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My Time with Bob Dylan in Ann Arbor

Michael Erlewine

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan
Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. 

With an introduction to legendary guitar player Perry Lederman.

Of course, I get asked a lot about hitchhiking with Bob Dylan back in 1961. The only problem is that I did not know at the time that this was ‘THE’ Bob Dylan because he did not yet exist as famous. To me he was just another bright musician I was hanging around with. We traveled and spent time together. I was nineteen years old!

In the late 1950s and early 1960s I would hitchhike to New York City often. Back then, unless you had some old junker of a car to borrow, you hitchhiked.

Heading out of Ann Arbor the bad places to get stuck hitchhiking were down by the prison in Dundee, Michigan or trying to get around Toledo, Ohio, that sharp left turn to the East Coast. Once you got past those areas it went pretty smoothly, usually. And we would hang in Greenwich Village in New York City.

I believe I hitchhiked that distance ten times over the years, the first in the late 1950s, where we stayed in the apartment of comics artist and friend Larry Ivy, who did some of the Frank Frazetta comics. I think I did this with Doug Fontaine Brown, an artist himself and a popular musician around Ann Arbor in the late 1950s.

And I want to include here something about a legendary musician and guitar player Perry Lederman that you may not have heard of. Lederman went to the UofM for a while and was based in Ann Arbor. That’s where I met Lederman and we traveled together. I include some Lederman music below that is not to be missed.
I remember being in NYC with Perry Lederman and Bob Dylan back in June of 1961.


Perry Lederman
Perry Lederman

Lederman is how I met up with Dylan. They were already friends. Perry Lederman was a phenomenal instrumentalist on the guitar. If Dylan and I were in touch today, we would still marvel at what a player Lederman was. Lederman played Travis-style, which we used to term ‘3-finger picking’; his playing was unmatched and IMO still is. See for yourself below.

Perry Lederman was not a vocalist and when he did sing it was not special, but he could play like no one I have ever heard. When Lederman took out a guitar, people would listen and marvel. Each song was like hearing a mini symphony, with an overture, the main theme, with delicate variations, incredible syncopation, and an ending.

I traveled with Lederman a number of times and later in 1964 spent time with him during the year I spent in Berkeley where both of us were living at the time. He used to play at a local coffee house there, the Jabberwock if I remember. After that, I don’t believe I ever saw him again. In 1964, I was by myself and I would visit Perry in his Berkeley apartment, complete with his beautiful blonde woman, and too many cats.

Lederman died some years ago now and, although there was a CD issued after his death, it was not of his early playing, but something later and not representative, a shadow of himself. Too bad, because the world deserves to hear Perry Lederman play. As mentioned, I do include some music below that is close to what I originally heard. If you like that kind of folk guitar, Lederman is the man.

Lederman was also expert at finding and selling old Martin guitars, scavenging them out of attics and garages, fixing them up, and selling them. While traveling with Lederman I have seen some of the best and rarest old guitars in the world, like double and triple-0 martins with intricate perfling around the edges, rosewood and ebony bridges, and elaborate inlaid necks and headstocks, sometimes with the Tree-of-Life design.

These guitars are worth extravagant sums in today’s market. It would be hard to put a price of any kind on them. I had one for a while, an old koa wood Hawaiian guitar. I wonder what I ever did with it? Anyway, back to New York City. I also had an old Martin, Double-O 18, that was made around August of 1939. It’s a beauty and I gave it to my friend and musician Seth Bernard because he can really play that thing and still does.

I have memories of Izzy Young and the Folklore Center down on MacDougal Street in the West Village. We would hang out there because we had no place else to go and also because that is where you met other players and like minds. Back then we all smoked all the time, Lederman, myself, Dylan, everyone, mostly cigarettes, and drank caffeine, and some alcohol. That was the thing and staying up almost all night.

