Folksingers Choice (Yellow Dog YD – 017 – 1992)
Cynthia Gooding Radio Show, NY – March 11, 1962
Lonesome Whistle Blues, Fixin’ To Die, Smokestack Lightning, Hard Travelin’, Death Of Emmett Till, Standing On The Highway, Roll On John (Misidentified as “Long John”), Stealin’, Long Time Man Feel Bad, Baby Please Don’t Go, Hard Times In New York
What’s left to say about a throughly classic release such as this? so much has been written about it but it still stands as a classic release of it’s time. Yellow Dog’s second Dylan release ( after Finjan Club ’62 – YD 010 ) comes a couple of years after the Beatles ‘Unsurpassed Masters’ series launched their start in the CD Bootleg revolution so they’d already gotten a name for themselves for releasing only quality material. this particular tape, as it stands, must have been recent to wider traders circles as no one had previously booted this material on vinyl or CD before & what a blessing it must have come to Dylan fans at the time! taken from a radio broadcast ( or an interview taped for broadcast – this seems to be a moot point as no one actually seems to know if this WAS actually broadcast ) from the New York City area radio station WBAI hosted by Cynthia Gooding, a folk artist herself, in February 1962 ( the date on the cover presumably points to a re – broadcast of the show as when questioned about his debut album mentions that it’s to be released in March – it was in fact released on March 19th 1962 in the U.S. )
The performance itself is wonderful – pure & raw Dylan still calling on the powers of his folk singing heroes such as Woody Gutherie, Leadbelly, Odetta, Dave Van Ronk, et al. the CD starts with a slightly truncated version of a folk song titled “Lonesome Whistle Blues” originally written by Williams / Davies & sung by Hank Williams – on the original tape the first few seconds are someone setting up their recording equipment & a scant few seconds of harp & guitar – it just sounds the same as the rest of the performance so you’re not missing much from this tape – it’s a slow, sad little folk song about regret & losing his girl – quite standard fare for Folk music across the ages one would suspect – sung in a typical Dylan style – a rather young sounding ‘non-singing’ kind of way.
In the middle Bob interjects with a breezy harp solo that fairly makes your ears prickle up in interest. After the song Cynthia introduces Bob, remarks on the fact that bob is using a harp on a necklace / brace, remarks on how young Bob is, on Bobby’s early career as a wannabe rock & roller & then the conversation twists as Bob brings out his own self mythologizing claiming to have come from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. this will be the first of many untruths Bobby will spring out in to the conversation – he knows he’s got Cynthia wrapped around his little finger so he can change his story around as much as his hearts content. Cynthia also points out that Bob has recently played at Gerdies in the town which would pin point that this is a broadcast centered around New York & Bob concurs that he’s also played at the Gaslight & the Cafe Wha? in the city.
Bob also discusses the reasoning as to why he changed from singing Rock & Roll to Folk / Blues & mentions that he himself dosen’t have a large repitouir but does have a short list of songs taped on to the neck of his guitar! next he suggests he plays a blues song – the Bakker White Penned “Fixin’ to Die” a faster tempo’d song than the previous one & one where it gives Bobby a chance to flex his throat muscles by giving a rough slant to his voice, aping the other blues singers around in the city. this track will also appear on Bob’s debut album. in the next conversation segment the turns to the subject of John Lee Hooker being a friend & how Bobby has played with him in the past – this gives Bob a chance to play his version of a Howlin’ Wolf song, really croaking out the words & stretching out the words in the best blues style. for the next track Bob fixes on his harp again, while Cynthia chides him for removing his cap as he fixes on his necklace & then putting back on his cap before tightening his harp up.
“Hard Travel” a traditional song follows – as Bob was not opposed to taking arrangements from other folk singers around the clubs & coffee shops then we might imagine that this is another one that he’s pilfered from his contemporaries. next, Cynthia suggests that he plays a song of his own. Bobby suggests “Death Of Emmett Till” – a song based around the story of one Emmett Till, a black gentlemen who boasted that he had a white girlfriend which lead to a race killing in 1955 that will be synonymous with Bob’s style of picking news stories from the paper & arranging the words around music as well as being the first Protest song that Dylan will write also he points out that he’s actually stolen the melody from one of his friends – Len Chandler – who, when the songs played to him, seems not to remember that he came up with the tune in the first place!
next up another Dylan original “Standing on the Highway”, a rolling & jumping song about the protagonist trying to hitch a lift to try get back to his loved one & finding no success as everyone who passes by seems to regard him with contempt. After the song is over Bobby again whips out another tall story about working as an odd job man with a carnival & about ‘skipping a bunch of school’ all of which Cynthia seems to lap up. it’s a wonderful testament to Bobby’s storytelling as he seems to whip it all out without a flicker of laughter to his voice.
Three more Traditional songs follow – “Long John” a simple strum of a song which Dylan claims to have written a couple of verses himself. Next is “Stealin'” Bobby puts on his harp & necklace again to more chidin from Gooding. the song is a faster paced number & rather more reminicent of the style that Dylan will approach on ‘Freewheelin .. ‘ & ‘Another Side of .. ‘. Bob names the song at the end to laughter as it’s the title that he’s been singing during the last bars of the song!
through the next conversation piece then Gooding questions Dylan about his time at the carnival & Dylan claims to have learned to sing at the carnival but he’s learned to play guitar a long time ago. he then rolls off a tale about the ‘freak show’ people that the travelled around with & applaudes the ‘Carnies’ on their street smarts. it’s quite the preamble & Bobby even claims to have written a song called “Won’t You Buy My Postcard” for one of them which he’s since lost. Unsuprisingley he’s unable to remember the tune or the lyrics to his made up song.
“Long Time Man Feel Bad” is the next song. again a sprightley tune about leaving his wife or girlfriend to go to work & not reciving any word from them.
In the next conversation Dylan & Gooding continue their flirting – Gooding ribbing Dylan about his harp wearing & the care about his appearence & Bob joshes that he has been seen wearing a stetson hat but prefers the bakers hat that he’s wearing as it’s been around longer.
Dylan then covers another blues song ” Baby, Please Don’t Go” written by Big J. Williams – a creator of the Delta Blues – it’s a rather serious rendition with deep & ominous chords ringing from Bobby’s guitar. it’s certainly a song that would have been included on Dylan’s second album especially as he recorded at least 3 takes of the song on April 25th 1962 at Columbia studios but some some reason it was dismissed.
Dylan ends his set with one last original “Hard Times In New York City”. a song described as being about New York “but this is a song from one persons angle”. allegedly written around the time that Bob got his Columbia recording contract but first recorded in Bonnie Beechers apartment in December 1961. Again, a personal write up of life in New York – how Dylan might see the capitol & the first of many of the town where he lived.
the artwork is rather basic early Yellow Dog – a single jewel case with a simple slip featuring a black & white scrambled background highlighted with a pink “Folksingers Choice” in comic sans & a period studio picture of Bob with a plain grey back cover with the track listing copied out clearly in comic sans again. the cover folds out to reveal a catalogue of Yellow Dog releases up to the release of this one – from YD 001 to YD 022.