Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Rare Bob Dylan Recordings from 1963: A Collaboration with Gil Turner

Bob Dylan & Gil Turner – “Farewell”

Gil Turner – “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”

Broadside holds the honor of being the first magazine to publish Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” in 1962. It was standard practice of Broadside for editors Sis Cunningham and Gordon Friesen to invite local songwriters to Broadside’s “office” (really their small apartment in New York City) and capture their songs on tape, so that Sis could transcribe them both lyrically and musically for the magazine.

Folk singer Gil Turner (M.C. of Gerde’s Folk City) was responsible for bringing Phil Ochs, among others, to the magazine. Ochs became, along with Malvina Reynolds (of “Little Boxes” fame), the most prolific contributor to Broadside. In a rarely heard Broadside tape, Turner provides backing harmony for Dylan’s “Farewell,” a song based on the traditional ballad “Leaving of Liverpool.”

Dylan sometimes shied away from recording his songs directly for Broadside (perhaps since he had already recorded most of them for Witmark, his music publisher at the time). Instead of singing them into a tape recorder, he would often get his girlfriend Suze Rotolo to hand in lyric transcription sheets. Gil Turner performed Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” in January 1963 to give Sis and Gordon an idea of what the song sounded like. The track would not be released until that May on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Turner at one point sings the wrong lyrics, but quickly recovers by re-singing the second verse.

As good as these songs are, they would have meant little to the Broadside editors sitting across the room. Sis and Gordon were serious proponents of topical songs with social messages and using the magazine to promote exclusively this form of songwriting. When it came time to release songs on Broadside compilations, more topical selections from Dylan such as “Ballad of Donald White,” “Only a Hobo,” and “Talking Devil” were used. Rather than risk the ire from his record company, Dylan was listed under the pseudonym “Blind Boy Grunt.” As it stood, the songs “Farewell” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” were left on the cutting room floor. The latter was destined to become an American classic but at the time was simply another great song from the 22-year-old songwriter. Of Dylan’s songwriting, Turner said: “I feel about Bob Dylan's songs very often that Bob is actually a kind of folk mind that he represents to all the people around. And all the ideas current are just filtered down and come out in poetry.”

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