“Listening to a song we can speak of politics, society, culture:
he whole world is inside a song.”– Greil Marcus, Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes (1997)
This quote from an interview with music critic Greil Marcus about about the creation and cultural importance of The Basement Tapes, a series of recordings made by Bob Dylan in 1967 in collaboration with The Hawks (aka The Band).
Greil Marcus has said that in the “Early Days” in the ’50s and ’60s, the Ten O’clock Scholar is where the music happened. The small coffee house, which was located where Your Yoga Studio (formerly Hollywood Video) is today, is where the story starts. Nationally known musicians such as Spider John Koerner, Dave Ray, and the legendary Bob Dylan spent the early days of their performance careers at the Scholar.
The Scholar was not the only place that music was “happening” in Dinkytown, however. Bob Spitz, in Dylan: A Biography (Norton, 1989), names “a few coffee houses where up-and-coming entertainers could play: The Coffee Break, Hillel House, and a pizza joint called the Purple Onion.”
There were also houses where musicians gathered regularly. Judy Larson and Billy Golfus recall one such venue “where there was a different kind of music in every room (blues, folk, jazz). You just went from room to room.” Elizabeth and Lyle Lofgren held a regular Friday night session.
KOERNER, RAY, AND GLOVER
Koerner, Ray, and Glover met as students at the University of Minnesota and were part of the early folk/blues explosion in the ‘60s. Tony "Little Sun" Glover was on harmonica, and "Spider" John Koerner and Dave "Snaker" Ray played guitar and performed vocals.
Their breakthrough album, Blues, Rags and Hollers, was released in 1963. They appeared at the Newport Folk Festival; their performance was recorded for the Vanguard Records album Newport Folk Festival 1964: Evening Concerts III and filmed for the documentary Festival in 1967.
They played frequently in Dinkytown, where they met Bob Dylan on his first visit to the Ten O’clock Scholar. Koerner is mentioned in Dylan’s autobiography Chronicles. Of that time period, Koerner later said, “We were all goofy, you know. We were thinkers and drinkers and artists and players, and Dylan was one of us. He was another guy."
In the late '60s they played at the Triangle Bar on the West Bank. They not only influenced Dylan, but many other musicians, including members of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, who cite Blues, Rags and Hollers as an important influence.
In 1983 The Minnesota Music Academy (MMA) named Koerner, Ray, and Glover "Best Folk Group" and in 1985 inducted them into the MMA Hall of Fame. In 2008 they were inducted into the Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame under the category Blues Recordings for Blues, Rags and Hollers.
Dave Ray died in November 2002. Koerner and Glover most recently performed together at the Legacy Tribute Concert for Ray at the Minnesota History Museum in November 2014.
Read more about the artists
Thompson is internationally acclaimed as perhaps the finest interpreter of early jazz piano.
Butch came to the University of Minnesota in 1961 as a freshman, and, as many of the students at that time, spent time between and after classes in Dinkytown, particularly at Bridgeman’s. As a teenager, he had led his first band, Shirt Thompson and his Sleeves, and played his first professional engagements.
Through a connection with one of the musicians he had met playing with an amateur Dixieland Band, the Amatooters, he was recommended to the Hall Brothers Dixieland Jazz Band, temporarily replacing clarinetist Dick Ramberg, during a leave of absence. In 1962 he officially joined the Hall Brothers, who had a long-running weekend stand at Brady's Bar on Minneapolis' Hennepin Avenue strip.
Butch began a series of pilgrimages to New Orleans, studied with clarinetist George Lewis, and became one of the few non-Orleanians to guest at Preservation Hall. His playing was described by the Wall Street Journal as "...the incomparable jazz piano of Butch Thompson."
Drafted into the Army in 1966, he returned to the Hall Brothers and the University, now majoring in American Studies and helping organize a number of campus events culminating in the Earth Week Ragtime Festival of May 1972. In the mid 1970s he became a regular guest on A Prairie Home Companion and—with George "Red" Maddock and bassist Bill Evans—formed the Butch Thompson Trio, taking over as the official house band as the show rose to national prominence during the early 1980s.
Thompson works regularly as a pops soloist. He writes articles and reviews on jazz and produces his own weekly show, Jazz Originals, on KBEM radio in Minneapolis. His writing has appeared in Down Beat, The Mississippi Rag, Keyboard Classics and New Orleans Music.
