The Story Behind “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” by Bob Dylan and Why It’s Definitely Not a Drug Song

People assumed Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12  & 35” was a drug song for years. In 2012, Dylan told Rolling Stone magazine, “These are people that aren’t familiar with the Book of Acts,” referring to the fifth book of the New Testament of the Bible. It tells the story of the Christian church’s birth in Jerusalem and its spread throughout the Roman Empire. The authorities sentence Steven to a stoning after he gives a speech where they are going to kill him regardless of what he says. Dylan likened this to his critics reacting negatively to his music no matter what direction he chose to go. Let’s take a look at the story behind “Rainy Day Women #12  & 35” by Bob Dylan.

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Well, they’ll stone ya when you’re trying to be so good
They’ll stone ya just like they said they would
They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to go home
Then they’ll stone ya when you’re there all alone
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

From New York to Nashville

“Rainy Day Women #12  & 35” was recorded at Columbia Studios on Nashville’s Music Row. Dylan sang and played harmonica, and the rest of the instrumentation consisted of Charlie McCoy on trumpet, Wayne Moss on electric bass, Henry Strzelecki on organ pedals, Hargus “Pig” Robbins on piano, Al Kooper on tambourine, Kenny Buttrey on drums, and Wayne Butler on trombone.

McCoy was in New York City while Dylan recorded Highway 61 Revisited. Dylan was cutting the song “Desolation Row.” Producer Bob Johnston asked McCoy to play acoustic guitar, and Dylan wanted it to sound like “El Paso” by Marty Robbins. McCoy did his best Grady Martin impersonation, and Dylan loved it. When recording started for the album Blonde on Blonde, Dylan and Johnston took multiple tries at various songs with results they weren’t happy with. They then relocated to Nashville, and with the help of the seasoned session musicians, they nailed most of the song in one or two takes.

Well, they’ll stone ya when you’re walkin’ ‘long the street
They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to keep your seat
They’ll stone ya when you’re walkin’ on the floor
They’ll stone ya when you’re walkin’ to the door
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

Salvation Army Band

Johnston heard Dylan playing “Rainy Day Women #12  & 35” on the piano and remarked that it sounded like a Salvation Army band. The singer asked if he could get one. Johnston approached McCoy and told him of Dylan’s request. When he asked McCoy if he could get a trumpet and trombone player, he came up with a plan. In 2005, McCoy told musician Joe Chambers, “I said, ‘Well, if you want a Salvation Army band, the trumpet doesn’t necessarily need to be too good.’ He said, ‘Right,’ and I said, ‘OK, I can do that, and I’ll get you a trombone player. What time do you need him?’ And he said, ‘Call him in at midnight.’ So I called Wayne Butler, a great trombone player, and I said, ‘Come down to Columbia tonight at midnight.’ Wayne showed up about 20 ’til 12, and about 20 after, he packed up his horn and went home. The record was cut. We did two takes. All of the laughter and the yelling on the song was going on there live in the studio. That was it. Two takes, and it was done.”

They’ll stone ya when you’re at the breakfast table
They’ll stone ya when you are young and able
They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to make a buck
They’ll stone ya, and then they’ll say, “Good luck.”
Tell ya what, I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

The Party

In 2007, bassist Henry Strzelecki told Chambers, “I was laying on the floor, literally, laying on the floor, playing the pedals to that organ that was in there. Nobody played what they normally played. Wayne Moss went and played bass. I don’t know who played guitar, I forget. I didn’t care. I was there playing the bass pedals with my hands. You know, that’s what the song’s about. You’ve got to be having a party while that’s going on, and we did.”

In 2014, Moss remembered, “He wanted everybody to holler and hoot and carry on, and there was one place where I cracked Dylan up, hollering. He kind of giggled in the middle of the song. That’s me cracking him up.”

In 2006, Johnston described the atmosphere: “Kenny [Buttrey] hung a drum around his neck, and they were all marching around the studio singing. They were having a blast, and it was the only time I ever heard Dylan belly laugh.”

Well, they’ll stone you and say that it’s the end
Then they’ll stone you, and then they’ll come back again
They’ll stone you when you’re riding in your car
They’ll stone you when you’re playing your guitar
Yes, but I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

The Title

During the recording, two women ducked into the studio out of the rain. Dylan guessed their ages as 12 and 35, hence “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” The song was released as a single on March 22, 1966, and peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. This matched the chart performance of “Like a Rolling Stone,” which was released the previous year. Dylan would go on to record three more albums in Nashville: John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline, and Self Portrait.

Well, they’ll stone you when you walk all alone
They’ll stone you when you are walking home
They’ll stone you and then say you are brave
They’ll stone you when you are set down in your grave
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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