Bob Dylan: side man. Fariña, von Schmidt and Bob.

Research by Aaron Galbraith, vague meanderings by  Tony Attwood

In this new series we are planning to have a look at the work of Bob Dylan, the man in the background.  And not always the man using his own name.

We are starting the series with Bob Dylan’s work as Blind Boy Grunt, working on the album “Dick Fariña & Eric von Schmidt.”

On the left is the cover on which we have the inscription “singing, shouting & playing American ballads, work songs & blues with Ethan Signer & occasionally Blind Boy Grunt. Instruments include mountain dulcimer, three mouth harps, two Spanish guitars, fiddle, mandolin, kazoo & Gordon’s Gin.”


The album was released in 1964 and was recorded during an impromptu session in January 1963 at Dobells Folk Record Shop in London, being issued later on their label. Bob (appearing as we have noted as Blind Boy Grunt) sings backing vocals and harmonica on 6 tracks.

And the reason for the pseudonym is that Bob’s Columbia contract prevented him from appearing under his own name so this pseudonym was used instead.

It is not possible to get the back cover of the album (shown left) reproduced in a manner  that makes it readable on the screen, but the back cover notes make for some interesting reading including the note, “Blind Boy Grunt showed up from Rome and nobody got much sleep.”

The whole album is on Spotify and is definitely worth a listen if you have 45 minutes or so to spare.

But there are a few of the tracks on the internet.  As for example Xmas Island which has some solid Blind Boy playing.

Also the early song sung in every folk club in the 60s…


Bob also appears on these songs which are on spotify:

A nice copy of the original album will set you back anywhere between $50-$100 depending on the condition and the pressing (there was a “Limited Edition” pressing which was the exact same as the regular pressing except the vinyl label states “limited edition”).

Solano Records issued a two CD version in 2007 with an additional disc of some 21 outtakes from the session, including several of Blind Boy Grunt’s contributions. It’s worth seeking out but it’s quite hard to find now and may set you back $40-$50.

This would have passed most fans by at the time of release due to the use of the pseudonym and as such it’s now pretty obscure and hard to come by, but it’s an essential album for fans of 60s folk music by one of the great duos and the addition of Dylan just makes this catnip for this collector!

If they had been allowed to say “& occasionally Bob Dylan” on the sleeve would this record be more well known these days? It’s very likely indeed.

But they do now have a Facebook page too.

Eric von Schmidt, who died in 2007 aged 75, was a leading light in the Cambridge, Massachusetts folk scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was described as “a man of huge generosity to his fellow musicians.

Bob Dylan stayed with von Schmidt, and repaid the debt to him by mentioning Rick in the intro to “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”.   Also on the cover of “Bringing It All Back Home” there is a copy of “The Folk Blues of Eric von Schmidt.”

Von Schmidt was also a friend of Richard Fariña who was himself considered to be one of the leading folk music / protest songwriters of the time, and who was a friend of Thomas Pynchon, not just Thomas Pynchon the author, but THE Thomas Pynchon (at least in Tony’s house).  He also became a good friend of Bob Dylan as explored in  “Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña, and Richard Fariña,” by David Hajdu.

Thomas Pynchon dedicated his masterpiece Gravity’s Rainbow  to the memory of Richard Fariña, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1966 and described Fariña’s own novel as “coming on like the Hallelujah Chorus done by 200 kazoo players with perfect pitch… hilarious, chilling, sexy, profound, maniacal, beautiful, and outrageous all at the same time.”

The story is that after Richard met Joan Baez’ younger sister, Richard divorced his wife and married the teenager and then released the Mimi & Richard Fariña album.

Which more or less takes us around in a complete circle.

I (Tony) appreciate I have meandered a way from Aaron’s intention with this series, and if you have not come across Pynchon or the Fariña album this probably means nothing, but if you have a moment, just listen to what follows.

If you have not ever tried a Pynchon novel before, it might be best to start with the “Crying of Lot 49”.  After that it got a bit weird.

Sorry Aaron – I got a bit carried away on this one.  Tony.

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  1. I realize it’s just a brushstroke of an article, but there’s so much wrong here I felt compelled to respond.

    Except maybe by himself, you’d be hard-pressed to find a contemporary that would call Dick “one of the leading folk music / protest songwriters of the time,” and this I note as a massive Richard Fariña fan. Calling him such dilutes the fact that what he was was potentially a great fiction writer and poet as well as being a charming rogue who never fulfilled his potential due to a tragic motorcycle accident. It’s nice that the writer acknowledges that Pynchon knew, liked and admired Fariña’s writing. It’d be nicer if a mention could have been made of “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me.”

