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Cynthia Gooding's Gerdes Folk City Tapes
1961-10-01, Gerde's Folk City, New York, NY
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Cynthia Gooding is perhaps best known to Dylan fans as the host of a ‘60s radio show called Folksingers Choice. In early 1962, she conducted what appears to be the first major interview with Dylan, which has since circulated widely. It is extremely engaging, as a Dylan who sounds unusually comfortable sings songs and spins yarns. A bit of it was animated a few years ago for the PBS TV show Blank on Blank:
But Cynthia Gooding did more with Dylan than just that famous interview. Among other things, she was a regular taper at Gerde’s Folk City, recording artists’ sets to play on her radio show. She was in the crowd with her gear on October 1, 1961, taping an early Bob performance as part of his residency with The Greenbriar Boys. This was the same residency that Robert Shelton reviewed so favorably in the New York Times, the review that kickstarted Dylan’s career.
On October 1, the night Gooding was recording, that review had just run. Dylan even talked about it from the stage.
Sadly, the tape is not available to us to hear. It does exist though! The Bob Dylan Archives acquired Gooding’s tapes in 2018, and it includes this show. Our old friend Parker Fishel from the Bob Dylan Archives, who has access to the tape, noted down Dylan’s onstage comments about Shelton’s New York Times rave for me:
"I said before, I'm sort of sick. I've been up [three?] nights reading the New York Times. I just can't let go, but I've got it with me downstairs. I've been reading it over and over again and haven't gotten any sleep for the last three nights. And I'm just reading and reading it to death. I bought 500 papers."
In 1979, a Dylanologist named George Rothe visited Gooding at her apartment. She played him a bunch of her reel-to-reel tapes. He tooks notes and, many years later, wrote about it in a letter to Dylan author Clinton Heylin. He posted this fascinating document to rec.music.dylan, which I gather was the early-internet Dylan messageboard of choice (well before my time). The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s Rothe setting the scene:
Well, I got to the apartment and 'dumbstruck' is the only way to describe what I saw. Cynthia Gooding is a tall woman, easily six feet tall, good looking with a good figure and greying hair. She had a small bookshelf unit filled with reel-to-reel tapes. The spines of the tape boxes read like a who's who of Bleeker Street. Names like Ochs, Paxton, Van Ronk, and of course Dylan stood lined up together. I gave her the discography. She gave me a bottle of red wine to open. After glancing at the first few pages, she said, "You're missing so much from the early days." She then pulled the first Dylan box from the shelf. She started to play it on her Sony reel-to-reel and realized it was all backwards. She said something about "not having played the tapes for years and years", and that this particular tape was recorded for broadcast on a show she used to do for WBAI in the early 60's. I rewound the tape so it would play properly. By the opening bars I knew I had never heard this song before. I asked her if she would allow me to make a copy of the tape. She hesitated and told me of the bad experience her friends (the McKenzies) had had with a Dylan biographer (Scaduto) and that she would only allow me to copy the tapes if "Bobby or his office said it was alright." I knew my chances were less than slim so I didn't pursue the topic. Instead I took out a pad of paper, a sharp pencil, sat forward, balanced my glass and listened closely for the next hour or so.
He goes on to lists the setlist of this October 1 Gerde’s recording. It is, as far as I can tell, the source for pretty much all the info about this show that has circulated ever since. It is, unfortunately, not quite right.
The first three songs Rothe lists — Woody Guthrie’s “Ranger’s Command,” Jesse Fuller’s “San Francisco Bay Blues,” and The Carter Family’s “Railroading on The Great Divide” — do in fact circulate! You can listen below. They’re the reason I decided to write about this show in the first place. But, though they may have been on the same reel-to-reel tape Gooding played Rothe all those decades ago, it appears they were not from this same October 1 show.
Piecing this stuff together so many decades later is tricky, but Parker from the Archives helped me clear (some of) it up. He pulled the October 1, 1961 setlist directly from Gooding’s notes:
See That My Grave is Kept Clean
"Brazo's River Song" [aka. The Girl I Left Behind]
He Was a Friend of Mine
Pretty Boy Floyd [she also mentions Jim Kweskin]
"Little Girl" [aka. In the Pines]
San Francisco Bay Blues
There’s no “Ranger’s Command” and no “Railroading on The Great Divide” there. “San Francisco Bay Blues,” which Rothe lists among the first three songs on Gooding’s tape, is there, at the end. But it’s out of order and I’m guessing the version that circulates is from the same show as “Ranger’s” and “Railroading” — that is, a different one.
Which one? That’s a bit of a mystery. Parker says that the Gooding family found a different, previously unknown tape at the time of the 2018 acquisition containing all three of those songs, so they likely come from there.
Wherever those circulating songs are actually from, you can listen to all three below (jump to 43:13 if the embed doesn’t automatically). I believe this is the only recording of Bob doing Guthrie’s “Ranger’s Command” or The Carters’ “Railroading on The Great Divide.” “San Francisco Bay Blues” he played more often back then — and later too, reviving it a few times in 1988. “Railroading” and “San Francisco” are duets with someone. Jim Kweskin again maybe? Only one thing’s for sure: These performances did not, in fact, take place 61 years ago today.
Hopefully someday soon we’ll hear the ones that did. A few years ago, the Dylan camp floated the idea of a Bootleg Series installment called The Villager looking at Bob’s early folkie days. If that ever happens, I imagine the Gooding tapes would make strong candidates for inclusion.
PS. Given how helpful the Dylan Archives were on this one, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that The Tulsa University Institute for Bob Dylan Studies just launched a call for proposals for the 2023 World of Bob Dylan conference in June. Registration is supposed to open up this weekend as well. And the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa is open any time, and is well worth a visit.