Research by Aaron Galbraith, vague meanderings by Tony Attwood
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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