is that "The Mighty Quinn" is Sheriff Larry Quinlan, who raided the Castillia Foundation land in Millbrook, New York and arrested Dr. Timothy Leary and his group of hippies. Quinlan confiscated all the LSD and other drugs at the scene. In this scenario, the "pigeons" are informers. (thanks, Jerry - Poughkeepsie, NY)
Mike D'Abo of Manfred Mann: "We met in a publisher's house as Bob Dylan was making some new material available to other artists. We heard about 10 songs and I thought 'This Wheel's On Fire
' would be the one to do, but Manfred liked The Mighty Quinn, which was called 'Quinn The Eskimo' then. It was sung in a rambling monotone but Manfred had recognized its potential. He sold me on the idea of doing this song, but I had to make up some of the words as I couldn't make out everything he was saying. It was like learning a song phonetically in a foreign language. I have never had the first idea what the song is about except that it seems to be 'Hey, gang, gather round, something exciting is going to happen 'cause the big man's coming.' As to who the big man is and why he is an Eskimo, I don't know." - from 1000 UK #1 Hits
by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh. (thanks, Edward Pearce - Ashford, Kent, England)
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