"He Was a Friend of Mine" is a traditional folk song in which the singer laments the death of a friend. The earliest known version of the song is titled "Shorty George" (Roud 10055). A performance by African-American inmate Smith Casey, who accompanied himself on guitar, was first recorded by musicologist couple John A. and Ruby Terrill Lomax in 1939 at the Clemens State Farm in Brazoria County, Texas. Alan Lomax described the song as a "blues" that was "a dirge for a dead comrade."
The song has since been recorded by many artists, including Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, The Washington Squares, Bobby Bare, Mercury Rev, The Black Crowes, The Mitchell Trio, Willie Nelson, Nanci Griffith, Cat Power, The Leaves, and (in a reworded version) The Byrds. The version recorded by Willie Nelson was used in the film Brokeback Mountain and erroneously credits Bob Dylan as the songwriter. Dylan had arranged an early version of the tune in 1961 and his version can be heard on the compilation album The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991.
Part of the Exact and Accurate Transcripts Series.