Friday, January 28, 2011

Like A Complete Unknown




"I Was Young When I Left Home" mp3
by Bob Dylan, 1961.
available on Love And Theft (Bonus Disc)

"When I arrived, it was dead-on winter. The cold was brutal and every artery of the city was snowpacked, but I'd started out from the frostbitten North Country, a little corner of the earth where the dark frozen woods and icy roads didn't faze me. I could transcend the limitations. It wasn't money or love that I was looking for. I had a heightened sense of awareness, was set in my ways, impractical and a visionary to boot. My mind was strong like a trap and I didn't need any guarantee of validity. I didn't know a single soul in this dark freezing metropolis but that was all about to change -- and quick."
-Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, Simon & Schuster © 2004.

New York City is covered in snow, just as it was fifty years ago this week when Bob Dylan first arrived here. And though the exact date is in dispute, it was on or around January 24, 1961. His ambition had outgrown the appropriately named Dinkytown coffeehouse scene in Minneapolis, and while having reinvented himself a few times already at the age of nineteen, Dylan, a self-described "musical expeditionary" with "no past really to speak of, nothin' to go back to, (and) nothin' to lean on" set his sites on brighter pastures: New York City, and the burgeoning folk scene in Greenwich Village to be exact. He also set out to meet his hero Woody Guthrie, who was spending his final years in a hospital in New Jersey suffering from Huntington's Chorea disease.

Dylan arrived in town via the George Washington Bridge in a 4-door Pontiac driven by his friend Fred Underhill. As legend has it, he disembarked and caught a train downtown where he promptly met Fred Neil and found himself a spot in the revue at Cafe Wha? backing Neil on harmonica and playing his own three song set which was the standard alotted time for each performer. His own repertoire at the time consisted almost entirely of Woody Guthrie songs, of which he'd learned most of the catalog. He had yet to write any of his own material to speak of, and from most accounts back in Minnesota, Dylan was a fairly ordinary folk singer with great ambition who did a good Woody Guthrie imitation. He had a lot of game and a "schtick" as was needed to succeed, but whatever it was that he considered success at that time, he certainly could have never imagined what lay in store for him in the coming year.

Dylan describes this moment as his "crossroads," as in Robert Johnson at the crossroads, and this particular one (give or take a block or two) was at the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal. The transformation that took place in the coming months is nothing short of remarkable. In the right place at the right time, he quickly met, learned from, and collaborated with a cast of characters including Dave Van Ronk, Karen Dalton, Fred Neil, and Ramblin' Jack Elliott, as well as his future muse Suze Rotolo. He also met Guthrie. He'd regularly board a bus to New Jersey with his guitar and sit with him in the hospital. Woody would call out song titles (his own) and the young disciple would oblige his requests. He learned fingerpicking, and slowly started writing his own songs, borrowing melodies and form from the vast American songbook of country, blues and folk that he and his contemporaries were mining and appropriating into another new form.

In April, he got his first paying gig, at Gerdes Folk City, with a two week run opening for John Lee Hooker. Izzy Young, of the Folklore Center, offered guidance and tried to help the fledgling midwestern transplant find a record deal. The folk labels all balked. In September, while playing harmonica on a Caroline Hester session for Columbia, he caught the ear of John Hammond, who signed him to a record deal a month later. This was far beyond his wildest dreams that a label such as Columbia would be interested in what he was doing. In Chronicles, Dylan recalls getting a copy of the yet to be released LP of Robert Johnson's Vocalion sides (still relatively unknown outside of a small group of blues aficionados) from Hammond on the day of his signing.

"Over the next few weeks I listened to it repeatedly, cut after cut, one song after another, sitting and staring at the record player. Whenever I did, it felt like a ghost had come into the room, a fearsome apparition."

