Who knows what Jeff Gold was expecting to discover amongst the treasure trove of memorabilia up for grabs by the estate of legendary music critic and Rolling Stone founder Ralph J. Gleason following the passing of his wife in 2009. Some unpublished writing? A couple of rare gems from the scribe’s legendary record collection? Maybe a cool old salt and pepper set? Regardless of what Mr. Gold may or may not have been hunting for whilst rummaging through Gleason’s worldly possessions, he couldn’t have expected to unearth a previously unreleased recording of an early Bob Dylan concert amidst the debris. But, there it was, a gorgeous mixing board feed capture on reel-to-reel inside of a tape box with the words “Dylan Brandeis” written in faded pencil.
As it turns out, this miraculous find was culled from Dylan’s performance at the Brandeis University Folk Festival in May of 1963. It was back when Bob was still a struggling newcomer to the scene, and his opening day set was low on a bill headlined by such stars of the genre as Jean Ritchie and Pete Seeger. Dylan’s show on this night saw him play nothing off his 1962 eponymous Columbia debut. Instead, he focused on the album he would release a few weeks following the festival, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. However, he chose to ignore the majority of the future big hits from his sophomore classic, shunning the likes of “Girl from the North Country,” “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” and “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” in favor of more obscure cuts like “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance,” “Talkin’ World War III Blues” and “Bob Dylan’s Dream.” He did break out “Masters of War”, though, much to the delight of the Brandeis student body in attendance, enraptured by the prophetic vitriol in Dylan’s voice echoing the sentiments of a young, radical America and heeding ex-President Eisenhower’s warning about the Military Industrial Complex in his farewell address.
This particular evening also saw Bob choose to play “Ballad of Hollis Brown,” a song that had been a staple at his early shows and would soon appear on 1964’s The Times They Are A-Changin’, as well as another favorite from his coffeehouse days, “Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues,” and, perhaps most notably, “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.” Though that song received a positive ovation at Brandeis, it prompted Dylan to walk away from his appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show two days later when the network stiffs wouldn’t let him do the song on-camera due to its harsh criticism of anti-Communists.
A great companion to last year’s Bootleg Series: The Witmark Demos, Bob Dylan In Concert: Brandeis University 1963 (released April 12 on Sony Legacy) is a stellar discovery of an otherwise ordinary performance of the man right before he became the myth, and one that undoubtedly deserves a place in any fan’s collection.