Goodbye Studs Terkel - The 1963 Interview with Bob Dylan


We will not let a day pass without paying tribute to the great radioman and Pulitzer Prize Winner Studs Terkel, who died yesterday at 96. One of America's greatest voices for decades, he was a skilled interviewer, oral historian and a celebrated author who touched the lives of millions of people. You will see from the video clip below how vicarious and productive Terkel was well into his 90s. To quote Terkel on his own life; "Curiosity did not kill this cat." He will be sorely missed.

Terkel was first known to America as a popular radio personality through his 45 years at Chicago's WFMT radio. For decades, Terkel was the gold standard when it came to radiomen. He was probably one of the best interviewers in media history.

He never prepared his questions. He interrupted his guests often. Yet Terkel was known as a master interviewer, able to establish an easy rapport with just about anyone. His secret, he once said, was simple: "It's listening."

And listen he did: to sultry jazz singers and insecure housewives; to a repentant Ku Klux Klan leader; to Bob Dylan, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Marlene Dietrich, Bertrand Russell; to a parking lot attendant and a lesbian grandmother; to a piano tuner; and to a barber.

Studs Terkel in 2003 at 91-years-old:

Highly Recommended

Terkel died of old age at his home in Chicago, his son Dan said.

"He lived a long, eventful, satisfying, though sometimes tempestuous life," Dan Terkell said. "I think that pretty well sums it up."

The author of blockbuster oral histories on World War II, the Great Depression and contemporary attitudes toward work, Terkel roamed the country engaging an astounding cross-section of Americans in tape-recorded chats -- about their dreams, their fears, their chewing gum, about racism, courage, dirty floors and the Beatles.

With his loud laugh and raspy voice, plus his inept fumbles with his tape recorder, he set his subjects at ease and tugged from them memories, predictions and simple truths about their everyday existence. Terkel transcribed and edited the interviews, then compiled them into books that were at once intimate and sweeping, among them "Division Street," "Hard Times," "Working," and "The Good War," which won the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. (Some information and quotes used: LA Times - Stephanie Simon)

STUDS TERKEL with a Young BOB DYLAN - 1963

I can't think of any way better to commemorate the great life of Studs Terkel than sharing this remarkable and rare, high-quality 1963 radio interview with Bob Dylan. This one was recorded in studio at WFMT Chicago.

Bob is only 22 years old in this interview. He gives a great performance including the first ever recording of Boots of Spanish Leather. This one is an absolute must have for Dylan fans as well as for those who love listening to magical moments locked in time.

It's May 1963...
Current events had family television sets tuned to the news. The adults were afraid of change. The kids were whispering too. Some of them were mouthing lyrics to exciting new songs.

This is a remarkable recording from WFMT radio in Chicago. The Dylan that performs here is remarkably like the Dylan we know from interviews today - just younger, and a little more open.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Dylan in '63: wordy but exceedingly clear,
The young man is easily excitable but quite fun.

There is insight here! This recording is an open door leading to Dylan's core values. We hear about his first visit to NYC. We know how he feels about folk music. We hear from Bob how the Cuban Missile Crisis impacted his song writing.

The class contrarian, Dylan opens the show with Farewell. It's his first chance to set the pace during the interview and he tries to make the most of it. Dylan strums away and declines to stop and let WFMT-Chicago host Studs Terkel speak until the last note of this song is played out.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
WFMT-Chicago radio's Studs Terkel

Dylan has evidently declined to give the Chicago programmer a set list but Terkel is a radio professional and he deals with the situation. Here, Terkel plays the part of host and a lion tamer. His "big cat" is a scrawny Midwestern songwriter with big dreams.

The kid is also fairly convinced he is in charge. The result is that this interview unfolds brilliantly. The studio sound engineers capture a long and winding free-form interview and live guitar session. During a discussion of the Cuban Missile Crisis and how it impacted the singer, Dylan surprises the Chicago host by telling him that he won't perform "A Hard Rain."

"You've got the disc there. You can take it off that. I prefer it if you could just do it that way," Dylan says quietly referring to the radio station's 45 album copy. Dylan's guitar, silent, sits nearby. "I mean, I could sing a song, but it takes a long time to sing."

With infinite patience, Terkel prevails. "I would like you to sing it, and I will tell you why after you sing it..."

You can almost Dylan his roll his shoulders. He could care less. "Alright." he says as he gathers his guitar from the studio floor. And what we hear next is just remarkable.

By now Dylan and Terkel have struck an odd, but working, relationship. The two ramble through talk about life in New York and friends along Dylan's path.

At times the two step on each others words. Dylan, initially very quiet, is shooting his words as fast as he can. He speaks, recants and then clarifies each thought.

The song lightens the mood in the room a bit further. Despite Studs'best attempts to prod him, Dylan still declines to speak about Woody Guthrie. He retreats into conversation about his development as a singer-song writer.

The topic of Dylan as a folk singer stops the conversation in its tracks. Dylan does not consider himself to be a folk performer and he announces that he will no longer perform popular folk tunes.

(The tone of Dylan's anti-folk state of mind explains the odd introduction to the recording - the radio show call man had introduced Dylan to the home audience by calling him "a folk singer!")

"I did it. We'll just say I did it," Dylan says of being a folk singer. "It was something I did."
Things are tense now, but again Terkel maneuvers through the choppy waters and reaches Dylan. He is able to pull another live performance from Dylan. This occurs when the host asks Dylan if there are any of his songs that he thinks might one day be recorded and sung by other artists.

Suddenly, Dylan is uncharacteristically enthusiastic. Ignoring the conversation with Terkel, the young Dylan begins tuning and strumming his guitar. He is pacing the cage like a tiger! He is ready to perform. Finally, the room grows silent and Dylan can begin.

It's the first ever confirmed recording of Boots of Spanish Leather! Dylan had written it weeks before but it had not yet been put to tape in the studio. It's magnificent.


When asked about Dylan got into songwriting - he responds:

"It's always been with me. I can't really say what lead me to it," Dylan continues. "I like to do a lot of things. I'm one of these people who tend to think that everybody has a certain gift. The trouble is just trying to figure out what it is."

This is the best part of the entire show. Listen carefully - Dylan speaks more like a sage than a intimidated young kid thrust on the world stage. Amazing.

Dylan says he is writing a book about his first week in NY.

NY, NY: A place to pound a nail:
"There's a couple of chapters in it," Dylan says. "It's about somebody that's come to the end of one road. He knows there's another road there, but he doesn't know exactly where it is. And knows that he can't go back on the other road. All kinds of stuff there, all kinds of thoughts."

Dylan is tired of the interview at this point, signaling that he has had enough. The coy Terkel lets Dylan rest during a period of conversation, then some how draws yet another song out.

"Blowin' In the Wind, that's a popular song!" Terkel says.

Dylan, evidently resentful, responds: "Oh god, I hope not!"

* * * * * * *
The show ends here.


Anonymous said…
thanks so much for this. just heard terkel died and am taken a little aback. i looked for this bootleg immediately but must have lost it in one hard drive purge or another. RIP, great video post too
Anonymous said…
thank you, thank you, a million times thank you!

Popular Posts