“Talkin’ Folklore Center” Bob Dylan’s early talking blues

 by Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

This song turned up in the volume “Bob Dylan in his own Words” in 1978, having been originally performed in New York by Dylan in April 1962.   Dylan was a regular visitor at the Folklore Centre, and Izzy Young, the owner, persuaded Bob to write a talking blues about the centre, which he duly did.

Here is a copy of the Dylan original “Talkin’ Folklore Center”… performed here by Eric Bibb at the start of the excellent documentary of the same name.

The original manuscript of the song was signed “Bob Dylan 62 of Gallup, Phillpsburg, Navasota Springs, Sioux Falls and Duluth.”   Heylin describes it as “a therapeutic diversion from the real stuff”.

Several people have suggested the influence comes particularly from Woody Guthrie’s “Talking Subway”.  In this video “Talking Subway” starts around 1 min 30 sec.

Here are the lyrics to Bob’s song…

I came down to New York town,
Got out and started walking around,
I’s up around 62nd Street,
All of a sudden comes a cop on his beat;
Said my hair was too long,
Said my boots were too dirty,
Said my hat was un-American,
Said he’d throw me in jail.

So I got on a subway and took a seat
Got out on 42nd Street.
I met this fellow named Delores there,
He started rubbin’ his hands through my hair —
I figured somethin’ was wrong,
So I ran through ten hot-dog stands, four movie houses,
And a couple a dancing studios to get back on the subway train.

The wind it blew me north and south,
It blew me in a coffee house.
I met this fellow with sun glasses on,
He told me he sung folksongs —
I believed him ’cause he was wearing sun glasses.

He sung “Scarlet Ribbons” ’bout ten times or more,
He sung “Michael Row The Boat Ashore. ”
He sung “Where Do All The Flowers Go? ”
There was no folksong he didn’t know —
The ones he didn’t know he didn’t like anyway.

On MacDougal Street I saw a cubby hole,
I went in to get out of the cold,
Found out after I’d entered
The place was called the Folklore Center —
Owned by Izzy Young —
He’s always in back —
Or the center.

They got real records and real books,
Anybody can walk in and look.
You don’t have to own a Cadillac car,
Or a nine hundred and fifty-two dollar guitar —
Do like most people do —
Walk in —
Walk around —
Walk out.

But that’s not the way you see,
That ain’t the way it oughta be,
There’s just one way a lookin’ at it,
You shouldn’t take this place for granted —
That’ll always be here.

So go down and buy a record or book,
Don’t just walk around and look,
You can do that when you go uptown,
When you come down here you’re on common ground —
Common people ground —
Common guitar people ground —
We need every inch of it!

The guy with sun glasses is said to be Shel Silverstein who wrote “Bury me in my shades”.  Macdougal Street is said to be a reference to “Macdougal Street Blues” written by Allen Ginsberg.

This video, which doesn’t include Folklore Centre, is said to be recorded at the centre with Dylan singing “Fixing to Die”, “House of the Rising Sun,” and “Ocean Pearl”

Izzy Young died earlier this year (2019) in Stockholm, at the age of 90.  He opened the Centre in 1957 and from 1959 to 1969 wrote a column in “Sing Out”.

In Chronicles Dylan writes of his time at the Centre where Izzy Young welcomed him, letting Dylan go through the records and books.  And indeed it was Izzy who produced Bob’s first concert at the Carnegie Chapter Hall on 4 November 1961.

Izzy also worked at the Folklore Centre with Peter Paul and Mary, John Sebastian, Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris and Tim Buckley – who produced a live LP at the Centre in 1967.

The Centre closed in 1973 when Izzy moved to Stockholm, opening the Folklore Centrum at Roslagsgatan in Vasastan running concerts featuring  traditional Swedish folk musicians.  In 1974 he also arranged a concert for Pete Seeger at Uppsala University.

His archives now survive as the Izzy Young Collection in the Library of Congress at Mannaminne at Nordingrå, in Sweden.






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