• Dylan Goes Electric auction at Christies

    Sale 3482

    Dylan Goes Electric

    6 December 2013, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 6

    BOB DYLAN

    Price Realised  

    BOB DYLAN
    The solid-body Fender Stratocaster Electric Guitar, 1964, serial number L31324, neck date 2 May 1964, original sunburst finish, owned by Bob Dylan and used by him on various occasions including his groundbreaking electric performance at the Newport Folk Festival, 25 July 1965 and during the recording sessions for his fifth studio album Bringing It All Back Home, recorded at CBS Studios, New York, 13-15 January 1966. Given that three of the previously offered lyrics that were found in the case relate to the October 1965 sessions in New York for Blonde on Blonde, it is conceivable that the guitar was used in that session as well. Alder wood body, maple neck, and Brazilian rosewood fingerboard. With the original black hardshell case, stenciled Property of Ashes & Sand Inc. on sides and the original black leather guitar strap.

    THE GUITAR ON WHICH DYLAN WENT ELECTRIC

    "I AIN'T GONA WORK ON MAGIE'S FARM NO MORE"

    With those words, Bob Dylan opened his set at the Newport Folk Festival on 25 July 1965. Other than a few occasions in school, it was his first ever performance with a band. And it was his first live performance with electric instruments. While many versions of the events of that day have circulated and have become myth, common to them all is that on the day Dylan "went electric," popular music was forever changed. Dylan and his band played three songs, opening with "Maggie's Farm" -- his own declaration of independence. The song seems to have been chosen symbolically to shatter the perception that had persisted of Dylan in the traditional folk scene.

    In fact, Dylan's fans had been prepared for his shift from solo folk performer to orchestrator of complexly structured, surreal songs. He had an electric side on Bringing It All Back Home and a hit single with the Beat-inspired "Subterranean Homesick Blues." Most importantly, just five days before the Newport appearance, "Like a Rolling Stone" was released as a single. "Like a Rolling Stone" demarcated Dylan's new path. And it was a path in stark contrast to the staid traditions that were ingrained in the core folk and blues movement that was Newport's lifeblood.

    Dylan's live performance at Newport put these musical shifts on display. In a live setting, this new direction in his music took on the power of volume and confrontation. Dylan's very appearance had changed, reflecting his new sound. He came to Newport in black glasses and in "leather, it signified motorcycle, a tinge of Hell's Angel," according to Murray Lerner (quoted in Heylin, p. 210). Though he only occupied the stage for 25 minutes that evening, Dylan redefined the way he looked, the way people would look at him, and the essence of popular music. "

    THE MOST WRITTEN-ABOUT PERFORMANCE IN THE HISTORY OF ROCK & ROLL" (CLINTON HEYLIN)

    This was Dylan's third year in a row at the famed Newport Folk Festival, and his celebrity was such in 1965 that he was routinely drawing crowds substantially larger than any of the other performers. Chaos ensued on Saturday when Dylan was part of a songwriters' workshop and large crowds formed to see him perform a solo acoustic set. Tensions rose around the performers, their managers, fans and the festival's organizers. Dylan's manager, the boisterous and confrontational Albert Grossman, was at the center of the festival committee's fury. In the words of Joe Boyd, one of the organizers of the festival, "The crowd around the songwriter's workshops was so immense it was swamping the other workshops. People were complaining ... This was very much against the spirit of what the festival was supposed to be about... Grossman became a focus of hostility for a lot of [the officials]" (quoted in Heylin, Behind the Shades).

    That afternoon the underlying hostility erupted when respected musicologist, and traditionalist, Alan Lomax gave the Paul Butterfield Blues Band a very tepid introduction. As Lomax exited the stage, he was confronted by Grossman and the two started throwing punches. A very public fight ensued. That night Lomax called an emergency meeting of the board of the festival that night-while Dylan was rehearsing his electric set with his impromptu band-and called for Grossman to be banned from the grounds. Fearing that Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary and Buffy St. Marie would walk out if Grossman was thrown out, the board rejected the idea.