I don’t know how many days we were in the city on this trip, which was in June of 1961, but it was probably a while. We were hitchhiking and tended to spend at least a day or so at each main stop before moving on. Plus, Lederman’s mom lived in Brooklyn. I remember visiting her there and she served us matzo ball soup while I sat at a small kitchen table by a window. I quietly ate my soup while Perry and his mom got caught up. I don’t remember how we got out of Brooklyn or back to the city. It could have been by bus.

What I do remember is one night during that trip being at Gerde’s Folk City on West 4th Street in the West Village with Dylan. We were all just hanging out. In those days, and as mentioned, we stayed up late, usually most of the night. Who knows where we would sleep, often on the floor, but it was not so comfortable, and we were in no hurry for bed. The particular night I remember the guitar player Danny Kalb was playing at Gerdes. He was being featured that night or week. Kalb later became part of the group “The Blues Project.”

I am sure Kalb was enjoying his prominence and I can remember him playing, the lights all on him, while Dylan, Lederman, and I stood off toward the shadows. Perhaps it was packed, because I recall walking around in a crowd and there was not a lot of light or places to sit. Bob Dylan was not that happy about Kalb. I think we all felt that way because Kalb did have an air about him that night of ‘better than thou’, and who could blame him. He was the man of the hour that night at Gerde’s Folk City.

I can’t remember whether Dylan played a few songs later that night himself or perhaps he or Lederman played some tunes elsewhere. I don't recall. But I do recall his being irritated by Kalb, and some dissing Kalb a bit on all our parts was not hard to do. He was just a little full of himself at the time. After all Gerdes was ‘The’ place to be.

Thinking back, I doubt it was jealousy on Dylan’s part with Kalb. Dylan was not petty, as I recall. He was probably just itching to let all of us know he was ‘Bob Dylan’ and wondered why nobody could see this right off. Back then (and it is not so different today), if you had something to sing or had worked on your stuff, you wanted a chance to play and show it off. Dylan was a nervous type and it showed.

Keep in mind that in those days Bob Dylan was still trying to find out for himself who he was. This was before he recorded his first album. I can remember another time in Ann Arbor sitting with Dylan in the Michigan Union Grill (the Mug) for hours drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes while we waited for a review of a concert or ‘set’ that Dylan had done the night before.

I am not sure if the set was part of the U of M Folklore Society performance or some other one, but I remember that Dylan was very concerned about how it went over. That is most of what we talked about. He wanted to know. This was before he had the world at his feet. He put his pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us back then. When the paper finally came out and we got a copy, sure enough Dylan got a good review. With that he was soon out at the edge of Ann Arbor hitchhiking to Chicago and the folk scene there.

Back in the early 1960s there was an established route that folkies like Dylan and me travelled. It went from Cambridge to NYC to Ann Arbor (sometimes to Antioch and Oberlin) to the University of Chicago to Madison and on out to Berkley. This was the folk bloodstream that we all circulated on, either hitchhiking or commandeering some old car for the trip. Most of us hitchhiked. Early folk stars like Joan Baez and the New Lost City Ramblers did not hitchhike, but they still sat around with us in the Michigan Union drinking coffee. I remember one time having coffee in the MUG with Baez, sitting around there and talking, just the two of us.

And another time I remember hitchhiking with Dylan and Lederman, heading out of New York City down the road to Boston and to Club 47 in Cambridge. Here was Dylan standing on the side of the road with a big acoustic guitar strapped around his shoulder playing, while I stuck out my thumb. I remember the song “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” in particular. Even though I did not know at the time that this was “Bob Dylan,” it still was pretty cool. This is the life we all wanted to live back then. We were chasing the Beats and playing folk music. This was years before Hippies, which came along more in the dance scene around 1965.

And Cambridge was another whole city and atmosphere. For some strange reason I seem to remember the Horn & Hardart automat there and trying to get food from it. Club 47, like “The Ark” in Ann Arbor, was one of the premier folk venues in the country, even back then. Today it is known as Club Passim and my daughter May Erlewine plays there, as well as here at The Ark.

