Wednesday, April 11, 2012
DYLAN PLAYS FIRST GIG AT GERDE'S FOLK CITY
THIS DATE in Gerde's illustrious history, Bobby Dylan plays his first "real" gig in New York opening up for the great Blues man, John Lee Hooker. Just weeks before, Dylan né Zimmerman had to make his choice of a professional stage name. To this day, he is referred to as Bobby by those who know him, but back then, he decided for the more solid BOB. (Could it play a role in naming a future double album Blonde On Blonde...? Or perhaps why he has taken the stage with his Never Ending Band on his Never Ending Tour closer to 8:08 more often than not...? Let's ask him.)
BACK TO 1961
The first gig was set up by Bobby's first agent/manager, Terri Thal. The library is full of names that may have possibly arranged Dylan's first five day booking, but it was Terri. You read it here first. Ask Terri.
Now, she didn't do it all alone, mind you. She had a husband named Dave Van Ronk who had been poking and prodding my grandfather Mike Porco for weeks to give the kid a shot. Additionally, many of the other performers and newly found friends of the Dylan character had also been giving Mike encouragement to give him some time on the legendary stage. Van Ronk later recalled, "Terri signed Bobby early. Nobody wanted to touch him with a ten-foot pole. He was too raw."
Mike Porco was interviewed several times about the history of his cabaret, and often he would retell some parts of how the events of this week transpired. One of those stories was relayed to Robbie Woliver who bought Folk City from Porco in 1980. The following can be found in his book, Bringing it All Back Home (Pantheon 1986):
"He was a nice kid. He didn't look wild. He didn't argue with anybody. He would stand on the side like a little orphan. I sympathized with his manners, the way he handled himself. Then I heard the songs and I liked them.
"When he got through singing one night I called him into the kitchen, which was my office. I said, "You did a nice set, Bobby. Tell me, would you like to work a couple weeks?" He said "With who?" I said, "With John Lee Hooker." "Ooh yeah!" he said. "Ooh Mike," he said, "great, great oh man, great." So I told him, the only thing is you gotta join the Union. Otherwise the Union comes in and won't let you play. You come tomorrow and we'll go down to the Union. I know some people up there, so I'll go up there with you." "Oh," he said, "great, Mike."
"I called up my friend Mike, the head of the Local 802. "I have a young kid who one of these days you're gonna read about. He's gonna be a big star."
...The man says, "Robert, Mike told me you're gonna be a future star. You're gonna be great. Tell me the truth-what will you do when you become big?" So Bobby looked to him to say, "I don't know." Then he filled out the application. (The man) told him to come the next day with his mother because he was only twenty. Bobby said, "I ain't got no mother." The man said, "That's all right. Come with your father." Bobby said, "I ain't got no father either." The man looks on his application and looked at me and whispered, "What is he, a bastard?"
So the man said, "I can't give you the contract because you have to be twenty-one...unless some legal guardian wants to sign." He said to me, "Mike do you want to sign it as his guardian?" I said, "Bobby, do you want me to sign it?" Bobby said, "Oh sure, Mike. I would appreciate it." So I signed his contract as his guardian.
So he played that show. He did the same as anybody else. They didn't break the doors down to come in. John Lee Hooker was the headliner and Bobby didn't get the applause John Lee Hooker got. But he built up a following from that show.
I told Bob Shelton I was booking him again and Shelton told me to remind him so he can do an article. I almost forgot. I called him just the day before and told him Bobby was starting his gig the next day.
By the second show, people were telling other people, "You know, there's a good kid, Bob Dylan." So the word spread; but the write-up in the New York Times broke him through.
And in another treasure shared with me by the interviewer himself, radio personality Dan Behrman got Mike to reminisce the week of the Folk City 20 year anniversary week in December of 1979. Let Mike tell the story himself again:
Dan Behrman- How were they at the time? How was somebody like Bob Dylan or Phil Ochs? What kind of people were they? Were they shy…
Mike Porco - Well some they were. Some they were very forward. They were expecting more than they were deserving. But people like-a Dylan, he was a very, very shy type. He wouldn't say a word. He never asked me for the job, I had to ask him! A lot of people used to tell him, 'Why don't you ask Mike to give you a job. He can put you as an opening act?' But he never come in and tell me…
...I started listening to some of his songs. I used to pay a little attention to it. To my knowledge, I'm not an expert but it made-a sense. The words were-a pretty well put together. And I said, 'This guy may be able to draw great.' so finally I give him a job to open up for-a John Lee Hooker. That was April 1961.