One of the most characteristic and enduring features of the Dinkytown experience were the street musicians. From Dylan’s room above Gray’s Drug and the upper floors of the College Inn Hotel, you could look down and watch the whole of 4th Street. The southwest corner of the intersection was virtually a ‘stage.’ Butch Thompson’s Dinkytown remembrance is of an epiphany of jazz improvisation in front of Perine’s Bookstore at University and 14th Avenues.
Then, as now, in Dinkytown each street musician had a favorite spot – which would change over time with the seasons and traffic patterns. Jerry Rau, “Minnesota’s Minstrel,” had several such stations where, in recent years, he would encourage and mentor younger musicians who approached him. His decades-long tenancy was one of the important fixtures of the street scene in Dinkytown. A few of these musicians made it into the annals of music history.
► VIDEO: Jerry Rau performs "American Boys"
Dylan’s time in Dinkytown, though short, plays an important role in the myth of “Bob.” It was in Dinkytown that Dylan traded his electric guitar for an acoustic one, was introduced to folk music, and most importantly to Dylan’s early career, heard Woody Guthrie and read Bound for Glory for the first time.
Between February 3-April 29, 2007, the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota presented the exhibition “Bringing It All Back Home,” which explored 10 years of the music and life of Dylan. The exhibition included photographs, listening stations, film, artifacts, lectures, and conferences.
Colleen Sheehy is the Weisman curator for the Dylan exhibit, which originated at Seattle's Experience Music Project (EMP) in 2004. The exhibit made stops at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and New York's Morgan Library before landing on the University of Minnesota campus. Sheehy borrowed exhibit items from a dozen people and organizations to add to Dylan's American Journey in order to help visitors evoke the Dinkytown and Hibbing of Dylan’s past. Her insights about Dylan and Dinkytown are summarized in the interview that was the source for the following essay: “What Made Dylan Dylan?: Hibbing and Dinkytown in the American Journey.”
“The Weisman is just steps away from Dinkytown, the small business and residential district that Dylan called home for 15 months between 1959 and 1960. These four square blocks of Minneapolis have played a pivotal part in the world of music,” Sheehy said. “In this little Bohemia/Greenwich Village one could find characters like beat poet David Whitaker and bookstore owner Melvin McCosh. It was an interesting little incubator of politics and culture on the edge of the University. There were misfits and counterculture political types, but also an intellectual infusion from students and faculty.”
The neighborhood’s music clubs, record stores, and musicians introduced Dylan to folk music. Here is where he played the music of Leadbelly and Odetta in the Ten O’clock Scholar, picking up sets with Spider John Koerner and Tony Little Sun Glover.
In his autobiography, Chronicles: Volume One, Dylan said, "I played morning, noon and night. That's all I did, usually fell asleep with the guitar in my hands.”
He enrolled at the University of Minnesota but rarely attended classes. Music took all of his attention. Dylan first crashed in a frat house, but mostly lived with a view of an alley in an austere efficiency apartment above Gray’s Drugstore, now the Loring Pasta Bar.
The Minnesota Party Tape
At a listening station at the Wiesman exhibit called “The Minnesota Party Tape,” Dylan could be heard singing several folk songs, including one of Woody Guthrie’s.
Sheehy said, “This tape is recorded in Dinkytown in a friend’s apartment. On it you hear Dylan goofing around and joking. It’s really funny. He has a repartee. This is when he was becoming a folk singer.”
The tape came from Clive Pettersen by way of the Minneapolis Historical Society. Pettersen, a teenager in 1960, asked to record coffee house folksingers on his new reel-to-reel tape recorder. Bob Dylan agreed and was recorded at 711 15th Avenue S.E. in Minneapolis in a casual session with Pettersen, Bonnie Beecher, and "Cynthia," a friend of Dylan’s.
► Listen to "The Minneapolis Party Tape"
Dylan, who was born Robert Zimmerman in 1941, played around with stage names. He called himself Elston Gunn while he was still in Hibbing, Sheehy said.
“Dylan knew Judy Garland (also from Minnesota) used to be Frances Ethel Gumm. It was while Dylan lived in Dinkytown that he made the switch to Bob Dylan."
Sheehy heard stories of the name change while conducting her research. There are several different versions. “I was told he took the name from Matt Dillon of TV’s Gunsmoke. We’ve got a poster with that spelling,” she said. The exhibit also boasts two copies of the folk music magazine Little Sandy Review, the first publication to announce that Dylan was using a pseudonym.
