Two Legends Together: A Young Bob Dylan Talks and Plays on The Studs Terkel Program, 1963

In the spring of 1963 Studs Terkel intro­duced Chica­go radio lis­ten­ers to an up-and-com­ing musi­cian, not yet 22 years old, “a young folk poet who you might say looks like Huck­le­ber­ry Finn, if he lived in the 20th cen­tu­ry. His name is Bob Dylan.” (Lis­ten to the inter­view below.)

Dylan had just fin­ished record­ing the songs for his sec­ond album, The Free­wheel­in’ Bob Dylan, when he trav­eled from New York to Chica­go to play a gig at a lit­tle place part­ly owned by his man­ag­er, Albert Gross­man, called The Bear Club. The next day he went to the WFMT stu­dios for the hour-long appear­ance on The Studs Terkel Pro­gram. Most sources give the date of the inter­view as April 26, 1963, though Dylan schol­ar Michael Krogs­gaard has giv­en it as May 3.

Things were mov­ing fast in Dylan’s life at that time. He was just emerg­ing as a major song­writer. His debut album from the year before, Bob Dylan, was made up most­ly of oth­er peo­ple’s songs. The Free­wheel­in’ Bob Dylan, which was fin­ished but had­n’t yet been released, con­tained almost all orig­i­nal mate­r­i­al, includ­ing sev­er­al songs that would become clas­sics, like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall.” With­in a few months Dylan would make his debut at the New­port Folk Fes­ti­val and per­form at the his­toric March on Wash­ing­ton. But when Dylan vis­it­ed WFMT, it’s like­ly that many of Terkel’s lis­ten­ers had nev­er heard of him. In the record­ed broad­cast he plays the fol­low­ing songs:

  1. Farewell
  2. A Hard Rain’s a‑Gonna Fall
  3. Bob Dylan’s Dream
  4. Boots of Span­ish Leather
  5. John Brown
  6. Who Killed Dav­ey Moore?
  7. Blowin’ In The Wind

Dylan tells Terkel that “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall” is not about atom­ic fall­out, even though he wrote the song in a state of anx­i­ety dur­ing the Cuban mis­sile cri­sis. “No, it’s not atom­ic rain,” Dylan says, “it’s just a hard rain. It isn’t the fall­out rain. I mean some sort of end that’s just got­ta hap­pen.… In the last verse, when I say, ‘the pel­lets of poi­son are flood­ing their waters,’ that means all the lies that peo­ple get told on their radios and in their news­pa­pers.”

But as the con­ver­sa­tion pro­gress­es it becomes clear that the moti­va­tion behind Dylan’s com­ments isn’t to dis­pel myths or to clear up any of the “lies that peo­ple get told on their radios.” Rather, he’s dri­ven by his life-long dread of being pigeon­holed by oth­ers. Dylan is hap­py to spread his own myths. At one point he tells Terkel a “stretch­er” that would have made Huck­le­ber­ry Finn proud: He claims that when he was about ten years old he saw Woody Guthrie per­form in Bur­bank, Cal­i­for­nia. Regard­less of its fac­tu­al­i­ty, the Dylan-Terkel inter­view is an enter­tain­ing hour, a fas­ci­nat­ing win­dow on the young artist as he was enter­ing his prime. You can stream it here.

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Comments (10)
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  • Steve Smith says:

    Thanks so much for this! He seems to let actu­al­ly let his guard down here with Studs Terkel, and the per­for­mances are sim­ply great!

  • Steve Grob says:

    This is the coolest thing I’ve heard in many a moon. Won­der­ful.

  • This is so much bet­ter, I’m younger than that now.

  • One of the great things about Studs was his abil­i­ty to lis­ten. He does­n’t keep insist­ing that he’s so cool and smart. He lets Bob talk and does­n’t keep dis­agree­ing. Most inter­view­ers are so smarmy and con­tentious. Thanks Studs.

  • John Bigelow says:

    Great com­ment by Don­ald­son, who knows the leg­end so well.

  • Elroy Huckelberry says:

    Dylan was still real then. Maybe he became poi­soned by the pel­lets he speaks of. But soon after he became fake and arro­gant and then he became a par­doy of him­self and then Dylan became lost and he tried to find him­self but nev­er real­ly did again. Now in old­er age he has became repedi­tive and has lost all direc­tion and is won­der­ing in a dark world where no light gets in.

  • JT says:

    What a great inter­view. All the oth­er old inter­views I’ve heard with Bob gen­er­al­ly seem to con­sist of a mis­guid­ed inter­view­er and an annoyed Bob. This was dif­fer­ent. Terkel’s intel­li­gent and insight­ful ques­tion­ing and obser­va­tions were actu­al­ly able to get Bob to speak from the heart.

  • the shadow says:

    can mr.huckelberry name one song­writer who could even remote­ly may be half as great?

  • Curt says:

    To the shad­ow

    Not tak­ing sides here, I love Bob. But Willie Nel­son comes to mind right away.

  • Dave Swindells says:

    This is a ter­rif­ic inter­view. I’ve fol­lowed Bob Dylan since around 1963 or 64 and remain con­vinced he will be regard­ed as one of the most impor­tant writ­ers of the cen­tu­ry. He still tours and records.….…..why? I guess because he just needs to; its part of who he is. I’d just like to say ‘thank you’ to him. I’d also like to say what a great inter­view by Studs Terkel this is.

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