Fifty-three years ago, on March 11, 1962, Cynthia Gooding’s Folksinger’s Choice radio show featuring Bob Dylan aired on WBAI in New York.
This was Dylan’s first radio interview. His debut album, Bob Dylan, recorded in November 1961, would not be released for another week.
If you haven’t yet heard these performances, now is the time! And if you have, another listen is in order.
I’ve included a transcript of the show below the YouTube clips.
1 “(I heard That) Lonesome Whistle Blow” (after the song ends if you go to about the seven minute point you can hear some of the interview):
2 “Fixin’ To Die”:
3 “Smokestack Lightning”:
4 “Hard Travellin'”:
5 “The Death Of Emmett Till”:
6 “Standing On The Highway”:
7 “Roll On, John”:
9 “It Makes A Long Time Man Feel Bad”:
10 “Baby Please Don’t Go”:
11 “Hard Times In New York”:
Here’s a transcript of the show:
CG: That was Bob Dylan. Just one man doing all that. Playing the … er … mouth harp and guitar because, well, when you do this you have to wear a little sort of, what another person might call a necklace.
BD: Yeah !
CG: And then it’s got joints so that you can bring the mouth harp up to where you can reach it. To play it. Bob Dylan is, well, you must be twenty years old now aren’t you?
BD: Yeah. I must be twenty. (laughs)
CG: (laughs) Are you?
BD: Yeah. I’m twenty, I’m twenty.
CG: When I first heard Bob Dylan it was, I think, about three years ago in Minneapolis, and at that time you were thinking of being a rock and roll singer weren’t you?
BD: Well at that time I was just sort of doin’ nothin’. I was there.
CG: Well, you were studying.
BD: I was working, I guess. l was making pretend I was going to school out there. I’d just come there from south Dakota. That was about three years ago?
BD: Yeah, I’d come there from Sioux Falls. That was only about the place you didn’t have to go too far to find the Mississippi River. It runs right through the town you know. (laughs).
CG: You’ve been singing … you’ve sung now at Gerdes here in town and have you sung at any of the coffee houses?
BD: Yeah, I’ve sung at the Gaslight. That was a long time ago though. I used to play down in the Wha too. You ever know where that place is?
CG: Yeah, I didn’t know you sung there though.
BD: Yeah, I sung down there during the afternoons. I played my harmonica for this guy there who was singing. He used to give me a dollar to play every day with him, from 2 o’clock in the afternoon until 8.30 at night. He gave me a dollar plus a cheese burger.
CG: Wow, a thin one or a thick one?
BD: I couldn’t much tell in those days.
CG: Well, whatever got you off rock ‘n roll and on to folk music?
BD: Well, I never really got onto this, they were just sort of, I dunno, I wasn’t calling it anything then you know, I wasn’t really singing rock ‘n roll, I was singing Muddy Waters songs and I was writing songs, and I was singing Woody Guthrie songs and also I sung Hank Williams songs and Johnny Cash, I think.
CG: Yeah, I think the ones that I heard were a couple of the Johnny Cash songs.
BD: Yeah, this one I just sang for you is Hank Williams.
CG: It’s a nice song too.
BD: Lonesome Whistle.
CG: And you’ve been writing songs as long as you’ve been singing.
BD: Well no, Yeah. Actually, I guess you could say that. Are these, ah, these are French ones, yeah?
CG: No, they are healthy cigarettes. They’re healthy because they’ve got a long filter and no tobacco.
BD: That’s the kind I need.
CG: And now you’re doing a record for Columbia?
BD: Yeah, I made it already. It’s coming out next month. Or not next month, yeah, it’s coming out in March.
CG: And what’s it going to be called?
BD: Ah, Bob Dylan, I think.
CG: That’s a novel title for a record.
BD: Yeah, it’s really strange.
CG: Yeah and hmm this is one of the quickest rises in folk music wouldn’t you say?
BD: Yeah, but I really don’t think to myself as, a you know, a folk singer, er folk singer thing, er, because I don’t really much play across the country, in any of these places, you know? I’m not on a circuit or anything like that like those other folk singers so ah, I play once in a while you know. But I dunno’ I like more than just folk music too and I sing more than just folk music. I mean as such, a lot of people they’re just folk music, folk music, folk music you know. I like folk music like Hobart Smith stuff an all that but I don’t sing much of that and when I do it’s probably a modified version of something. Not a modified version, I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just there’s more to it, I think. Old time jazz things you know. Jelly Roll Morton, you know, stuff like that.
CG: Well, what I would like is for you to sing some songs, you know, from different parts of your short history. Short because you’re only 20 now.
BD: Yeah, OK. Let’s see. I’m looking for one.
CG: He has the, I gather, a small part of his repertoire, pasted to his guitar.
