Did Bob Dylan Have to Re-Record “Hurricane” Because of Legal Threats?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about music and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the music urban legends featured so far.

MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: Bob Dylan had to re-record a song due to worries about slander/libel.

How could I make it past the start of Music Legends Revealed without featuring a legend about Bob Dylan?

“Hurricane” is one of Bob Dylan’s most famous songs from the 1970s.

It was co-written by Jacques Levy, and tells the story about the false imprisonment of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.

Carter was a boxer from New Jersey who was accused of committing a triple homicide in a bar in Paterson, New Jersey in 1966.

Some time around 2am on June 17, two black men entered a bar and shot and killed the bartender and a customer, with a second customer also dying a month later from her wounds. A third customer survived the assault, even though he was shot in the head (and lost an eye).

A petty criminal, Alfred Bello, was the first man on the scene, followed by a woman named Patty Valentine (then Patty Graham). They described two black men driving off in a car.

Their descriptions led to the police pulling over Rubin Carter and a friend, John Artis, about a half hour later. In their car, the police found a live .32 caliber pistol round and a 12-gauge shotgun shell – they both matched the two calibers used in the shootings

Carter and Artis were released, but about a month later, Bello came forward with the fact that he was actually with a partner in crime that night, Arthur Dexter Bradley. The police re-questioned both men and they both independently identified Carter and Artis.

And that was really about it – the guns from the car stop and the testimony of Bello and Bradley. That kept Carter and Artist locked up in jail for over 20 years (for Carter) and 15 years (for Artis).

In any event, in the early 70s, there began to be a bit of a movement to try to get Carter freed.

One person who was intrigued by it all was Bob Dylan, who wrote the aforementioned song, Hurricane, in 1975, which appeared on his 1976 album, Desire.

Right from the get go, Dylan did not exactly spend a whole lot of time getting the facts all the way correct. However, one specific line scared the suits at Dylan’s record company, Columbia (this actually was Dylan’s second album in a return to Columbia after a short-lived excursion with David Geffen’s Asylum Records for two albums), so much that they actually made him re-record the song!

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