“The events which led up to [recording for Columbia Records] were very unexpected. … [Producer] John [Hammond] had first seen and heard me at Carolyn Hester’s apartment. Carolyn was a Texan guitar-playing singer who I knew and played with around town. She was going places and it didn’t surprise me. Carolyn was eye catching, down-home and double barrel beautiful. That she had known and worked with Buddy Holly left no small impression on me and I liked being around her. Buddy was royalty, and I felt like she was my connection to it, to the rock-and-roll music that I’d played earlier, to that spirit.” – Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One
Carolyn Hester, “The Texas Songbird”, should be familiar to any fan of Bob Dylan. She got her start in the late 1950s as a singer of traditional folk songs, including “The House Of The Rising Sun”, “The Water Is Wide”, and “Dink’s Song”. Hester’s first album, Scarlet Ribbons (Coral Records, 1957) , was produced by Norman Petty, and she later recorded with fellow Texan Buddy Holly. Carolyn’s second LP was recorded on the Clancy Brothers’ Tradition label. She was briefly married to folk singer Richard Fariña in the early 1960s.
On September 30, 1961, she hired Dylan to play harmonica on a session for her Columbia Records debut, after playing a shared bill at Club 47 up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. According to Hester. “I was surprised to find that Bob was opening for Richard Fariña and me at Club 47 (now Club Passim). I didn’t even have his phone number until the day after we played Club 47….When he asked about gigs and I offered to have him play harp on the Columbia session.” The album’s producer, John Hammond, was impressed with Dylan and quickly signed him to Columbia.
Martin Scorsese’s documentary No Direction Home featured Dylan’s 1963 performances of “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “Man Of Constant Sorrow” from the Westinghouse TV special, Folk Songs and More Folk Songs. Among the other artists on the program were the Brothers Four, Barbara Dane, the Staples Singers, and Carolyn Hester. The finale featured all the artists performing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”
Two years later, Hester covered Dylan’s “Playboys and Playgirls” on her At Town Hall live album.
In 1969, Hester married jazz musician David Blume. She continues to records and perform with their daughters, Amy and Karla Blume. They recently released a new album entitled We Dream Forever, which features a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Boots Of Spanish Leather”.
Carolyn appeared at the 1992 Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Celebration Concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden. She graciously agreed to answer some questions about that historic night via email.
What are your favorite memories of the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration?
Any musical artist would be totally delighted to be invited to this tribute to Bob Dylan. As he is a musical icon, with so many friends he could have invited, it was an honor for those of us who gathered at Madison Square Garden to share this fabulous evening with Bob and with each other. We can never forget how stirring it was, for ourselves and the 20,000 or so in the audience, who were treated all night long to enjoying Dylan songs interpreted so lovingly. It seemed as though New York City itself was even more “switched on” than usual. Everyone knew it was “Bob Dylan Night”…….the cabbies, the police force, the media, and the people in the streets.
How did you get involved with “Bob-Fest”?
When the news of this special Tribute was announced, my long time friend and sometimes booking agent and producer, Steve Goldston, got in touch with one of Dylan’s managers, Jeff Rosen, in N.Y.C. They stayed in touch and six weeks or so before the event I was told that there was a question and a request. “Since Carolyn participated with Nanci Griffith on her album Other Voices, Other Rooms, (as did Bob, who played harmonica on ‘Boots of Spanish Leather”), would Carolyn care to join Nanci in singing “Boots?” Nanci’s then Manager, Ken Levitan, confirmed this idea in the affirmative, so it that is how “our” Dylan song was determined.
How did you prepare for the concert ?
The day before the big concert, I arrived at JFK from my home in L.A. It was a little unusual for a folksinger to be greeted by a limo driver and then to get swallowed up in the huge back seat, with a bar at my disposal all the way from JFK to the Rihga Royal Hotel. I was too happy to be back in the city to do anything but enjoy the scenery and chat with the driver. He seemed to know all about the upcoming event. He told me that he had heard that “The Donald” (Trump) would be there. And that was what the weekend was like….the entire city seemed to be involved.
What were rehearsals like? Where were they held?
I understand that rehearsals were held over several days…..rumors of “certain” rehearsal studios. Nanci and I rehearsed at the hotel…..Nanci and Frank Christian on guitars. The next day I had an interview with ABC-TV News and it was broadcast that same day, late in the afternoon. Nanci and I and Frank had soundcheck in the early afternoon and went back to the hotel to dress. About that time, Willie Nelson’s harmonica player, Mickey Raphael came up to me and said, “I love Nanci and I know that Bob is on harp on her CD about to come out…….I wondered if you might ask her if she would like me to join you on harp for “Boots?” So I asked, Nanci said “yes” and that’s how Mickey joined our little band. Another run through with Mickey and we were good to go. (Mickey played that evening with both Willie and Nanci).
To be continued . . .
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