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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