Zimmerman Becomes Dylan

Zimmerman Becomes Dylan

May 24, 1941: at 9:05 PM Beatty Zimmerman gave birth to a baby boy at St Mary’s Hospital in Duluth, Minnesota. Abe Zimmerman was the father.

In Hebrew the baby’s name was Shabtai Zisel ben Avraham. His everyday name was Robert Allen Zimmerman.

Zimmerman Becomes Dylan

Early musician

Golden Chords

March 1, 1958: Bob Dylan’s Golden Chords played at the National Guard Armory in Hibbing, MN. It was the first time he was paid to perform on Stage.

Spring 1958: Robert Zimmerman decided that his stage name will be Bob Dylan. While spelled like Dylan Thomas, a poet Robert Zimmerman read and liked,  as with many things in Bob Dylan’s history, the exact origin of the name remains unclear.

Folk hits mainstream

Zimmerman Becomes Dylan

November 17, 1958: the Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley” hit #1 on the Billboard pop chart. While not a protest song, protest folk probably owed its commercial success to the Kingston Trio, three guys in crew cuts and candy-striped shirts who honed their act not in Greenwich Village cafes, but in the fraternities and sororities of Stanford University in the mid-1950s. Without the enormous profits that the Trio’s music generated for Capitol Records, it is unlikely that major-label companies would have given recording contracts to those who would challenge the status quo in the decade to come. Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, for instance, may have owed their musical and political development to forerunners like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, but they probably owed their commercial viability to the Kingston Trio.

Buddy Holly

January 31, 1959: Dylan attended a Buddy Holly concert  in Duluth, MN. Holly was a big favorite of Dylan. He stood right at the stage and was sure that at a point during the concert Holly looked down and made eye contact. That Holly died only two days later made the event even more memorable.

Robert Zimmerman (Bob Dylan) in the 1959 Hibbing High School year book.

June 5, 1959: Dylan graduated from high school. One of his uncles left some records by Leadbelly. Dylan found the music and lyrics more meaningful than the songs he’d been covering and began to learn how to play folk music.

Marijuana

In March – April 1960: while a student at University of Minnesota, Dylan is introduced to  marijuana at parties held at the home of David Whitaker.

Zimmerman Becomes Dylan

To NYC

Mid-December 1960: Dylan left  Minnesota for New York. He will stop at a number of places along the way.

January 24, 1961: Dylan first arrived in New York City. He caught a subway down to Greenwich Village and to the Cafe Wha? in a flurry of snowflakes. It was hootenanny night and the place was half-empty. Dylan asked the owner, Manny Roth, if he could perform — and he did, playing a short set of Woody Guthrie songs. In the following weeks, Dylan would appear occasionally at the coffee-house, playing harmonica (“blowin’ my lungs out for a dollar a day” is how he put it in his early song, Talkin’ New York) behind Mark Spoelstra and Fred Neil, writer of Dolphins and Everybody’s Talkin’.

Woody

January 29, 1961: Dylan visits Woody Guthrie

Gigs

Zimmerman Becomes Dylan

April 11, 1961: Dylan played his first solo live gig in New York City at Gerde’s Folk City, opening for John Lee Hooker.

April 24, 1961: Harry Belafonte recorded “Midnight Special”. Bob Dylan played harmonica on the recording. It was Dylan’s first official recording and he received a $50 session fee.

Zimmerman Becomes Dylan

Suze

July 29, 1961: after seeing him play at a folk music day at the Riverside Church. Suze Rotolos became an enthusiastic fan. The Rotolos family lived above the Cafe Society Downtown, a little theatre in Greenwich Village. She lived with her mother, Mary, a widow, and her sister Carla, Above the Rotolos, on the fourth floor, lived Miki Isaacson, whose living room was a permanent crash pad for folk singers, including Dylan, who was pleased to be staying near Suze. The two soon became an item.

At about the time she met Dylan, Rotolo began working full time as a political activist in the office of the Congress of Racial Equality and the anti-nuclear group SANE. It was not until they met that Dylan’s writing began to address issues such as the civil rights movement and the threat of nuclear war.

Unfortunately the love affair was doomed thanks to Dylan’s many philandering escapades.

Zimmerman Becomes Dylan

Columbia

September 14, 1961: Dylan met John Hammond at a rehearsal session for Carolyn Hester at the apartment shared by Hester and her then-husband, Richard Fariña. Hester had invited Dylan to the session as a harmonica player and Hammond approved him as a session player after hearing him rehearse, with recommendations from his son, musician John P. Hammond, and from Liam Clancy.

September 26, 1961: Dylan started as opening act for the Greenbriar Boys. He stayed two weeks.

NYT praise

September 29, 1961: Robert Shelton of the New York Times reviewed Dylan’s Gerde’s performance. With the headline: A Distinctive Folk-Song Stylist, Shelton wrote, “A bright new face in folk music is appearing at Gerde’s Folk City. Although only 20 years old, Bob Dylan is one of the most distinctive stylists to play in a Manhattan cabaret in months.”