In early November, he played his first concert as a headliner at the Carnegie Chapter Hall, a small annexed room upstairs from the main hall. A typewritten program for the event included a self-penned biography of his reinvented self. It begins: "Bob Dylan was born in Duluth, Minnesota in 1941. He was raised in Gallup N.M. and before he came to NY earlier this year, he lived in Iowa, S. Dakota and Kansas. He started playing carnivals at the age of 14, accompanying himself on guitar and piano." It goes on to say that he "learned many blues songs from a Chicago street singer named Arvella Gray" and met "Mance Lipscomb, from the Brazos River country of Texas, through a grandson that sang rock and roll."



A few weeks later Dylan would enter the studio and record his first Columbia LP in three short sessions over three days of mostly other people's arrangements and songs. He'd save his own compositions for his next record, which he began working in by the middle of 1962. A half a century after his arrival in New York City, he continues to perpetrate his peculiar brilliance, appropriation and reinvention.

Download:

"This Land is Your Land" mp3
by Bob Dylan, 1961.
live at Carnegie Chapter Hall, Nov. 4, 1961.
available on No Direction Home

"In the Pines" mp3
by Bob Dylan, 1961.
live at Carnegie Chapter Hall, Nov. 4, 1961.

"Baby, Let Me Follow You Down" (mono) mp3
by Bob Dylan, 1962.
available on Bob Dylan

"Mama Let Me Lay It On You No. 2" mp3
by Blind Boy Fuller, 1937.
available on Complete Recorded Works 4 (1937-38)

"Song To Woody" (mono) mp3
by Bob Dylan, 1962.
available on Bob Dylan

"Hard Times In New York Town" mp3
by Bob Dylan, 1961.
available on The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 : Rare And Unreleased, 1961-1991

"Down On Penny's Farm" mp3
by The Bentley Boys, 1929.
available on Anthology Of American Folk Music

"Talkin' New York" (mono) mp3
by Bob Dylan, 1962.
available on Bob Dylan

"Mean Talkin Blues" mp3
by Woody Guthrie, 1945.
available on The Asch Recordings, Vol. 1-4

"Ramblin' Round" mp3
by Woody Guthrie, 1944.
available on The Asch Recordings, Vol. 1-4

"New York Town" mp3
by Woody Guthrie, 1944.
available on The Asch Recordings, Vol. 1-4

"Hard Travelin'" mp3
by Ramblin' Jack Elliott, 1961.
available on Hard Travelin'

"Little Bit of Rain" mp3
by Fred Neil, 1964.
Live at Cafe Au Go Go

"Bleecker & MacDougal" mp3
by Fred Neil, 1965.
available on Bleecker & MacDougal





"Red Are The Flowers" mp3
by Karen Dalton, 1962.
available on Cotton Eyed Joe

"Pastures Of Plenty" mp3
by Karen Dalton, 1962.
available on Cotton Eyed Joe

"Georgie on the IRT" mp3" mp3
by Dave Van Ronk, 1961.
available on The Folkways Years, 1959-1961

"He Was A Friend Of Mine" mp3
by Dave Van Ronk, 1963.
available on Inside Dave Van Ronk

"He Was A Friend Of Mine" mp3
by Bob Dylan, 1961.
available on The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 : Rare And Unreleased, 1961-1991

"Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie" mp3
by Bob Dylan, 1963.
available on The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 : Rare And Unreleased, 1961-1991

top photo: Bob Dylan on my Rooftop, Third Avenue, New York City, 1962. by John Cohen, from There Is No Eye, Powerhouse Books
© 2001.

Bob Dylan, Karen Dalton, and Fred Neil, 1961.
photograph by Fred McDarrah

6 comments:

Marie said...

I'd never heard Dylan's "In the Pines" before. Thanks Ted.

bob said...

that was great. thank you

gankmore said...

One of the best Dylan blog posts I've ever read. Great work. Lovely links. Cheers!

C

Anonymous said...

nicely done thanks

Anonymous said...

As always your comments and tunes are appreciated. I keep coming back because of what you keep adding to "mix." Thanks so much!

Bill in OR

Honest John said...

Ramblin' Jack's "Hard Travelin'," is of particular delight! Thanks BWF. I couldn't possibly comment on all the music I'd heard and loved on this site... Keep up the fantastic work.