April 11, 2017
Bob Dylan’s Other Guitar That Pissed Off a Bunch of People
On July 25, 1965, Bob Dylan, backed by a full band, played an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival and changed music forever. The event has since become mired in misconceptions, urban myths, and half-truths, but this much is certain: it was loud, some people were mad/really mad, and Dylan played a sunburst Fender Stratocaster. The Strat in question has become one of the most fabled instruments in all of music history, and rightfully so. Aside from it being associated with one of the most infamous moments in popular music, it signaled the beginning of a golden era of Dylan songwriting, which encompasses his first electric album, Bringing it all Back Home, released in March of 1965, Highway 61 Revisited, released in August of 1965, and Blonde on Blonde, released in early Summer of 1966. These three albums, seen as something of a trilogy, showcase Dylan in full rock band mode, with his poetic flair brighter than ever before. Gone were the socially-conscious themes and solo acoustic folk sounds that dominated his early, solo folk albums; here were abstract verses of relentless complexity and music that Dylan would describe as the “thin, wild mercury sound.” And whether they liked it or not, those in attendance at Newport on that day in 1965 bore witness to the unveiling of the live thin, wild mercury sound, and likely did not realize the significance that the event would take on in later years.
But let’s get back to the guitar. Dylan’s 3-tone sunburst Strat was a ’62, and it sold at auction in 2013 for a mind-blowing $965,000. The guitar was reportedly played at the sessions for Bringing it All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited, as well as some U.S. tour dates that proceeded the Newport show, but it will forever be known as the “Newport guitar.” The scene at Newport was showcased symbolically in the 2007 biopic I’m Not There, with Dylan and his band opening their guitar cases and pulling out machine guns, opening fire on the audience.
There is, however, another Fender guitar that Dylan played in this era that gets considerably less attention nowadays, but it nonetheless was every bit as much an instrument that incited fury in many a concert goer in its time. By 1966, for his world tour, Dylan was now sporting a black Fender Telecaster. If Dylan thought the Newport folkies weren’t digging his new sound, the folkniks abroad, especially in England, would affirm it. For his 1966 tour, Dylan recruited the Hawks (who would later become the Band and have a successful career in their own right), to play the second half of his two part show. Part one appeased most of the folk fans, as Dylan played by his lonesome with an acoustic guitar. The second set was rock ’n’ roll pandemonium — by many accounts, some of the finest of the era. The fans and the press were absolutely furious with Dylan, who, according to them, sold his soul out to popular music, which flew in the face of everything folk music apparently stood for. The most famous instance of this audience insolence came when Dylan played the Free Trade Hall in Manchester on May 17, 1966. A member of the audience shouted “Judas!” to Dylan after he and the Hawks finished playing Highway 61 cut “Ballad of a Thin Man.” Dylan’s notoriously replied, “I don’t believe you. You’re a liar.” He then turned to the band and declared “play it fuckin’ loud!” … and they did. It was loud. It was obnoxious. It was snotty. It was brilliant. It’s the Bob Dylan that most people think of when they think of Bob Dylan.
50 years ago, Bob Dylan broke hearts, lost fans, and made the UK press lose their minds with an electric guitar in his hands. Are you looking to replicate the sound of Dylan on The Live 1966 Recordings box set? Martel Music has a blonde 1972 Telecaster that is being re-fretted and will hit the shelves soon.
David Elliott, writing for Martel Music
Comments will be approved before showing up.