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How Bob Dylan became John Lee Hooker's support act for his first major concert

@TylerGolsen

In January of 1961, Bob Dylan was 19-years-old and fresh off the bus from Minnesota. Looking to make it as a folk singer, Dylan entered Greenwich Village bars and coffee houses looking for open mics and open opportunities to play.

One of these venues was Gerde’s Folk City, one of Manhattan’s biggest meccas for folk music. Dylan had been able to squirm his way on stage a couple of times, and when club owner Mike Porco booked blues legend John Lee Hooker for a two-week engagement starting on April 11, he decided to hire Dylan to Hooker’s opening act.

“He was so excited he was jumping up and down,” Porco recalled in Bob Dylan: An Intimate Biography. “His first real job, and working with John Lee Hooker who was liked by everybody, and Bobby probably figured, too, that Hooker would bring a lot of people in.”

Fellow New York folk legend Dave Van Ronk was in the audience during Dylan’s first high-profile gigs. “He was absolutely remarkable,” Van Ronk said in Dylan: A Biography. “It was one of the most electrifying shows I have ever seen in my life. His delivery was letter-perfect; he kibitzed with the audience. The songs sounded positively beautiful. Little bits he did with his guitar and stool were perfectly Chaplin-esque. If ever a star was born, it was that night at Folk City.”

Dylan’s setlist only consisted of five songs, including ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and ‘Song to Woody’, both of which would find their way onto Dylan’s 1962 debut LP. He then ceded the stage to Hooker, who was the night’s actual draw. According to Hooker, he and Dylan got along famously, usually going back to Hooker’s hotel room to keep playing after the gigs.

“Every night he’d be right there with me. We’d stay there, we’d party there, drink gin,” Hooker recalled in Bob Dylan: An Intimate Biography. “He’d sit around and watch me play; he’d be right there every night, and we’d be playing guitars in the hotel. I don’t know what he got from me, but he must’ve got something.”

“We were great friends. A beautiful man,” Hooker said in the book Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan. “He really wasn’t playing with me for money. He was doing it for fun.”

None of the concerts were professionally recorded, and any amateur recordings have yet to surface, but Dylan himself would chronicle the step up the musical ladder in his song ‘Talkin’ New York’, the second track off his debut album.

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