Wisconsin’s Trapper Schoepp Shares Songwriting Credit With Bob Dylan


By Brad Kolberg | March 20, 2019

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  • Trapper Schoepp (Courtesy of the artist)

Trapper Schoepp (Courtesy of the artist)

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There aren’t many Midwestern musicians who share a songwriting credit with Bob Dylan. But Milwaukee artist Trapper Schoepp is now one of them. Schoepp recently helped finish the song, “On, Wisconsin,” a tune partially penned by Dylan back in 1961.

As he made his way from his childhood home in Minnesota to New York City, a 20-year-old Dylan lived for a short time in Madison, Wisconsin. There, he encountered a pair of college students who were driving to New York and wanted someone to share driving duties. “Bob Dylan took the ride, and of course, we know the rest of the story,” said Schoepp.

“The day that Bob Dylan stepped foot into Columbia Recording Studios to begin work on his first album, he wrote these two pages of lyrics about our great state of Wisconsin,” said Schoepp, who grew up in Ellsworth, Wisconsin.

Bob Dylan’s handwritten lyrics about Wisconsin. (Courtesy of Nate D. Sanders Auctions)

Dylan never recorded the song or set the lyrics to music, and those lyrics lay hidden away for over 50 years. But when news broke that some newly discovered Dylan lyrics about Wisconsin were up for auction, Trapper said, “I just got this sinking feeling in my gut. I knew I had to finish what he had started.”

Schoepp got in touch with the new owner of the lyrics, who agreed to share them. Now it needed some music.

“When I went to set it to music, I thought about this drifter being rocked to sleep in a train car late at night. So that’s why the song has a ¾ sort of rhythm to it,” he said.

Schoepp also contributed some lyrics for the song’s chorus.

On, Wisconsin
On, Wisconsin
Calling me that way
On, Wisconsin
On, Wisconsin
I think I’m going to stay

After finishing the song, Schoepp and his manager tried what he referred to as a few “Hail Mary” passes. They wanted the blessing of Bob Dylan himself.

“I was laying in bed one night and I got the email that Dylan had officially signed off on the collaboration, making it a great affirmation from the man that really started it all for me,” said Schoepp.

 

This wasn’t Dylan’s only song about Wisconsin from that time period. The song, “Highway 51 Blues,” appears on that first album, which mentions Wisconsin.

Then there’s the song, “Talkin’ New York,” which mentions travelling from the Midwest.

“I wonder if these two pages about Wisconsin that he wrote were intended to be a bit of a travelogue. Something that he wrote to show his way out to New York,” thought Schoepp.

Schoepp feels like sharing this songwriting credit with Bob Dylan is a big deal.  “It’s so much bigger than just me,” he said. “I think it is very significant in that we have a Nobel Prize Winner, and one of the biggest figures in pop music history, that has now published a song that celebrates our great state.”

Brad Kolberg with his daughter at Miller Park.

Brad Kolberg

Brad Kolberg is a radio producer and engineer in Madison, WI.  He is also nutty for Wisconsin sports and music discovery.
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