October 25, 1961: Dylan and Columbia Records drew up a contract. It was a 5-year contrct that gave Dylan a small advance against 4% royalties. Columbia would release one album and then decide whether he merited a second.

Zimmerman Becomes Dylan

November 4, 1961: Dylan played a concert at Carnegie Chapter Hall, a smaller room than the famous bigger room. There are varying reports on how many people attended the concert. The number ranges between 47 and 53, pretty much all friends and family.

Zimmerman Becomes Dylan

Recordings

November 20 and 22, 1961: Dylan recorded his first album at Columbia Records.

In mid-December 1961 Dylan moved into his first rented apartment in the middle of West Fourth Street, a tiny, scruffy place above Bruno’s Spaghetti Shop, and persuaded his girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, to move in with him.

In January 1962: Dylan wrote  “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues

March 11, 1962: Dylan played tunes on NYC radio station WBAI-FM. Mentions that he “stole” melody for “Death of Emmett Till” tune from Len Chandler.

Zimmerman Becomes Dylan

March 19, 1962: Dylan (20 years old) released first album: Bob Dylan.

Sold only 5,000 copies in its first year

Side one

  1. “You’re No Good”  Jesse Fuller
  2. “Talkin’ New York”
  3. “In My Time of Dyin'”  arr. Dylan
  4. “Man of Constant Sorrow”  arr. Dylan
  5. “Fixin’ to Die”  Bukka White
  6. “Pretty Peggy-O” arr. Dylan
  7. “Highway 51” Curtis Jones

Side two

  1. “Gospel Plow”  arr. Dylan
  2. “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down”  arr. Eric von Schmidt
  3. “House of the Risin’ Sun”  arr. Dave Van Ronk
  4. “Freight Train Blues”  , Roy Acuff
  5. “Song to Woody”
  6. “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean”  Blind Lemon Jefferson

Zimmerman Becomes Dylan

Blowin’ In the Wind

April 16, 1962: Dylan debuted his song “Blowin’ in the Wind” at Gerde’s Folk City in New York.

April 25, 1962: Dylan recorded ”Let Me Die in My Footsteps” a song  inspired by the construction of fallout shelters.

June 8, 1962: Suze Rotolo left for Europe and, in effect, left Bob Dylan. Often despondent missing her, he will write “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”

July 9, 1962: Dylan recorded “Blowin’ In the Wind” A few weeks earlier when he performed it live he stated, “This here ain’t no protest song or anything like that, ’cause I don’t write no protest songs” while onstage at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village, talking about a song he claims to have written in just 10 minutes.

July 30,1962: “Blowin’ In the Wind” was copyrighted to M Witmark & Sons. Albert Grossman signed a deal the same day with Witmark giving Grossman 50% of of Witmark’s share of the publishing income generated by any songwriter he brought to the company. This agreement gave Grossman an even larger slice of Dylan’s profits in addition to Grossman’s management slice.

August 2, 1962: Robert Zimmerman changed his name to Bob Dylan.

For the next phase of Bob’s early history, see Dylan Becomes Dylan.

Zimmerman Becomes Dylan

Mel Lawrence Woodstock

Mel Lawrence Woodstock

Remembering Mel
May 17, 1935 – November 5, 2016

Mel Lawrence already had a long list of credits to his name before Woodstock Ventures hired him to be its Director of Operation for the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.

Mel Lawrence Woodstock

From the top

After a stint in the Army and attending Long Island University (received a BS in Speech Pathology), he moved to Hawaii. There he eventually got involved in promotion with KPOI, a rock radio statio. He helped produced many concerts until 1967 when he became the promotion director at another rock radio station, KFRC in San Francisco.

He helped create and produce the Magic Mountain Music Festival (in many ways the first rock festival). A week later assisted with the much more famous Monterey Pop Festival.

In a 2014 Rolling Stone article, Mel said of Magic Mountain, “My M.O. was that I was as crazy as any hippie, but I had short hair so I could talk to corporations and cops.”

The attitude he and the others helped promote there, served them well down the road in 1969: “ I think the basic thing was a consideration for the audience and realizing that there were other options than just sitting them down in a seat and watching a show. And you had to care for their welfare because you’re the promoter.”

In 1968, he co-produced the Miami Pop Festival. Michael Lang was slightly involved with that event and said of Lawrence in the RS article, “Mel was very practical and very creative and very well organized. He was just very unflappable, which was essential.”