BD: Yeah. Well, this is you know actually, I don’t even know some of these songs, this list I put on ‘cos other people got it on, you know, and I copied the best songs I could find down here from all these guitar players list. So I don’t know a lot of these, you know. It gives me something to do though on stage.
CG: Yeah, like something to look at.
BD: Yeah. I’ll sing you, oh, you wanna hear a blues song?
BD: This one’s called Fixin’ To Die.
Track 2: Fixin’ To Die
CG: That’s a great song. How much of it is yours?
BD: That’s ah, I don’t know. I can’t remember. My hands are cold; it’s a pretty cold studio.
CG: It s the coldest studio !
BD: Usually can do this (picking a few notes). There, I just wanted to do it once.
CG: You’re a very good friend of John Lee Hookers, aren’t you?
BD: Yeah, I’m a friend of his.
CG: Do you sing any of his songs at all?
BD: Well, no I don’t sing any of his really. I sing one of Howlin’ Wolfs. You wanna hear that one again?
CG: Well, first I wanna ask you, um, why you don’t sing any of his because I know you like them.
BD: I play harmonica with him, and I sing with him. But I don’t do, sing, any of his songs because, I might sing a version of one of them, but I don’t sing any like he does, ‘cos I don’t think anybody sings any of his songs to tell you the truth. He’s a funny guy to sing like.
CG: Hard guy to sing like too.
BD: This is, I’ll see if I can find a key here and do this one. I heard this one a long time ago. This is one, I never do it.
CG: This is the Howlin’ Wolf song
Track 3: Smokestack Lightning
BD: You like that?
CG: Yeah, I sure do. You’re very brave to try and sing that kind of a howling song.
BD: Yeah, it’s Howlin’ Wolf.
CG: Yeah. Another of the singers that you’re a very good friend of is, I know, Woody Guthrie.
CG: Did you, you said er singing his songs, or rather his songs were some of the first ones that you sang.
CG: Which ones did you sing of his?
BD: Well, I sing…
CG: Or which do you like the best perhaps I should say.
BD: Well, which ones you’re gonna hear. Here, I’ll sing you one, if I get it together here.
CG: In order for Bob to put on his necklace which is what he holds up the mouth harp with, he’s gotta take his hat off. Then he puts on the necklace. Then he puts the hat back on.
CG: Then he screws up the necklace so he can put the mouth harp in it. It’s a complicated business.
BD: You know, the necklace gotta go round the collar.
CG: Also, in case any of you don’t know, in order for Bob to decide what key he’s gonna sing in, he gotta, well, first, he decides what key he s gonna sing in and then he’s gotta find the mouth harp that’s in that key. And, then he’s gotta put the mouth harp in the necklace.
BD: Yeah. I’ll sing you Hard Travellin’. How’s that one? Everybody sings it, but he likes that one.
Track 4: Hard Travellin’
CG: Nice, you started off slow but boy you ended up.
BD: Yeah, that’s a thing of mine there.
CG: Tell me about the songs that you’ve sung, that you’ve written yourself that you sing.
BD: Oh those are … I don’t claim to call them folk songs or anything. I just call them contemporary songs, I guess. You know, there’s a lot of people paint, you know. If they’ve got something that they wanna say, you know, they paint. Or other people write. Well, I just, you know write a song it’s the same thing . You wanna hear one?
CG: Why, yes. That’s just what I had in mind Bob Dylan. Whatever made you think of that.
BD: Well, let me see. What kind do you wanna hear? I got a new one I wrote.
CG: Yeah. you said you were gonna play some of your new ones for me.
BD: Yeah, I got a new one, er. This one’s called, em, Emmett Till. Oh, by the way, the melody here is, excuse me, the melody’s, I stole the melody from Len Chandler. An’ he’s a funny guy. He’s a, he’s a folk singer guy. He uses a lot of funny chords you know when he plays and he’s always getting to, want me, to use some of these chords, you know, trying to teach me new chords all the time. Well, he played me this one. Said don’t those chords sound nice? An’ I said they sure do, an so I stole it, stole the whole thing.
CG: That was his first mistake.
BD: Yeah … Naughty tips.
Track 5: Emmett Till
BD: You like that one?
CG: It’s one of the greatest contemporary ballads I’ve ever heard. It s tremendous.
BD: You think so?
CG: Oh yes !
BD: Thanks !
CG: It’s got some lines that are just make you stop breathing, great. Have you sung that for Woody Guthrie?
BD: No. I’m gonna sing that for him next time.
CG: Gonna sing that one for him?
CG: Oh Yeah.
BD: I just wrote that one about last week, I think.
CG: Pine song. It makes me very proud. It’s uh, what’s so magnificent about it to me, is that it doesn’t have any sense of being written, you know. It sounds as if it just came out of …. it doesn’t have any of those little poetic contortions that mess up so many contemporary ballads, you know.
