Hear Young Bob Dylan, Before Releasing His First Album, Tell Amazing Tales About Growing Up in a Carnival

Back in 2012, we fea­tured a young Bob Dylan talk­ing and play­ing on The Studs Terkel radio show in 1963. Open Cul­ture’s Mike Springer pref­aced the inter­view with these words, “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.” In talk­ing with Studs, Dylan told some tall tales (schol­ars say) about his youth, ones that would have made Huck­le­ber­ry Finn proud. And that ten­den­cy to cre­ate an alter­na­tive biog­ra­phy is on dis­play again in an even ear­li­er inter­view, dat­ing back to March 11, 1962.

Ani­mat­ed by Blank on Blank above, the (excerpt­ed) inter­view lets us hear Dylan, only 20 years old, before the release of his epony­mous debut album, and before achiev­ing any kind of fame. Young Dylan tells Cyn­thia Good­ing, host of the “Folksinger’s Choice” radio pro­gram in NYC, about the six years he spent with the car­ni­val.

I was with the car­ni­val off and on for about six years… 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… And I did­n’t go to school a bunch of years and I skipped this and I skipped that.

Lat­er he con­tin­ued:

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.

You can hear a near­ly com­plete audio record­ing of the inter­view (55 min­utes) below, and read a tran­script of the full inter­view on Expect­ing Rain.

Over on Spo­ti­fy, you can hear the 11 songs that Dylan played for Good­ing that day.

They include sev­er­al that Dylan wrote, along with some old folk and blues songs:

  1. “(I Heard That) Lone­some Whis­tle” (Hank Williams/Jimmie Davis)
  2. “Fix­in’ to Die” (Buk­ka White)
  3. “Smoke­stack Ligh­n­ing” (Howl­in’ Wolf)
  4. “Hard Trav­elin’ ” (Woody Guthrie)
  5. “The Death of Emmett Till”  (Bob Dylan)
  6. “Stand­ing on the High­way” (Bob Dylan)
  7. “Roll on John” (Rufus Crisp)
  8. “Stealin’ ” (tra­di­tion­al)
  9. “It Makes a Long Time Man Feel Bad” (tra­di­tion­al)
  10. “Baby, Please Don’t Go” (Big Joe Williams)
  11. “Hard Times in New York Town” (Bob Dylan)

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Bob Dylan Reads From T.S. Eliot’s Great Mod­ernist PoemThe Waste Land

Bob Dylan & The Grate­ful Dead Rehearse Togeth­er in Sum­mer 1987: Hear 74 Tracks


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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.