ON THIS DATE (50 YEARS AGO)
MARCH 19, 1962 – Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan is released
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 4/5
# Allmusic 4/5
Bob Dylan is the debut album by Bob Dylan, released on this date in March 1962 on Columbia Records. It features folk standards, plus two original compositions, and was produced by Columbia’s legendary talent scout John H. Hammond, who signed Dylan to the label.
Dylan met John Hammond at a rehearsal session for Carolyn Hester on September 14, 1961, 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 Hammond Jr., and from Liam Clancy.
Hammond later told Robert Shelton that he decided to sign Dylan “on the spot,” and invited him to the Columbia offices for a more formal audition recording. No record of that recording has turned up in Columbia’s files, but Hammond, Dylan, and Columbia’s A&R director Mitch Miller have all confirmed that an audition took place. (Producer Fred Catero, then a recording engineer for Columbia Records, claims to have the master of that session. It is not the original demo for Columbia, but a session from December 6, 1962, recorded by John Hammond, Sr..)
On September 26, Dylan began a two-week run at Gerde’s Folk City, second on the bill to The Greenbriar Boys. On September 29, an exceptionally favorable review of Dylan’s performance appeared in the New York Times. The same day, Dylan played harmonica at Hester’s recording session at Columbia’s Manhattan studios. After the session, Hammond brought Dylan to his offices and presented him with Columbia’s standard five-year contract for previously unrecorded artists. Dylan signed immediately.
That night at Gerdes, Dylan told Shelton about Hammond’s offer, but asked him to “keep it quiet” until the contract’s final approval had worked its way through the Columbia hierarchy. The label’s official approvals came quickly.
Studio time was scheduled for late November, and during the weeks leading up to those sessions, Dylan began searching for new material even though he was already familiar with a number of songs. According to Dylan’s friend Carla Rotolo, “He spent most of his time listening to my records, days and nights. He studied the Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music, the singing of Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd, Rabbit Brown’s guitar, Guthrie, of course, and blues…his record was in the planning stages. We were all concerned about what songs Dylan was going to do. I remember clearly talking about it.”
The album was ultimately recorded in three short afternoon sessions on November 20 and 22. Hammond later joked that Columbia spent “about $402” to record it, and the figure has entered the Dylan legend as its actual cost. Despite the low cost and short amount of time, Dylan was still difficult to record, according to Hammond. “Bobby popped every p, hissed every s, and habitually wandered off mike,” recalls Hammond. “Even more frustrating, he refused to learn from his mistakes. It occurred to me at the time that I’d never worked with anyone so undisciplined before.”
Seventeen songs were recorded, and five of the album’s chosen tracks were actually cut in single takes (“Baby Let Me Follow You Down,” “In My Time of Dyin’,” “Gospel Plow,” “Highway 51 Blues,” and “Freight Train Blues”) while the master take of “Song for Woody” was recorded after one false start. The album’s four outtakes were also cut in single takes. During the sessions, Dylan refused requests to do second takes. “I said no. I can’t see myself singing the same song twice in a row. That’s terrible.”
by Bruce Eder, allmusic
Bob Dylan’s first album is a lot like the debut albums by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones — a sterling effort, outclassing most, if not all, of what came before it in the genre, but similarly eclipsed by the artist’s own subsequent efforts. The difference was that not very many people heard Bob Dylan on its original release (originals on the early-’60s Columbia label are choice collectibles) because it was recorded with a much smaller audience and musical arena in mind. At the time of Bob Dylan’s release, the folk revival was rolling, and interpretation was considered more important than original composition by
most of that audience. A significant portion of the record is possessed by the style and spirit of Woody Guthrie, whose influence as a singer and guitarist hovers over “Man of Constant Sorrow” and “Pretty Peggy-O,” as well as the two originals here, the savagely witty “Talkin’ New York” and the poignant “Song to Woody”; and it’s also hard to believe that he wasn’t aware of Jimmie Rodgers and Roy Acuff when he cut “Freight Train Blues.” But on other songs, one can also hear the influences of Bukka White, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie Johnson, and Furry Lewis, in the playing and singing, and this is where Dylan departed significantly from most of his contemporaries. Other white folksingers of the era, including his older contemporaries Eric Von Schmidt and Dave Van Ronk, had incorporated blues in their work, but Dylan’s presentation was more in your face, resembling in some respects (albeit in a more self-conscious way) the work of John Hammond, Jr., the son of the man who signed Dylan to Columbia Records and produced this album, who was just starting out in his own career at the time this record was made. There’s a punk-like aggressiveness to the singing and playing here. His raspy-voiced delivery and guitar style were modeled largely on Guthrie’s classic ’40s and early-’50s recordings, but the assertiveness of the bluesmen he admires also comes out, making this one of the most powerful records to come out of the folk revival of which it was a part. Within a year of its release, Dylan, initially in tandem with young folk/protest singers like Peter, Paul & Mary and Phil Ochs, would alter the boundaries of that revival beyond recognition, but this album marked the pinnacle of that earlier phase, before it was overshadowed by this artist’s more ambitious subsequent work. In that regard, the two original songs here serve as the bridge between Dylan’s stylistic roots, as delineated on this album, and the more powerful and daringly original work that followed. One myth surrounding this album should also be dispelled here — his version of “House of the Rising Sun” here is worthwhile, but the version that was the inspiration for the Animals’ recording was the one by Josh White.
1 You’re No Good (Jesse Fuller) 1:40
2 Talkin’ New York (Bob Dylan) 3:20
3 In My Time of Dyin’ (trad. arr. Dylan) 2:40
4 Man of Constant Sorrow (trad. arr. Dylan) 3:10
5 Fixin’ to Die (Bukka White) 2:22
6 Pretty Peggy-O (trad. arr. Dylan) 3:23
7 Highway 51 (Curtis Jones) 2:52
1 Gospel Plow (trad. arr. Dylan) 1:47
2 Baby, Let Me Follow You Down (trad. arr. Eric von Schmidt) 2:37
3 House of the Risin’ Sun (trad. arr. Dave Van Ronk) 5:20
4 Freight Train Blues (trad., Roy Acuff) 2:18
5 Song to Woody (Bob Dylan) 2:42
6 See That My Grave Is Kept Clean (Blind Lemon Jefferson) 2:43