Cambridge was where Lederman and I left Dylan that time. He was heading out west to New York hitching along the interstate 90 toward I believe it was Saratoga Springs or perhaps Schenectady for a gig. Perry Lederman and I were hitchhiking over to New Hampshire and Laconia to attend the annual motorcycle races there, which is another story. I don’t know where we slept at the races. I remember it being just on the ground, and it was still kind of cold out at night.

And the motorcycle races were incredible. Large drunken crowds that, when the official races were not being run, would part just enough to allow two motorcycles to run first gear while the crowd cheered. The problem was that the crowd pressed in too close and every so often one of the cycles would veer into the crowd and the handlebars would tear someone’s chest out. The ambulances were going non-stop way into the evening.

And it seemed the crowd never learned. It was scary and very drunk out. I remember riding on the racetrack itself on the back of a big Norton motorcycle at 100 miles an hour, not something I would do today.

This all took place in mid-June of 1961. The Laconia, New Hampshire races were held from June 15 through the 18th that year. This would put us in Gerdes Folk city some days before that.
As to what kind of “person” Bob Dylan was, in all sincerity he was a person like any of us back then, a player or (in my case) a would-be player. Dylan and I are the same age, born a month or two apart. All of us were properly intense and dedicated to folk music. I was 19 years old in the spring of 1961. Imagine!

I vaguely remember Dylan telling me he was going to record an album or just had recorded one; it could have been the Harry Belafonte album where he played harmonica as a sideman on “Midnight Special,” I don’t know. I believe it was later that year that Dylan recorded his first album on Columbia. I don’t remember seeing him much after that. Here is something I wrote many years ago about Dylan for a biography on jazz great Grant Green.

This was while people will still getting used to Dylan’s gravelly voice:

“Consider the singing voice of Bob Dylan. A lot of people used to say the guy can’t sing. But it’s not that simple. He is singing. The problem is that he is singing so far in the future that we can’t yet hear the music. Other artists can sing his tunes and we can hear that all right. Given enough time… enough years… that gravel-like voice will sound as sweet to our ears as any velvety-toned singer. Dylan’s voice is all about microtones and inflection.

For now, that voice may be hidden from our ears in time so tight that there is no room (no time) yet to hear it. Some folks can hear it now. I, for one, can hear the music in that voice. I know many of you can too. Someday everyone will be able to hear it, because the mind will unfold itself until even Dylan’s voice is exposed for just what it is -- a pure music. But by then our idea of music will also have changed. Rap is changing us even now. “

[This article was also published in “The Bridge,” volume No. 39, the British journal dedicated to Dylan’s work.’]

Billie Holiday is another voice that is filled with microtones that emerge through time like an ever-blooming flower. You (or I) can’t hear the end or root of her singing, not yet anyway. As we try to listen to Holiday (as we try to grasp that voice), we are knocked out by the deep information there. We try to absorb it and before we can get a handle on her voice (if we dare listen!), she entrances us in a delightful dream-like groove and we are lost to criticism. Instead, we groove on and reflect about this other dream that we have called life.

All great musicians do this to us. Shakespeare was the master at this. You can’t read him and remain conscious. He knocks you out with his depth, and you wake back up somewhere down the stream of time, enriched.

Grant Green’s jazz guitar playing at its best is like this too. It is so recursive that instead of taking the obvious outs we are used to hearing, Green instead chooses to reinvest -- to go in further and deepen the groove. He opens up a groove and then opens up a groove and then opens a groove, and so on. He never stops. He opens a groove and then works to widen that groove until we can see into the music, see through the music into ourselves, into life. He puts everything back into the groove that he might otherwise get out of it, the opposite of ego. He knows that the groove is the ‘thing’, and that time will see him out and his music will live long. That is what grooves are about and why Grant Green is the groove master.

Perry Lederman played like this. We had never heard a player like this back then or even today. If you play this link, it will play song after song. Notice the nuances in his playing. Have you ever heard playing like that?






Rights Held By
Michael Erlewine