For a moment, Dylan played in our shadow
With my partner Dan Kossoff, I enjoyed a brief but heady run as a folk singer during the early 1960s. We played throughout the Midwest, appeared on numerous college campuses, and marqueed at the old Padded Cell in Minneapolis and The Crooked Ear, a coffee house in Omaha.
But while I was earning up to $75 per night in those early days, another native of my Duluth, Minn., hometown, Bob Dylan, was picking up mere pocket change. Using his family name, Zimmerman, he played in coffee houses in a neighborhood called Dinkytown, near the University of Minnesota.
At the time, we didn't pay much attention. We had our own ambitions.
In July 1963 Dan and I had played for a standing-room-only crowd at a top supper club in Duluth. Giddy with our success there, and warmed by solid reviews, we pondered our future success. We didn't know it then, but our show business careers would last only through November.
The ascent of rock 'n' roll was signaling the demise of the folk music bistros and coffee houses. Dan and I had gone about as far as we could without a hit record - or even a recording contract for that matter.
Meanwhile, Bob Dylan was on a rapid rise to icon status.
Shortly after Dylan took New York by storm, all of us back at the local folk scene were abuzz about the Minnesota kid who hadn't seemed all that impressive to us.
I remember meeting a fellow who was a member of the fraternity Bob Zimmerman was pledging in 1960 at the University of Minnesota. He reported that the fraternity brothers were perplexed because Zimmerman didn't participate in mixers and other social events.
Instead, he sat alone in a corner plunking tunes on his guitar that didn't lend themselves to group singalongs.
"I thought I'd help him out," the man recalled. "So one day I took him aside and I said, 'Look, you have to be sociable, joke around, look like you want to belong to this fraternity. Put the guitar away, or if you're going to play, at least do songs everyone knows. Otherwise you'll never get voted in.' "
The fellow paused. "What if [Dylan] had listened to me? He might have gone into real estate or become a stock broker."
Meanwhile, for Dan and me, the final months on the folk circuit proved a mixed bag. We certainly didn't please everyone who heard us.