From the Land of Band Box Records

Bob Dylan’s Brief Brush With Colorado – 1960

August 3, 2015

I am presently reading 2001 Bob Dylan biography “Down by The Highway – The Life Of Bob Dylan” by Howard Sounes.  Howard states that what sets his undertaking apart from previous bios was “painstaking research”.  I did find it interesting that the author did admit however that with all the revealing interviews he obtained with previously not interviewed sources (family, friends and peers) he was not able to obtain a single interview from Bob himself.  But no surprise there since Dylan simply doesn’t choose to open his life up often to anyone.

Dylan, Bob - 12-65 - Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window

Rather early on in the pages is a brief account of Dylan’s 1960 excursion into Colorado and Denver in particular (and yes, he was already going by the name of Bob Dylan at this time).  Sounes cites Dylan’s impetus for making the excursion as a 19 year-old away from his then current life as a on-again/off-again life as a college student at the University of Minnesota in part was narratives provided by Jack Kerouac in his “On The Road” but was primarily because “there was a vibrant music scene there, with several lively clubs including the Satire and the Exodus”.  Another very brief account of Dylan’s Denver appearance appears in “Colorado Rocks – A Half Century of Music” by G. Brown.  That account only states that Bob landed in Denver, “wandered over to the Satire on Colfax Avenue to play some Woody Guthrie Music” and then “offered his first job as a professional entertainer at the Gilded Garter” in nearby Central City.  And that is about it.

In another source I had read that Dylan’s visit to Denver had been clouded by some sort of incident involving minor theft.  This was an account passed along from Denver folk singer – the late Walt Conley.  Now in Soune’s account an explanation is offered regarding Bob’s short time here.  Things apparently did not go well.

Walt Conley

Walt Conley

Dylan did indeed make contact with Walt Conley who at the time was working both as a performer and the manager of the Satire Lounge.  Paralleling Dylan’s time at the Satire was a run by up and coming folk singers The Smothers Brothers.  According to Sounes, the Smothers “were from the branch of folk music that was ‘trying to get some polish’.  In contrast, Bob was from the branch of folk music that was rolling in the dust.”  C0nley allowed Dylan to open a few times for the Smothers Brothers at the Satire and even permitted him to sleep at his nearby residence – where both of the Smothers were staying.  The brothers did not care for Dylan and so he was soon turned loose from any further Satire appearances and Conley asked him to depart his house.

Denver's Satire on Colfax

Denver’s Satire on Colfax

Dylan hit the streets looking for gigs here and there with everyone turning him away.  In short order Conley was to receive a phone call from a Sophia St. John who at the time was managing a saloon in the mountain town of Central City – about 20 miles west of Denver.  She was looking for talent at her establishment – The Gilded Garter – where local performer Judy Collins was already working.  Sounes then explains “The Gilded Garter was a terrible place for Bob to play.  It was impossibly noisy and the tourists were mostly interested in drinking and eating.”  Bob’s Garter stint was short lived where he performed on the piano to the inattentive crowd.  He headed back into Denver once again to see what he could find.

Dylan took up residence in a “cheap” hotel next to the folk venue “The Exodus”.  Shortly after Dylan’s arrival back in town, a banjo player and friend – Dave Hamil – was staying at Walk Conley’s house and in an alarmed state discovered many of his folk recording albums were missing and he promptly accused Dylan – who he claimed knew the Conley house to be unlocked during the daytime.  Conley was skeptical about the charge but reluctantly agreed to have Hamil contact the Denver Police.  Then according to Conley when he and Hamil arrived at Dylan’s hotel “there was a police car  outside and Dave Hamil was standing there on the pavement and there were two police officers and Dylan.”

Denver Folk Haven - The Exodus

Denver Folk Haven – The Exodus

Dylan indeed did have the recordings and had ditched them out the back window of his hotel room.  Hamil was set to press charges but Conley discouraged it saying he would not appear in court as a witness and so the incident was put aside.  Conley recalled that four years later “he met the then famous Bob Dylan in New York and Bob pretended not to remember him at all.”

So Bob slipped out of Denver back to first his hometown of Hibbing, MN and then eventually back to his bohemian college community of “Dinkytown” adjacent to the University of Minnesota Campus.  That was pretty much it for Denver.  I have read Dylan’s own account “The Bob Dylan Chronicles Volume 1” where he very briefly mentions driving through Colorado in 1964 and he makes reference to the local radio station (probably KIMN) featuring about 10 of the Beatles’ songs in the top ten.  Beyond that – his next return would be his 1976 “Rolling Thunder Revue” tour appearance in Fort Collins, Colorado at Colorado State University.  That concert was subdued due to a spring downpour.

1976 Dylan Tour

1976 Dylan Tour

Dylan – Early Rocker

On a few side notes – Bob Zimmerman was influenced by the motion picture “Blackboard Jungle” featuring “Rock Around the Clock”.  About Elvis Presley – Dylan stated “When I first heard Elvis’ voice I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody and nobody was gonna be my boss.  Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.”  His first group was called The Jokers which performed a cappella which was about 1956.  His next group was “The Shadow Blasters” in 1957 which probably only had one official appearance which was at Dylan’s high school.  They pretty much botched a Little Richard number but Bob’s prestige rose with his fellow students.  Next in 1958 he formed a group called “The Golden Chords” which included high school mates Monte Edwardson and Leroy Hoikkala and then finally he formed another rock ensemble “The Rockets”.  Dylan made a sojourn up to Fargo, North Dakota in 1959 after he graduated from high school and obtained a trial stint with Bobby Vee’s “Shadows”.  Bob played the piano a few times but was turned down as a permanent member.  Vee recalls “He was just a spacey little guy, you know sort of worming his way around.”

In very short order, Dylan’s attention would turn to early blues recordings, the songs of Woody Guthrie and topical folk tunes and the rest is ……

Bobby Vee Early On

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