    That Dylan and Dick were anything more than acquaintances who happened to be on the folk scene at the same time, and who knew each other mainly because both were in relationships with the Baez sisters, is a myth perpetuated by the gossipy and error-ridden “Positively 4th Street.” There’s no evidence that they were “good friends.” Dylan devotes exactly one sentence to Fariña in “Chronicles,” mostly to note that he was an adventurer married to Carolyn Hester. And Dylan’s sum reaction to Fariña’s death was in a phone call to Joan Baez, “Bummer about Dick, man.”

    For those wanting to know more about Dick and Mimi Fariña, I’d point them to

  2. Nashville Skyline has Bob posing just like Von Schmidt on his The Folk Blues of Eric Von Schmidt record cover, the same album that Bob has on the cover of Bringing It All Back Home.

  3. Fred Ball’s comments are fully justified and, like Fred, I am a bit if a fan, having seen Richard and Mimi live in 1965.

    Here are a few more errors in the article, perhaps less essential errors but errors nevertheless.

    i. In 1963, Dobells was a jazz record shop and this is where the recording sessions took place. Dobells did have a separate folk music shop at the time. It was about half-a-mile or so from the jazz shop and was not the place where the LP recording sessions tool place.

    2. The LP was released in 1963, not 1964 – in Britain, at least.

    3. The LP was not, however, released in the USA for another three years or more.

    4. The sessions were not “impromptu”. They were set up by Tom Costner, who issued the 2-CD set in 2007. Costner financed the session and had a contract with Doug Dobell, the shop owner. Dobell had the rights to distribute the resulting LP worldwide, except in the USA. Costner had the American distribution rights and also retained ownership of the master tapes.

    5. There were two marginally different versions of the rear sleeve, though the content was the same.

    6. ‘Limited Edition’ was a wheeze to avoid having to charge Purchase Tax (the equivalent of sales tax) on LPs, which were taxed as luxury goods. The tax on luxury goods had recently been reduced from 45% to 25% but 25% was still high enough to cut sales. “Limited Edition” meant that only 100 copies were manufactured – but see below.

    7. At least eight different versions of the LP labels have been identified, five of which say “Limited Edition”. You might think that this means that 500 copies of these were pressed in total but, because there are variations in the matrix numbers and other markings in the run-off area of the LP, it seems quite likely that, in practice, there were more copies pressed – and this is just for the “Limited Edition” copies.

    8. The U.S. custom authorities would not accept a disc that did not state the country of origin and destroyed all copies in the initial shipment – hence the removal of “Limited Edition” and its replacement with “Made in England”. There would have been no need to limit the manufacturing run of these to 100 and Costner has said that the customs authorities destroyed all 500 copies in that first shipment. The number of “Made In England” copies pressed is not known.

    9. The double-CD set on Solano was released by Costner in 2007 from the original master-tapes. As well as the tracks on the original LP, there are 21 previously unreleased tracks. Of the latter, 10 are complete takes, one is complete bar one verse and the others are false starts of varying lengths.

    10. The 21 non-LP tracks released on the double-CD were all from the first night’s recording sessions. None came from the second night.

    11. Though Dylan is thought to have turned up late on the first night, he may have been involved in some of the recordings made towards the end of the session that evening, without any note being kept.

    12. Dylan is noted on the recording sheet for the session on the second night, his name rendered as “Diglan”. This is where Dylan did contribute to other takes of songs on the LP but, to reiterate what is stated above, no additional material from the second night’s session was included on the 2007 Solano double-CD set – sadly.

  4. Hi twm

    thanks for the additional info..great stuff! where were you when i was writing the article!

    thanks, Aaron

  5. We are actively promoting a link to this interesting topic on The Bob Dylan Project at:
    If you are interested, we are a portal to all the great information related to this topic.

    Join us inside Bob Dylan Music Box.

  6. As a 14 year old, I got wind of Dylan going to Dobell’s. I asked in the shop if he had recorded there and was told to come back in a few weeks. I did that and bought two ‘limited’ edition LPs, one for me and one for a friend. We both had our copies pinched during the next few years. I went back to Charring Cross Road and bought another copy. This one had a completely white sleeve! I was told that they had run out of the ‘donkey’ sleeves. I remember all the cloak and dagger behaviour of the man behind the counter.
    My copy now site on top of a book shelf.
    As I am getting on a bit, I want to pass it on.

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