The woman on the album was Suze Rotolo, who has just published a memoir about her love affair with Dylan and its eventual breakup. I haven't yet read the book, A Freewheelin' Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties , but I heard Terry Gross's interview with Rotolo on Fresh Air. Rotolo was only seventeen when she met Dylan, but she was an artist who had worked in the civil rights movement. She was a "red-diaper baby:" her parents were members of the Communist Party. Rotolo introduced Dylan to the music of Bertoldt Brecht and Kurt Weill, which influenced his music.
Rotolo's relationship with Dylan began to crumble when she took the opportunity to go to art school in Perugia, Italy. Dylan did not want her to go. Dylan's song, "Boots of Spanish Leather," was his way of dealing with her leaving. Terry Gross did not seem to realize the significance of the title, though Rotolo, and anyone familiar with the folk scene, surely did. Here's the last stanza:
So take heed, take heed of the western wind,
Take heed of the stormy weather.
And yes, there's something you can send back to me,
Spanish boots of Spanish leather.
Many of Dylan's early songs paid homage to the English and Scottish ballads collected by Francis James Child and the Appalachian ballads compiled by Cecil Sharp. "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, " for example, is based on "Lord Randal," while "Masters of War" takes its tune from "Fair Nottamun Town." "Boots of Spanish Leather" uses almost the same tune as Dylan's earlier "Girl from the North Country," which references The Elfin Knight, but laments that "She once was a true love of mine," as opposed to the ballad's future tense: "then she will be a true lover of mine." But the song's title refers to another Scottish ballad, "The Gypsy Laddie," or rather its American variant, "Black Jack Davy." In it a gypsy seduces the lady of a manor. Americans weren't familiar with gypsies, so the seducer is usually called "Black Jack Davy." One version calls him "Gypsum Davy." Americans didn't know about gypsies, but they knew gypsum. Here's an American version I learned back in the Sixties:
The landlord he came quickly to his door,
Inquiring for his lady.
The answer that they gave to him:
"She's gone with black-eyed Davy."
"Go saddle up my milk-white steed.
Go saddle and make hasty.
I'll ride all day, I'll ride all night
'Til I overtake my lady."
He rode all day he rode all night
Through waters deep and muddy.
He rode all day he rode all night
'Til he overtook his lady.
"Will you forsake your house and land?
Will you forsake your baby?
Will you forsake your own true love
And go with black-eyed Davy?"
"Yes I'll forsake my house and land.
Yes I'll forsake my baby.
yes I'll forsake my own true love
And go with black-eyed Davy."
"Last night you slept in a fine feather bed
And in your arms your baby.
Tonight you'll sleep on a cold riverbank
In the arms of black-eyed Davy.
"So you take off those high-heeled boots
All made from Spanish leather.
And give to me your lily-white hand
And say farewell forever."
In fact, it wasn't forever. Dylan and Rotolo got back together after she returned from Italy, though they broke up about a year later. But when he wrote "Boots of Spanish Leather," Dylan was sure that his own true love was saying farewell forever.
P.S. I found my beautiful young woman. One thing that brought us together was our love for the old ballads. I knew most of them only as poetry, but Kathleen, after years of listening to records by Jean Ritchie, Jeannie Robertson, and Ewan Macoll, could sing many of them. And in nearly 35 years of marriage, I've never had to ask for boots of Spanish leather.