    "I DID THIS VERY CRAZY THING"
    Although it seems that Dylan intended to perform with a band that weekend, he did not arrive at Newport with one. His friend, the brilliant Chicago guitarist Michael Bloomfield, was there with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which brought its own version of viscerally charged Blues to the audience. Dylan recruited Bloomfield, Jerome Arnold and Sam Lay (lead guitar, bass, drums) from the Butterfield Band, plus Al Kooper on organ and Barry Goldberg on piano (Bloomberg and Kooper and played on the studio recording of "Like a Rolling Stone."). They practiced on Saturday night. Reports are that the backing band, steeped in traditional 12-bar blues, had a hard time understanding Dylan's complex song structures. Given the contentious atmosphere of the last twenty-four hours, it is not surprising that emotions were high when Dylan took the stage on Sunday night. Dressed in his forbidding black leather jacket and an orange shirt, Dylan ran through his three songs at piercing volume. "Maggie's Farm," "Like a Rolling Stone," and "Phantom Engineer" (which would evolve into "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry") were delivered in a blistering fury. Alan Lomax and Pete Seeger were outraged and called for the volume to be lowered, sending Joe Boyd to the sound desk to order Peter Yarrow to lower the levels. Yarrow refused and the blast raged on. Dylan took volume and used it to change perceptions.

    "It was powerfully, ballsy-mixed, expertly done rock & roll," recalled Joe Boyd. Dylan's set was at harsh odds with the two traditional acts he came between: Cousin Emmy and Sea Island Singers. He was also at odds with the theme that Seeger had announced at the evening's outset: "Songs babies would like to grow up with." The band had trouble working around Dylan's shifting structures. Sam Lay turned the beat around on "Maggie's Farm" and when Dylan led them into "Like a Rolling Stone," the rhythm section stumbled. "For the uninitiated, it was not just electric instruments on a 'folk' stage but probably the loudest, most piercing, most cacophonous noise they ever endured in the name of entertainment" (Williams, p.157). Seeger's comment that "if I'd had an ax I'd cut the cable," evolved into the stuff of myth, with reports that he actually had (see Howard Sounes, Down the Highway, p. 182).

    The audience itself revolted: "I did this very crazy thing," Dylan said at the time. "I didn't know what was going to happen, but they certainly booed, I'll tell you that. You could hear it all over the place." Murray Lerner's film Festival captures cheering as well, and so many of the memories that have been passed down appear based on position in the audience and perspective. Some claim the jeers stemmed from poor sound quality. Others claim it was a rejection of Dylan's transformation. No one contests the raw power of the electricity, however. Dylan brought a new dynamism to his art, and continued his evolution into master of change, unafraid to face ridicule and embrace metamorphosis.

    After his three electric songs, Dylan left the stage. The briefness of the set was another shock. Yarrow and Johnny Cash coaxed Dylan back on -alone, and with an acoustic guitar Cash loaned him. He played "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" -- the former the song that had caused an uproar at the previous year's Festival. It was still his stage, and he filled it with his own message. After an intermission, a set of traditionally rendered folk songs returned the Festival to Lomax and Seeger's vision of it. But Dylan had just sent a shockwave through the whole folk community, and it was one Lomax and Seeger could not soon deny.

    "It caught the imagination on the one hand of historians and journalists (who thrive on conflict) and on the other hand of that portion of Dylan's audience who felt threatened by his continuing growth, many of whom sincerely believed that 'rock and roll' equalled commercialism equalled sellout to the Establishment" (Paul Williams, Performing Artist, p.156). The booing followed him again at his next concert at Forest Hills on August 28 (during which he played this guitar as evidenced in photographs taken of him on stage) and to England in early 1966. "For Dylan it was a blessing in disguise -- he was rattled at Newport, but by Forest Hills he'd achieved a genuine appreciation for the booing, presumably because it gave the shows an edge, made them more real, gave him a sense of standing tall for something he believed in, a political figure again instead of a safe, cuddly, Bob Dylan protest doll" (Williams, p.157).

    Four days after Newport, Dylan "got his revenge on the 'folk crowd' who rejected him (and who had been attacking him, baiting him, condescending to him since the release of Another Side of Bob Dylan twelve months earlier), by recording 'Positively 4th Street' as his single to follow 'Like a Rolling Stone'" (Williams, p.158). It was Dylan's put-down of the folk fans who could not accept his growth. His desire to reject his past and rattle all expectations was clearly at the center of his art at this time, and continued in the weeks that followed when he went into the studio to record Highway 61 Revisited. Al Kooper and Michael Bloomfeld joined him in making music that "at times was like the slightly off-kilter white noise of Newport, with jackhammer drums and squibs of guitar" (Sounes, p. 185)

    The seismic shift felt at Newport that night has been compared to the first performance of Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" and the riots that ensued. Stravinsky too had worked with folk forms and reimagined them, mutated them. The folk tradition has always evolved and shown development over time, place and situation. The world Dylan saw in 1965 needed a new tradition. So he invented one.

