Dylan Visits Woody Guthrie

Dylan Visits Woody Guthrie

Dylan Visits Woody Guthrie

In the land of opportunity, young Americans look for a model. A parent, a sibling, a cousin, or a best friend may serve, but one’s world often pivots on an unanticipated choice.

Bob Dylan borrowed a friend’s copy of Woody Guthrie’s autobiographical Bound for Glory.  In it Dylan found inspiration in the portrait Guthrie painted of himself in the book. Guthrie and folk music became a star to follow.

Later, Dylan would say, “The thing about rock’n’roll is that for me anyway it wasn’t enough… There were great catch-phrases and driving pulse rhythms… but the songs weren’t serious or didn’t reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings.”  (from liner notes by Cameron Crowe to Dylan’s Biograph 5-record set)

Dylan Visits Woody Guthrie

29 January 1961

Bob Dylan visits Woody Guthrie
Woody Guthrie in hospital with Huntington’s disease with wife Majorie and son Arlo

Dylan had arrived in New York City on January 24, 1961 (see Talkin’ New York) and on January 29 met Guthrie. Guthrie was in his fourth year at the Greystone Park Psychiatric hospital in New Jersey, suffering from Huntington’s disease, which finally led to his death in 1967. Guthrie apparently gave Dylan a card after their first meeting saying: “I ain’t dead yet.”

Dylan had written a song simply called “Song to Woody.”

Dylan Visits Woody Guthrie

Song to Woody

I’m out here a thousand miles from my home
   Walkin’ a road other men have gone down
   I’m seein’ your world of people and things
   Your paupers and peasants and princes and kings
Hey, hey, Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song
  ’Bout a funny ol’ world that’s a-comin’ along
  Seems sick an’ it’s hungry, it’s tired an’ it’s torn
  It looks like it’s a-dyin’ an’ it’s hardly been born
Hey, Woody Guthrie, but I know that you know
  All the things that I’m a-sayin’ an’ a-many times more
  I’m a-singin’ you the song, but I can’t sing enough
  ’Cause there’s not many men that done the things that you’ve done
Here’s to Cisco an’ Sonny an’ Leadbelly too
  An’ to all the good people that traveled with you
  Here’s to the hearts and the hands of the men
  That come with the dust and are gone with the wind
I’m a-leavin’ tomorrow, but I could leave today
   Somewhere down the road someday
   The very last thing that I’d want to do
   Is to say I’ve been hittin’ some hard travelin’ too
(Complete lyrics Song to Woody)
Dylan Visits Woody Guthrie

Town Hall

Dylan Visits Woody Guthrie

On  April 12 1963, Bob Dylan played the Town Hall in New York City. To close the performance, he recited  another Guthrie-related piece he’d written called “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie.”  It’s a long poem so I won’t put the lyrics right here, but will provide the link below the video if you would like to listen and follow along. Listening to Dylan recite reminds me of the Beat style of poetry, but that’s another blog for another day.

“If you can roll along with this here…”

Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie lyrics

Dylan Visits Woody Guthrie

Guthrie dies

Woody Guthrie died on October 3, 1967 while at Creedmoor State Hospital in Queens, New York. His ashes were sprinkled into the waters off of Coney Island’s shore.

A month later, on Thanksgiving 1967, Woody’s son Arlo Guthrie released his first commercial recording of “Alice’s Restaurant.

Dylan Visits Woody Guthrie

Elektra Records Jac Holzman

Elektra Records Jac Holzman

Born September 15, 1931
Elektra Records Jac Holzman
Jac in younger days.

Follow the Music

Stefano Santucci, a childhood conker buddy and fellow vinyl collector, recommended that I read Follow the Music: The Life and High Times of Electra Records In The Great Years of American Pop Culture by Jac Holzman and Gavan Daws.

He said that it was “…the cat’s pajamas. Highly recommend how this guy Jac Holzman discovered and produced some of the most amazing bands and songwriters, but also found their proper producer and engineers to get their best stuff out…not only the proper sound, but also   elected the album art and logos.”

Among Boomers, a common complaint regarding today’s recordings is the size of liner notes while holding a CD or, worse, no liner notes with a download.

Album covers we could read, but today’s font sizes (did anyone even know what the word “font” meant in the 60s?) (if one actually purchases a “hard” copy of a recording and not simply downloads it) are lilliputian.

Electra Records Jac Holzman

Elektra Records Jac Holzman

Jac Holzman

When I did read those covers, I always saw the name Jac Holzman on the back of my Elektra Records and gradually realized that Elektra Records was a company that could be depended upon to produce great music.

Holzman founded Elektra Records on October 10 1950 out of his St John’s College (Maryland) dorm room. (Sounds like Crawdaddy! founder Paul Williams, eh?)

Holzman had $300 bar mitzvah money, but needed $300 more.College friend and Navy vet Paul Rickholt put in his veterans bonus. To make the Elektra logo, Holzman turned two Ms on their side for the Es and used a K instead of a C. Voila.

