Fly on the Wall: what happened to the tapes of the very first Bob Dylan album

By Steven Adler

How often have we said? “It would have been terrific to be a fly on the wall to see how that happened”. 

Get ready because there is a chance that can happen to you.  How would you have liked to have been in the recording studio for the taping session of  Bob Dylan’s first album? Yes, it is possible for you to experience Bob Dylan going through the process of recording this seminal album, “Bob Dylan”, the first album, is also referred to as “Hammond’s Folly.” But more about that later.  

My dear friend, and human being extraordinaire, is a 70-year-old, artist, sculpturer, civil rights pioneer and currently helping blind individuals defend themselves. Mr. Stephen Handschu, who 95% blind can let you be the fly on the wall.

Sixty years ago, Stephen’s roommate in NYC, was a janitor at the Columbia recording studio. When, after the Bob Dylan’s recording session was over, someone in the production company was ready to throw Master Recordings in the garbage, Mr Handschu’s friend asked if he could have the tapes. The protocol at the time was to scrub the tapes before putting them in the garbage. His friend brought the tapes home and just put them away. Sometime, shortly thereafter, the roommate decided to leave the U.S. and move to British Columbia. Intending to travel light, he offered the tapes to Stephen. Both parties believed they were merely blank tapes.

Now, move the clock to three years ago. Stephen, while living in Detroit, became very friendly with a studio engineer. During a casual conversation, he told the engineer that he had these old Scotch tapes and could they be of any use to him. The engineer said “Yes.”   They met again and the engineer needed to rustle up a tape player that would play these ancient tapes. He did and started to play the tapes. They weren’t blank. They were listening to the whole recording session Hammond’s Folly. Carrumba!

At the time of Bob Dylan’s recording, one of the most important agents for talent was John Hammond. He represented the crème de la crème in the singing world. He was taking a bet on Bob Dylan, who at the time was  just another young folk singer. We can now hear what went on in the studio. You hear the patter between the singer and the engineers and John Hammond.  It’s amazing. 

The album was released and it flopped.  Only about 5,000 copies were sold.  Mr. Hammond wasted his time. Ergo thus got labelled “Hammond’s Folly.  What happened after that changed the history of folk music and the incredible influence Bob Dylan has had in the music world and culture in general.  

We have to find a way to get Stephen Handshu to share what is on these tapes with the fans of Bob Dylan and music history. Stephen doesn’t know quite what to do with what he has. He is looking for a way for these tapes to be shared with Bob Dylan’s fans.  If you would like to be that fly on the wall, let us know. 

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8 Responses to Fly on the Wall: what happened to the tapes of the very first Bob Dylan album

  1. Daniel says:

    yeah, do the normal stuff with old tapes to preserve the oxide. Does Columbia have any claim on these? Hopefully we won’t get tied up in litigation….whatever, I’d like to hear everything, including the studio banter…

  2. Chris Cooper says:

    First we must be aware that teh copyright on these recordings has expired. That s why there are many cheap variations around. I have worked an an outreach collector for Tulsa and am responsible for lodging almost 600 concerts on film there in the past 2 years. I would suggest the tapes be copied and so spread amongst collectors then the master reels go to Tulsa back to Bob.
    I can arrange all this. CONTACT ME ccmover@tiscali.co.uk
    Chris Cooper

  3. Chris Hockenhull says:

    This would be incredible to have/ listen to. I would love to have copies in my collection to experience those historic moments. Best wishes with getting these together and available for those who would appreciate them

  4. Auke Bijlsma says:

    It would be very fine to have a copy of these tapes!

    Auke Bijlsma

  5. JSL says:

    These belong in Tulsa, in the Dylan Archive.

  6. Marty Katz says:

    This bit of news has certainly gotten my attention. Perhaps Dylan himself would be interested in releasing a Bootleg Series release using these recordings. If not a legitimate release, I would have no problem obtaining a bootleg copy. The sooner the better. Please Bob, if you are listening, do the right thing.

  7. Percy Song says:

    I’d like to be that fly on the wall… Do we know how many reels there are and which machine(s) they come from? John Hammond would have been recording to a mono machine and (probably) two stereo machines simultaneously. We also know Reels 1D and 2D were auctioned in 2013.

    https://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/bob-dylan-original-1961-master-tapes-310-c-435fce6c78#

  8. Gringo557 says:

    I have a huge Beatles Dylan archive and would love to hear everything on that tape!

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