    In the wake of Newport, Paul Nelson came to Dylan's defense as editor of Sing Out, the folk scene's main print outlet. Nelson was forced to resign in the wake of the controversy within the folk community: "I choose Dylan, I choose art" (quoted in Heylin).

    PROVENANCE:

    The guitar was left aboard a private airplane used by Bob Dylan, his band and crew in the months after the 1965 Newport performance. The plane was piloted by Victor Quinto, a commercial pilot based at Teterboro airport in New Jersey. In the mid-1960s, Quinto had been engaged by Albert Grossman to fly artists Grossman managed, including Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul, and Mary. After one such trip, Quinto found this guitar, and the lyrics that follow in this sale contained in its case. According to his family, Mr. Quinto contacted Dylan's representatives upon finding the guitar case in an attempt to return it, but received no response. He died in 1977 and the guitar and lyrics remained in the family attic for decades. Mr. Quinto's daughter, Dawn Peterson, assumed ownership upon her father's death.

    A ROCK ICON REDISCOVERED:

    In 2011, Ms. Peterson approached the PBS television show History Detectives to assist her in identifying the history of the guitar and lyrics. The research, which was featured in the 17 July 2012 episode of the show, was conducted by Andy Babuik who confirmed the guitar to be that used by Dylan at his historic show and by Jeff Gold who confirmed the lyrics to be in Dylan's hand. Babuik used a thorough frst-hand dating and examination of the guitar, and a comparison of its painted finish and unique wood grain on both the body and neck to detailed images of close-range color photographs taken at Newport. Jeff Gold compared the lyrics to examples in his collection and confirmed Dylan's authorship. "Property of Ashes & Sand Inc.", stenciled on the sides of the original case accompanying the guitar, was the name of Bob Dylan's production company at this time in his career. Photographs of the sessions for Bringing It All Back Home also show Dylan playing the present guitar.


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    Post Lot Text

    Bibliography

    Bob Dylan, Lyrics, 1962-1985, New York, 1990.

    Michael Gray, Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan, New York, 2000.

    Clinton Heylin, Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions 1960-1994, New York, 1995.

    Clinton Heylin, Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited, New York, 2001.

    Clinton Heylin, Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973, Chicago, 2012.

    Daniel Kramer, Bob Dylan: A Portrait of the Artist's Early Years, New York, 1991.

    Robert Shelton, No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan, New York 1997.

    Howard Sounes, Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan, New York, 2001.

    Paul Williams, Bob Dylan: Performing Artist 1960-1973. The Early Years, London, 2004.

    SIDEBAR

    Bringing it All Back Home

    Photographs taken in the studio by Don Hunstein during the recording sessions for Bringing It All Back Home show Dylan playing the same Stratocaster he brought to Newport. Though an early session was recorded at the 30th Street Studio in December 1964, the main sessions were held at Columbia's Studio A from January 13 to 15, 1965. This, his fifth studio album, would begin his artistic transformation and alienation from some of the folk traditionalists. It's acoustic side distanced itself from protest songs, but more shocking was the album's electric side containing, among others, "Subterranean Homeick Blues," "Maggie's Farm," "Love Minus Zero/No Limit," and "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream." That the Newport Stratocaster was used on these important electric sessions only further enhances its role in this seminal period for Dylan.


    SIDEBAR

    The Forest Hills Concert

    A little more than a month after his appearance at Newport, Dylan took the stage again at Forest Hills Stadium, in Queens, New York, on the 28th of August. Photographer Daniel Kramer was there at the performance and wrote: "Dylan held a conference with the musicians who were going to accompany him in the second half of the concert. He told them that they should expect anything to happen--he probably was remembering what occurred at Newport. He told them that the audience might yell and boo, and that they should not be bothered by it. Their job was to make the best music they were capable of, and let whatever happened happen" (Kramer, p.130).

    In his liner notes to Bob Dylan Live 1966, Tony Glover, quoting a piece in Variety, wrote: "Bob Dylan split 15,000 of his fans down the middle at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium Sunday night... The most influential writer-performer on the pop music scene during the past decade, Dylan has apparently evolved too fast for some of his young followers, who are ready for radical changes in practically everything else... repeating the same scene that occurred during his performance at the Newport Folk Festival, Dylan delivered a round of folk-rock songs but had to pound his material against a hostile wall of anti-claquers, some of whom berated him for betraying the cause of folk music" (New York, Columbia Records, 1998).