They say that Americans over age 60 remember where they were when they heard of President Kennedy’s assassination. I surely do.
But I also remember where I was when I heard Bob Dylan for the first time, about 18 months before Kennedy died. I was in my rented room close to UCLA, which I attended for one semester. I was listening to the Les Claypool show. I tape recorded all but the first of the Dylan selections that he played that night. As soon as I heard the first one, I turned on the recorder. I rarely did that.
I had been listening to Claypool for about three years. He played only folk music on his weekly show. No one else in southern California had a 100% folk music show. It was there, in 1960, that I heard Joan Baez’s first solo album on Vanguard. I had never heard a voice like hers. I thought it was like etched crystal. (I should have told her that a year later when I attended a post-concert gathering at her father’s home. I had been invited by a girl I dated who was a family friend of the Baez’s. I don’t recall what I said to Ms. Baez, but it was surely not profound. My muse was on vacation that evening.)
Dylan’s voice was not like etched crystal. Mitch Jayne, the patter master of the Dillards, described it in a 1964 album: “He has a voice very much like a dog with its leg caught in barbed wire.” When I heard the tracks that Claypool played in the spring of 1962, I thought to myself: “I hope that old man lives long enough to record another album.” I had no idea that he was 20 years old when he recorded it.
In 1963, Dylan and Baez sang together at the Newport Folk Festival — the finest voice and the worst voice in folk music. They soon became a couple. He wrote ’em; she sang ’em. Her career faded a bit after 1964; his soared.
Jayne prefaced his assessment of Dylan’s voice with this: “I don’t know how many of you know who Bobby Dylan is, but he’s probably done more for folk music, or had more influence, than anybody.” Yet Dylan’s first album had been released only two years before, in March 1962. Jayne was correct: Dylan’s influence in 1964 came from the songs he wrote. It had happened in just two years.
His direct influence on pop culture came with “Like a Rolling Stone” in 1965. He hit like a bombshell. But he was a rocker by then.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)