In his new memoir, Chronicles: Volume One, Bob Dylan unexpectedly dispenses glowing testimonials to the talents of a number of his less heralded — and less hip — ’60s contemporaries. We asked three of the artists who got the great man’s imprimatur how they felt about it.
What Dylan Wrote ”Of all the versions of my recorded songs, [Rivers’ cover of ‘Positively 4th Street’] was my favorite…I liked his version better than mine.”
Rivers’ Reaction ”Back then, everybody was doing at least one Dylan song on their albums — it was almost mandatory in the ’60s,” says Rivers (perhaps best remembered for ”Secret Agent Man”). ”There were so many Dylan covers, so that’s really flattering. I read what he wrote to a musician friend of mine who said, ‘Praise from Caesar is praise indeed!”’ Rivers remembers nailing the tune (featured on his 1968 album Realization) in one take: ”I was able to sing it as though I had written it myself. I just felt it emotionally.”
”SPIDER” JOHN KOERNER
What Dylan Wrote ”Koerner was tall and thin with a look of perpetual amusement on his face. We hit it off right away…. Koerner was an exciting singer, and we began playing a lot together. I learned a lot of songs off Koerner….”
Koerner’s Reaction ”He’s got more memory of us playing together than I do,” confesses singer-guitarist Koerner (who, with Willie Murphy, recorded the critically acclaimed Running Jumping Standing Still in 1969). ”We were part of a folk scene in an area of Minneapolis known as Dinkytown in 1959. Dylan was one of the more notable characters. Of course, none of us knew what was going to happen to him.” Surely there was some indication he was bound for glory? ”Well, you could see he had a certain knack. Some people thought he was arrogant.” Any other memories? ”People have told me we used to live together, and I think he might have stayed at my place for a while. It’s hard to remember.”
What Dylan Wrote ”We had the same musical history and came from the same place at the same point of time…I’d always thought of him as a brother.”
Vee’s Reaction Dylan was ”working as a busboy at a little café in Fargo, North Dakota,” when Vee (whose early-’60s hits included ”Take Good Care of My Baby”) hired him as a piano player in 1959. ”It was kind of a joyride the few days he was with us. There was something about that time period we shared. We were both in our youth and starting out.” Vee still recalls the moment when he realized his former pianist had made good: ”It was the early ’60s, and I was looking in the window of a record shop in Greenwich Village. I saw a picture on the cover of a Bob Dylan album, and I thought, ‘Holy cow — that looks like Zimmerman!”’