The Story Behind The Song – The Shape I’m In

The Shape I’m In was written by Dudley Connell, a founder member of the neo-traditional band the Johnson Mountain Boys and currently guitar player with the Seldom Scene. It was included in the band’s Dream Scene album (Sugar Hill SHDC-3858), released in 1996, shortly after Connell joined the Seldom Scene.

Connell confides ….

Dream Scene - The Seldom Scene“We were in rehearsals for the album, which was to become Dream Scene, and unfortunately, it was the only record that I had the opportunity to record with the late John Duffey. On my way to John’s house for rehearsal, I was listening to The Band and their tune The Shape I’m In. To tell you the truth, I was going through a rough patch in my own life and the title struck a chord with me. I was alone and thinking to myself — well, you’re certainly not in very good shape now, are you?

I was driving along a two-lane road that runs along the Potomac River and found an envelope and a pen and started trying to write down all the things that seemed to be making me feel so bad about myself. By the time I got to John’s house, I had a pretty good first draft of the lyrics.

Once I was able to put my hands on a guitar, I purposefully tried to come up with a melody that I thought sounded like the Seldom Scene. I had never tried to write anything outside of the traditional bluegrass genre and was kind of excited by the challenge. The result was another tune called The Shape I’m In.

Dudley Connell (August 2012) - photo by Frank BakerAs mentioned, Connell was an original member of Johnson Mountain Boys. One of the several strong aspects of the group was the many great songs that he brought to their repertoire. Among those are Weathered Gray Stone, Mother’s Voice In The Wind, Making Up Stories, When I Can Forget, I’m Still To Blame, Your Love Died Like the Rose, Call His Name, The Day Has Passed, Memories That We Shared, Memories Cover Everything I Own, Now Just Suppose, See God’s Ark A’movin’, It Don’t Bring You Back To Me and The Future Remains.

Connell joined the Seldom Scene in January 1996 and he has become as much a personality on the newgrass scene as he was among the neo-traditionalists.

He has made personal appearances and recorded with Hazel Dickens, Longview and, playing in the ‘brother-style’ as a duet with Don Rigsby.

Connell works for the National Council for the Traditional Arts as an audio archivist.

Archie Warnock, in Bluegrass Unlimited, had this to say about the song ……

“The surprise (and highlight) of the recording is Connell’s “You Don’t Know The Shape I’m In”. If anyone doubted how Dudley would fit into the Scene, this should answer all the questions. This soul-searching, heart-broken anthem to loneliness is destined to be an instantly-identifiable, Seldom Scene classic.”

From a review of the Seldom Scene’s Dream Scene Sugar Hill SHDC-3858
Published in Bluegrass Unlimited, May 1997. [Reprinted by permission]


The Shape I’m In

© Dudley Connell, Southern Melody

It don’t make a difference what’s goin’ round
I can’t seem to keep my feet on the ground
It don’t seem to matter where I’ve gone or where I’ve been
You don’t know the shape I’m in
You don’t know the shape I’m in

I have to admit it, my attitudes gone bad
Every corner I turn, something new makes me sad
Mixed up confusion, I don’t know no friends
You don’t know the shape I’m in
You don’t know the shape I’m in

Could someone please tell me where I went wrong
The days are so short, the nights so long,
Like a ship on the ocean, I’ve been tossed with the wind
You don’t know the shape I’m in
You don’t know the shape I’m in

There must be a door somewhere, I can step inside
That won’t leave me helpless, struggling to survive
Help me find the road cause I’m lost again
You don’t know the shape I’m in
You don’t know the shape I’m in

Reprinted with Permission


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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.