Dylan discovered the work of Woody Guthrie in Dinkytown. Dave Whitaker, who Dylan called one of the Svengali-type Beats on the scene, lent him Guthrie’s autobiography, Bound for Glory. Learning about Guthrie’s work and hearing the songs sent Dylan on a quest to New York City to meet the celebrated folksinger. It was a journey that took Dylan away from Minnesota permanently.
In January 1961 Dylan headed straight from Dinkytown to Greenwich Village, where he landed on Guthrie’s doorstep. Robert Shelton, who referred to Dylan’s years in “the University of Dinkytown,” reviewed Dylan’s first concert at Gerdes Folk City, New York and launched his career.
Watch a discussion between folk legend and photographer John Cohen and Nora Guthrie about Cohen’s new book, Here and Gone: Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, & the 1960s, which had just been published on November 28, 2014.
The Minnesota Historical Society lists 97 Dylan items in its reference library. Included are a 1987 Ph.D. thesis by a Purdue University student, five fanzines, 17 books and articles published in Germany, one children’s book, and Dylan’s original, hand-written lyric sheet for “Temporary Like Achilles,” a 1966 song on the album “Blonde on Blonde,” which was purchased from a collector in 1988.
The most interesting title in the society’s collection is “Mysteriously Saved: An Astrological Investigation into Bob Dylan’s Conversion to American Fundamentalism” by John Ledbury. Bob Spitz’s 1989 book, Dylan: A Biography, is the largest item, at 639 pages.
In November 2014 Red House Records published “Legacy,” a three-disc collection of rare and unreleased tracks spanning the legendary career of acoustic bluesman Dave Ray. It was meticulously put together by Ray’s long-time collaborator and bandmate Tony Glover, who also contributed liner notes to the accompanying 32-page booklet.
Dave Ray, along with Jug Band founder Dave Morton and many other Dinkytown notables attended Marshall-University High and frequented Dinkytown throughout the era.
Willie Murphy is charter member of the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, along with Bob Dylan and Prince.
Willie is a soul, R&B, blues, and rock legend who once challenged the Rolling Stones to a pool tournament. In Willie’s words, “the Stones chickened out.”
His most recent Red House recording, A Shot of Love in a Time of Need, is a two-disc album recorded over the past eight years. Shel Danielson, a member of the Preserve Historic Dinkytown Advisory Committee, has recorded four hours of interviews with Willie.
The Podium served the music community in Dinkytown for over 50 years. It was a locus for the exchange of ideas and music culture. It sold top of the line guitars and provided instrument refurbishing and repair. The Podium was famous for being “where Bob Dylan got his guitar strings”; and it is said that Bonnie Raitt bought one of her guitars there. In the 1970s the Podium also sold tobacco.
The store was initially located on 14th Avenue, then moved around the corner to 5th Street, and then back to 14th Avenue in the ‘70s. There it was part of the “books, music, and food” cornerstone of Dinkytown businesses at 5th Street and 14th Avenue, along with The Book House and the House of Hanson, with over 170 collective years in Dinkytown among them.
The building was demolished in 2014 to build the Opus student housing project.
RED HOUSE RECORDS
Red House Records is a Grammy-winning independent folk, blues, bluegrass, and Americana record label. It was located at the corner of Oak and Washington in Minneapolis at 720 Washington Ave. S.E., #202. With $3,000 and a book called How to Start Your Own Independent Record Label, Red House Records was founded by Bob Feldman in 1983. The label specializes in folk music, blues, bluegrass, and Americana. Greg Brown was the label's first featured artist. Feldman served as president of Red House Records until early 2006.
In the early years of the label's existence, the company focused solely on folk music artists from the upper Midwest, including:
- Spider John Koerner
- Prudence Johnson
- Peter Ostroushko
- Rio Nido
- Jorma Kaukonen and John Gorka
- Utah Phillips
- Tom Paxton
- Norman Blake
- Eliza Gilkyson
- Loudon Wainwright III
- Robin and Linda Williams
- Cliff Eberhardt
- Ramblin' Jack Elliott.
Now Red House Records’ reach includes singer-songwriters from across the United States, Canada, and Great Britain.
Dinkytown in the 1960s was where students taught faculty about popular culture over coffee; the students thought that academics should not separate high culture from popular culture. For example, students though academics should stop segregating classical music from popular music.
“Soon professors across the country were creating courses on popular culture with an emphasis on popular music. Dinkytown integrationists played their part well in this change.”
-David W. Noble, Professor Emeritus