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Something special tonight – one of the many radio programs Bob Dylan performed on early in his career. In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, when FM radio was almost the sole domain of the “audiophile” and the independent station, many programs were devoted to live music – whether it was Jazz or Folk or Classical. And it was a major factor in getting new artists established to an audience not particularly interested in the mainstream, but interested in what was new.
In May 1960, Dylan dropped out of college at the end of his first year. In January 1961, he traveled to New York City to perform there and visit his musical idol Woody Guthrie, who was seriously ill with Huntington’s disease in Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital. Guthrie had been a revelation to Dylan and influenced his early performances. Describing Guthrie’s impact, he wrote: “The songs themselves had the infinite sweep of humanity in them… [He] was the true voice of the American spirit. I said to myself I was going to be Guthrie’s greatest disciple.” As well as visiting Guthrie in hospital, Dylan befriended Guthrie’s protégé Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Much of Guthrie’s repertoire was channeled through Elliott, and Dylan paid tribute to Elliott in Chronicles: Volume One.
From February 1961, Dylan played at clubs around Greenwich Village, befriending and picking up material from folk singers there, including Dave Van Ronk, Fred Neil, Odetta, the New Lost City Ramblers and Irish musicians the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. On April 11, Dylan commenced a two-week engagement at Gerde’s Folk City, supporting John Lee Hooker. New York Times critic Robert Shelton first considered Dylan in a review of Izzy Young’s production for WRVR of a live twelve-hour Hootenanny on July 29, 1961: “Among the newer promising talents deserving mention are a 20-year-old latter-day Guthrie disciple named Bob Dylan, with a curiously arresting mumbling, country-steeped manner.” This was Dylan’s first radio performance. In September, Shelton boosted Dylan’s career with an enthusiastic review of his performance at Gerde’s Folk City. That month, Dylan played harmonica on folk singer Carolyn Hester’s third album. This brought him to the attention of the album’s producer, John Hammond, who signed Dylan to Columbia Records.
Here’s what’s on the player:
Saturday Of Folk Music – July 19th, 1961:
1 Handsome Molly
2 Omie Wise
3 Poor Lazarus
4 Mean Old Railroad
Enjoy and get ready for Monday.