Bob Dylan is a name so ubiquitous with music as we know it that feeling able to access the very beginning of a career that would go on to defy an establishment, define a generation and become one of the figureheads of the music industry, can feel out of reach.
But one performance comes closer than any other to show the seedling growth of Bob Dylan into the mighty oak of music we know and love, and we’ve got it for you. Of course, we’re talking about Dylan’s iconic performance on CBC’s Quest.
The performance took place in March 1964 and saw Bob on a Canadian TV programme at his socially conscious folkie best. Of course, the singer had been milling around the smoky coffee shops of New York’s Greenwich Village for some time now, but for a nation, this was their first taste of Bob Dylan.
In full Woody Guthrie garb, the performance shows Dylan in a western bunk set performing some of his classics from his albums Times They Are a-Changin’ and The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. The former, his third album, which was released just weeks before, had 3 songs performed as did the latter. It’s a set that includes ‘Times They Are A-Changin”, ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ and ‘The Girl From North Country’.
It’s a performance which is as close to the essence of Bob Dylan and what made him so brilliant as you’re likely to get. It sees the young Dylan beginning to approach a crossroads in his career. This footage, therefore, remains an image of the man Dylan would eventually leave behind.
Only a few months later Dylan would rent an electric guitar, take himself to the Newport folk festival in 1965 and change everything. The CBC performance is far from the cries of Judas that littered the stage that particular evening. This performance is honest, intellectual, subtle and ultimately a flagstone laid which would provide the foundations of one of the greatest artists in history.
Writer and filmmaker Erek Barsczewski was to say about this appearance: “Dylan’s appearance on Quest provides the closest approximation available of what his early performances in Greenwich Village would have looked and sounded like.”
Watch one of Bob Dylan’s earliest TV performances on CBC’s Quest, from back in 1964.
The songs, in order of appearance, are:
‘The Times They Are A Changin’’
‘Talkin’ World War III Blues’
‘Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’
‘Girl From the North Country’
‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’