Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

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 Huntingdon’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
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Bob Dylan Talkin New York

Bob Dylan Talkin New York

There is no prep course for our first solo trip to New York City. It can be a pleasurable memory. Often a milestone. Whether we are from a farm, a factory town, or the infamous suburbs, the city’s sights, sounds, and smells congeal and we realize we are someplace like no other.

Bob Dylan Talkin New York

Snowy arrival

On January 24, 1961, Bob Dylan arrived in a snowy New York City. He found his way to Greenwich Village and to a half-filled Cafe Wha?. Hootenanny night.

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 behind Mark Spoelstra and Fred Neil, writer of Dolphins and Everybody’s Talkin’.

By the end of 1961 he would perform his first concert in New York City. And of course by then he had memorialized that first visit like no one had before in Talkin’ New York.

It’s what is known as a talking blues song. Some people used the style because they couldn’t sing; others used it because it had a special impact on the words.

Let’s be kind and say Bob used it mainly for the latter reason.

Happy anniversary, Bob.

Bob Dylan Talkin New York
poster for Dylan’s first NYC concert (from bobsboots.com)

Bob Dylan Talkin New York

Rambling out of the wild west

Leaving the towns I love the best

Thought I’d seen some ups and down

‘Till I come into New York town

People going down to the ground

Building’s going up to the sky

Wintertime in New York town the wind blowing snow around

Walk around with nowhere to go

Somebody could freeze right to the bone

I froze right to the bone, New York Times said

“It was the coldest winter in seventeen years”

I didn’t feel so cold then

I swung on to my old guitar

Grabbed hold of a subway car

And after a rocking, reeling, rolling ride

I landed up on the downtown side Greenwich Village

I walked down there and ended up

In one of them coffee-houses on the block

Got on the stage to sing and play

Man there said, Come back some other day

You sound like a hillbilly We want folksingers here

Well, I got a harmonica job begun to play

Blowing my lungs out for a dollar a day

I blowed inside out and upside down

The man there said, He loved my sound

He was raving about he loved my sound

Dollar a day’s worth

After weeks and weeks of hanging around

I finally got a job in New York town

In a bigger place, bigger money too

Even joined the Union and paid my dues

Now, a very great man once said T

hat some people rob you with a fountain pen

It don’t take too long to find out

Just what he was talking about

A lot of people don’t have much food on their table

But they got a lot of forks and knives

And they gotta cut something

So one morning when the sun was warm

I rambled out of New York town

Pulled my cap down over my eyes

And headed out for the western skies

So long New York Howdy, East Orange

Bob Dylan Talkin New York
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Bob Dylan John Wesley Harding

Bob Dylan John Wesley Harding

Recorded between October 17 and November 29, 1967, Bob Dylan released his John Wesley Harding album less than a month later on December 27, 1967.

Bob Dylan John Wesley Harding

The cover photograph shows Dylan flanked by brothers Luxman and Purna Das, two Bengali Bauls, South Asian musicians brought to Woodstock by Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman. Behind Dylan is Charlie Joy, a local stonemason and carpenter.

I’ll be your baby tonight
Bob Dylan John Wesley Harding


A long-recurring rumor is that images of various members of the Beatles are hidden on the front cover, in the knots of the tree. This was verified by Rolling Stone with photographer John Berg prior to the album’s release.

John Wesley Harding
Difficult to see, but the faces are there.
Bob Dylan John Wesley Harding

Low Key

Dylan wanted a low key approach to the album’s release. Dylan reputedly said to Columbia Records Clive Davis, “I asked Columbia to release it with no publicity and no hype, because this was the season of hype,” Davis wanted Dylan to at least use one of the songs as a single, but Dylan refused that.

It had been the Summer of Love with Monterey Pop Festival. The arrival of Janis and Jimi. Psychedelic music would find a huge niche in the emerging so-called “underground” FM rock stations.

The Beatles had Sgt. Pepper, the Stones Satanic Majesty, and Airplane Bathing at Baxters.

And here came Dylan, again choosing his own way, leaving the basement in Saugerties, NY and travelling to Nashville, the capital of country music, to record.

Bob Dylan John Wesley Harding


Less than two years later, Dylan’s appearance at Woodstock was a sure-thing rumor. Of course, he had already booked an appearance at the Isle of Wight and never intended on being in Bethel, but his lead was often followed and his country sound allowed many young listeners to give that sound a chance.

Bob Dylan John Wesley Harding

Rolling Stone review

The famed Ralph Gleason wrote in his Rolling Stone magazine review:

We can all relax now. Bob Dylan isn’t dead. He is all right. He is well and he’s not a basket case hidden from our view forever, the lovely words and the haunting sounds gone as a result of some ghastly effect of his accident.

And his head is in the right place, which, is after all, the best news of all.

The new Bob Dylan album is out and on our turntables and coming at us over the airwaves (though not enough of it is coming at us over the airwaves, God knows) and it is a warm, loving collection of myths, prophecies, allegories, love songs and good times.

Bob Dylan John Wesley Harding
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