BD: Oh yeah, I try to keep it working.
CG: Yeah, and you sing it so straight. That’s fine.
BD: Just wait til’ Len Chandler hears the melody though.
CG: He’ll probably be very pleased with what you did to it. What song does he sing to it?
BD: He sings another one he wrote, you know. About some bus driver out in Colorado, that crashed a school bus with 27 kids. That’s a good one too. It’s a good song.
CG: What other songs are you gonna sing?
BD: You wanna hear another one?
CG: I wanna hear tons more.
BD: OK, I’ll sing ya, I never get a chance to sing a lot of, let me sing you just a plain ordinary one.
BD: I’ll tune this one. It’s open E. Oh ! I got one, I got two of ’em. I broke my fingernail so it might not be so, it might slip a few times.
Track 6: Standing On The Highway
BD: You like that?
CG: Yes I do. You know the eight of diamonds is delay, and the ace of spades is death so that sort of goes in with the two roads, doesn’t it?
BD: I learned that from the carnival.
CG: From who?
BD: Carnival, I used to travel with the carnival. I used to speak of those things all the time.
CG: Oh. You can read cards too?
BD: Humm, I can’t read cards. I really believe in palm reading, but for a bunch of personal things, I don’t, personal experiences, I don’t believe too much in the cards. I like to think I don’t believe too much in the cards, anyhow.
CG: So you go out of your way not to get em read, so you won’t believe them. How long were you with the carnival?
BD: I was with the carnival off and on for about six years.
CG: What were you doing?
BD: Oh, just about everything. Uh, I was clean-up boy, I used to be on the main line, on the ferris wheel, uh, do just run rides. I used to do all kinds of stuff like that.
CG: Didn’t that interfere with your schooling?
BD: Well, I skipped a bunch of things, and I didn’t go to school a bunch of years and I skipped this and I skipped that.
CG: That’s what I figured.
BD: All came out even though.
CG: What, you were gonna … you were gonna, sing another blues, you said.
BD: Oh yeah, I’ll sing you this one. This is a nice slow one. I learned this … you know Ralph Rensler?
BD: I learned this sort of thing from him. A version of this, I got the idea from him. This isn’t the blues, but, how much time we got?
CG: Oh, we got half an hour.
BD: Oh, good.
Track 7: Roll On John
CG: That’s a lonesome accompaniment too. Oh my !
BD: You like that one?
CG: It makes you feel even lonelier. How much of that last one was yours by the way?
BD: Well, I dunno, maybe one or two verses.
CG: Where’d the rest of it come from?
BD: Well, like I say, I got the idea for Roll On John from Ralph Rensler.
CG: Oh! I see.
BD: And then I got … the rest just sort of fell together. Here’s one, I’ll bet you’ll remember. Yay, I bet you’ll know this one.
CG: Take the hat off, put on the necklace, put the hat back on. Nobody’s ever seen Bob Dylan without his hat excepting when he’s putting on his necklace. Is there … is there a more dignified name for that thing?
BD: What, the, this?
CG: Yeah the brace, what’s it called?
BD: Er, harmonica holder.
CG: Oh, I think necklace is better than that.
BD: Yeah, ha ha. This one here’s an old jug band song.
Track 8: Stealin’
BD: Like that? That’s called Stealin’.
CG: I figured. You haven’t been playing the harrnonica too long, have you?
BD: Oh yeah, oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I been playing the harmonica for a long time. I just have never had … couldn’t play ’em at the same time. I used to play the smaller Hohners. I never knew harmonica holders existed, the real kind like this. I used to go ahead and play with the coat hanger. That never really held out so good. I used to put tape around it, you know, and then it would hold out pretty good. But then there were smaller harmonicas than these, you know, they’re about this far an’ I used to put them in my mouth. But I, but I got bad teeth, you know, and some kind of thing back there you know. Maybe there’s … I don’t know what it was, a filling or something. I don’t know what it was in there but it used to magnify.
CG: Oh yes.
BD: Not magnified but magnet, you know. Man, this whole harmonica would go, you know, wham, drop from my mouth like that. So I couldn’t hold it onto my teeth very much.
CG: Yeah, it’s like, sometimes you get a piece of tin foil in your mouth and it goes wow. It’s terrible. But let’s not talk about that.
BD: No, I don’t want to talk about that either.
CG: At the carnival did you learn songs?
BD: No, I learned how to sing though. That’s more important.
CG: Yeah. You made up the songs even then.