Elektra Records Jac Holzman

Holzman was before Sam Phillips’s Memphis Studio.

Before Elvis.

Before Rocket 88. 

Before the Beatles were teenagers.

Elektra’s first album was an album of German art poems set to music by John Gruen and sung by Georgiana Bannister. Holzman left St John’s College and stepped into Greenwich Village’s nascent folk scene. He recorded Josh White (folk blues), Jean Ritchie (Appalachian folk) and Theodore Bikel (Israeli folk).

He recorded Judy Collins and Tom Paxton.

Record companies need income and Jac Holzman was creative. He could support the fledgling folk artist because he also released a series of albums aimed at branches of the military and various other groups’ interests and hobbies.

Elektra Records Jac Holzman

Sound effects

According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame site: Another of Holzman’s inspirations was a series of sound effects records. The first volume was released in 1960. Numbering 13 in total, they sold well and were extremely popular with the movie industry and radio programmers. Never had such a gallery of sounds and noises, including a definitive car crash, been so painstakingly recorded. Moreover, they were highly profitable because there were no performers’ royalties involved.

Another way he subsidized his Elektra label was by creating Nonesuch records in 1963. He made classical music available by licensing titles from overseas labels and marketing the records at a lower price than American labels selling the same titles.

As the music of the 60’s evolved, so did Elektra. Acoustic folk continued to be part of the label, but electricity too.

Elektra Records Jac Holzman

The Incredible String Band. David Ackles,  Carly Simon. Harry Chapin. Bread. Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Love. The Doors. Clear Light. The MC5. The Stooges. Queen.

Elektra Records Jac Holzman

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

John Densmore spoke at Jac Holzman’s March 14, 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Densmore said, “Without Jac Holzman, Jim Morrison’s lyrics would not be on the tip of the world’s tongue.”

Elektra Records Jac Holzman

Music continues to benefit from Holzman. Nowadays he is now Senior Technology Adviser to Warner Music Group as “a wide-ranging technology ‘scout’, exploring new digital developments and identifying possible partners.”

References: Rock and roll Hall of Fame bio >>> R & R H o F Derek Sivers site >>> Sivers

Elektra Records Jac Holzman

Jac Holzman Nonesuch Records

Jac Holzman Nonesuch Records

Jac Holzman Nonesuch Records
cover of Morton Subotnick’s Silver Apples of the Moon

I have already done piece on Jac Holzman, the founder of Elektra Records.

In it, I briefly referred to the part the Nonesuch label played in relation to Holzman’s Elektra label.

In today’s post I will concentrate on Nonesuch Records.

Paquito D’Rivera recorded this piece with his group for the album Funk-Tango on 2006, featuring Fernando Otero on piano. The album won the Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Also David Harrington, from the Kronos Quartet , showed interest for this piece.Fernando wrote the String Quartet named *The Cherry Tree* for Kronos, which was premiere at Carnegie Hall on February 22nd, 2008.

Jac Holzman Nonesuch Records

Paperback records

The quick history of Nonesuch is that Holzman founded the label n 1964  to produce “fine records at the same price as a trade paperback” (Holzman in Gavan Daws’s Follow the Music (1998).

At first the label concentrated on chamber and baroque music. In 1970, Holzman sold Elektra and Nonesuch to Kinney National Company, which became Warner Communications and later part of Time Warner’s Warner Music Group.

Teresa Sterne was the director of Nonesuch from 1965 – 1979 and expanded the labels musical horizons. According to a NYT article, “…she brought attention to areas of music neglected by the major labels, particularly contemporary music and American vernacular music. She championed American composers like George Crumb, Elliott Carter, Morton Subotnick, Charles Wuorinen and Donald Martino, not just recording their works but commissioning them, an unusual move for the leader of a record company. She also issued important recordings of lesser-known works by Schoenberg, Busoni, Stravinsky and other major figures. 

Jac Holzman Nonesuch Records

Warner Bros actions

When Warner terminated Stern’s contract in 1979, twenty-two artists signed a letter sent to the New York Times expressing their sadness of her forced departure and also stated that they felt she had “had the courage and foresight to build a catelogue of unparalleled interest, importance and beauty.” 

Jac’s brother Keith Holzman operated the label from Los Angeles until 1984 when Bob Hurwitz became the Nonesuch President. In 2014, the Well-Tempered Ear blog interviewed Bob Hurwitz, the president of Nonesuch Records. and David Bither, its senior Vice-President. 

Within the first two years under Hurwitz’s leadership, Nonesuch released albums by such “new music” pioneers as Steve Reich (The Desert Music, 1985), John Adams (Harmonielehre, 1986), Philip Glass (Mishima, 1985), John Zorn (The Big Gundown, 1985), and Kronos Quartet (Kronos Quartet, 1986).

For a great introduction to the broad range of Nonesuch music today, see their radio station at its site.

Jac Holzman Nonesuch Records