Mel Lawrence Woodstock

Film

Woodstock was just one, albeit perhaps the most famous, of Lawrence’s many projects. He also became involved in film:

Year Title Credit
1982 Koyaanisqatsi Associate Producer
1987 Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation Producer
1988 Without Borders Associate Producer
1989 Île Aye Line Producer
1994 Paha Sapa – The Struggle for the Black Hills Producer/Director
1995 Biker Women Producer
1996 The Amazon Warrior Producer/Director
1997 Legends of the Bushmen Executive Producer
1997 Soul in the Hole Executive Producer
2002 Naqoyqatsi: Life as War Co-producer
2005 Un Retrato De Diego Producer
2013 The Ambassador of Tequila Producer
2013 Visitors Consulting Producer
Mel Lawrence Woodstock

Television

  • Recovery Network (1997-2000) (Producer, Program Director)
  • Iditarod (Original Productions) (2008) (story producer)
  • Shark U (Original Productions) (2008) (story producer)
  • Deadliest Catch (Original Productions) (2008 – 2010) (story producer)
  • Black Gold (Original Productions)(2011-2012) (story producer)

Mel Lawrence died on November 6, 2016. An obituary from the LA Times read: “Big spirit, huge heart and beautiful soul Mel Lawrence left us to soar with the eagles early Saturday morning, November 5th at his home in Santa Monica. He lived a life full of adventurous travel, creativity, and self exploration. The twinkle in his eye and his passionate connection to life will be missed by all of us who knew and loved him. “

Thank you, Mel.

Mel Lawrence Woodstock

Ustad Alla Rakha

Ustad Alla Rakha

April 29, 1919 – February 3, 2000

Docents on a Bethel Woods Museum tours  are sometimes asked: “Who was the youngest performer?” Country Joe talks about how Santana drummer Michael Shrieve was only 17–but Shrieve had turned 20 in July. The likely answer is Sha Na Na’s Henry Gross who was 18, but if Greg Reeves birthday is actually April 7, 1955 (uncertain), then he is the answer for sure.

No one has ever asked me, “Who was the oldest performer?” That distinction goes to Ustad Alla Rakha. In fact, he many have been the oldest person on site that weekend. As far as I can find, Max Yasgur (also born in 1919) comes in second with his December 15 date.

Ustad Alla Rakha

Indian youth

Ustad Alla Rakha

Alla Rakha was born in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. He was the oldest of seven sons and his father opposed Alla’s desire to learn music.

When he was 12 Alla ran away and studied at the Punjab school of classical music. While he did have many years of training as a vocalist, he never lost his love of the tabla.

As a young adult, he worked for a theatre company and later at a radio station. In 1940 he moved to Mumbai and worked with Pandit Ravi Shankar.

He also began to compose music for some Hindi films.  Alla had five children in his first marriage, two daughters and three sons. His daughter Razia remained close to him throughout his life.

Ustad Alla Rakha

West Influenced

As the Beatles–particularly George Harrison–became interested in Indian philosophy and music, so did thousands of young westerners. Both Ravi Shankar and Alla Hakha had played in the United States before the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, but the fame, film, and soundtrack of their performance there set up many other invitations to play at other non-traditional concert venues. Of course the most famous was Woodstock.

Ustad Alla Rakha

Woodstock

Shankar was disappointed with Woodstock. He eschewed the use of drugs and felt that they got in the way of truly becoming one with music.

He said in a 1999 NPR interview with Terry Gross’s “Fresh Air”: Monterey was something which I liked because it was still new, fresh. And there was some – in spite of the drugs and everything, when these young girls and boys, they showed these two fingers like that, like a V, and said peace and love and offered you a flower, there was some innocence. There was some beauty which touched me so much. But Woodstock was a time which was almost two, three years later. And believe me, by then I thought that this thing is not going to live anymore because it was far gone. Music was just an incidental music to them. They were having fun. It was a fun place, picnic party. They were all stoned. It was raining. It was in mud. And as I said in my book, it reminded me of these water buffaloes we see in India who are, you know, they feel very hot and they sit there, get so – so dirty, but they enjoy it. So I mean that was the thing I felt. But because it was a contractual thing, I couldn’t get out of it. I had to go through it. But I was very unhappy.

Ustad Alla Rakha

Bangladesh Concert

Alla Rakha also played with Shankar at the famous (filmed and recorded) Concert for Bangladesh that Shankar and George Harrison had organized for the relief for the refugees of then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

Ustad Alla Rakha

Teacher

Ustad is an honorific given to a master musician and teacher. From BritannicaAlla Rakha…was also a devoted teacher. In 1985 he founded the Alla Rakha Institute of Music in Bombay, which further helped to elevate and popularize the tabla. Alla Rakha’s three sons—Zakir Hussain, Fazal Qureshi, and Taufiq Qureshi—all became tabla players, Zakir acquiring the most international recognition and Fazal eventually managing and expanding the work of their father’s institute. In honour of his contribution in the field of performing arts, Alla Rakha received two of India’s most prestigious awards: the Padma Shri (1977) and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1982).

Ustad Alla Rakha

Death

On February 3, 2000 a spokesman for Moment Records and Zakir Hussain Management announced that Rakah had a heart attack when he learned of the death of his daughter, Razia, during cataract surgery. [NYT obit]

Chandrashekhar Nair directed this 12-minute documentary on Rakah in 1970.

Ustad Alla Rakha

What's so funny about peace, love, art, and activism?

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