BD: Er, actually, I wrote a song once. I’m trying to find, a real good song I wrote. An’ it’s about this lady I knew in the carnival. An’ er, they had a side show, I only, I was, this was, Thomas show, Roy B Thomas shows, and there was, they had a freak show in it, you know, and all the midgets and all that kind of stuff. An’ there was one lady in there really bad shape. Like her skin had been all burned when she was a little baby, you know, and it didn’t grow right, and so she was like a freak. An’ all these people would pay money, you know, to come and see and … er … that really sort of got to me, you know. They’d come and see, and I mean, she was very, she didn’t really look like normal, she had this funny kind of skin and they passed her of as the elephant lady. And, er, like she was just burned completely since she was a little baby, er.
And … er, it’s a funny thing about them: I know how these people think, you know. Like when they wanna sell you stuff, you know, the spectators. And I don’t see why people don’t buy something, because, you know, like they sell little cards of themselves for, you know, like ten cents, you know. They got a picture on it and it’s got some story, you know. And they’ve very funny thinking, like they get up there like, a lot of them are very smart, you know, because they’ve had to do this, I mean, still you can’t. A lot of them are great people, you know. But like, they got a funny thing in their minds. Like they want to. Here they are on the stage, they wanna make you have two thoughts. Like, they wanna make you think that, er, they don’t feel, er, bad about themselves. They want you to think that they just go on living everyday and they don’t ever think about their, what’s bothering them, they don’t ever think about their condition. An’ also they wanna make you feel sorry for them, an’ they gotta do that two ways you see And er … they do it, a lot of them do it. And … er, it’s er. I had a good friend, this woman who was like that, and I wrote a song for her, you know, a long time ago. An’ lost it some place. It’s just about, just speakin’ from first person, like here I am, you know, and sort a like, talkin’ to you, and trying, an’ it was called, “Won’t You Buy A Postcard”. That’s the name of the song I wrote. Can’t remember that one though.
CG: There’s a lot of circus literature about how freaks don’t mind being freaks but it’s very hard to believe.
BD: Oh yeah.
CG: You’re absolutely right, that they would have to look at it two ways at the same time. Did you manage to get both ways into the song?
BD: Yeah. I lost the song.
CG: I hope you fond it and when you find it sing it for me.
BD: I got a verse here of some… You know Ian and Silvia?
CG: Oh sure. Ian and Silvia are at the Bitter End Club.
BD: I sort of borrowed this from them.
CG: He’s looking for a harmonica.
BD: I don’t have to take the necklace off; necklace as you call it. You might have heard them do it. This is the same song. I used to do this one.
Track 9: Makes A Long Time Man Feel Bad
BD: Got sort of… You like that one?
CG: Boy it, when you…
BD: That’s got them funny chords in it.
CG: …really get going there’s a tremendous sort of push that you give things that’s wild.
BD: Oh, you really think so?
CG: No, I was just talking.
BD: I’ll take off my necklace.
CG: Without taking off your hat.
CG: Well, then the thing is you see that …
BD: I’m getting good at this.
CG: Yah. After he takes off the necklace or puts it on he’s gotta fluff up the hat again every time.
BD: Yeah. I got it cleaned and blocked last week.
CG: What did you wear on your head? (laughing)
BD: Stetson. You seen me wear that Stetson.
CG: Oh yeah, you were wearing somebody’s Stetson.
BD: It was mine. I got that for a present.
CG: So why don’t you wear it? ‘Cause you like this one better?
BD: I like this one better. It’s been with me longer.
CG: What happens when you take it off for any length of time? You go to sleep?
CG: I see.
BD: Or else I’m in the bathroom or somethin’. Well actually just when I go to sleep. I wanted to sing Baby Please Don ‘t Go because I’ve wanted to hear how that sounded.
Track 10; Baby Please Don’t Go
CG: That’s a nice song too. You said that you’ve written several new songs lately.
CG: You’ve only sung one of them. You realise that? I know I’m working you very hard for this hour of the morning, but there it is.
BD: Yeah, this really isn’t a new one but this is one of the ones. You’ll like it. I wrote this one before I got this Columbia Records thing. Just about when I got it, you know. I like New York, but this is a song from one person’s angle.
Track 11: Hard Times In New York Town
CG: That’s a very nice song, Bob Dylan. You’ve been listening to Bob Dylan playing some, playing and singing some of his songs and some of the songs that he’s learned from other people. And thank you very, very much for coming down here and working so hard.
BD: It’s my pleasure to come down.
CG: When you’re rich and famous are you gonna wear the hat too?
BD: Oh, I’m never gonna become rich and famous.
CG: And you’re never gonna take off the hat either.
CG: And this has been Folksingers Choice and I’m Cynthia Gooding. I’ll be here next week at the same time.
Transcript via Expecting Rain. Thanks!!!
-– A Days of the Crazy-Wild blog post: sounds, visuals and/or news –-
[I published my novel, True Love Scars, in August of 2014.” Rolling Stone has a great review of my book. Read it here. And Doom & Gloom From The Tomb ran this review which I dig. There’s info about True Love Scars here.]