At the Newport Folk Festival, 1963, Bob Dylan was photographed holding (and practicing with) a bullwhip.
Photographer Rowland Scherman recalled his first meeting with Bob Dylan in 1963:
Then, in passing, little Bobby Dylan showed up to sing with Joan Baez and turned things around like Clay over Liston. That weekend looms as the turning point in his career. He came in there driving an old Ford truck, wearing a bullwhip around his neck, and sporting a wry, quizzical look; he left as the new king. He had the goods, but nobody really knew who the hell he was. And because he wasn’t that attractive, no one was crowding around him, either. (1)
Anyway, it was all at the Newport tennis club in those days, and there were a bunch of cats standing around, four or five guys, and I went over to them. One of them had a bullwhip around his shoulder, and it was the young Bob Dylan. I was shooting with a wide lens, and I got this portrait of him – of this kid with a bullwhip around his shoulder. And it was Dylan. I thought it was a fashion statement for the longest time, but I heard from someone not too long ago that he and the Farinas and Baez were all pals, and they were playing cowboy that week, and they all had whips. But Dylan was the only one who wore his like a fashion statement. It’s a terrific snap of him – you don’t see Dylan smiling that much – but there he was, the young guy. (2)
He went from nothing to the biggest act in folk music that weekend, it was just blind serendipity, blind luck that got me there that weekend next to Dylan.” (3)
In his biography of Bob Dylan, Down The Highway, Howard Sounes wrote:
“Backstage, Bob Dylan wore movie star shades and cracked a bullwhip he had received as a gift from Joan Baez. The whip added to the frisson surrounding the couple, a semisecret affair made more exciting because Suze was also at the festival. Baez headlined the evening concert on Sunday. Before performing “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” she told the audience that it was a song about a relationship that had lasted too long. Suze walked out of the arena, apparently close to tears.” (4)
Oscar winning director Murray Lerner, the man behind the concert documentary The Other Side Of The Mirror about Bob Dylan’s appearances at the Newport Festival 1963-1964 remembered:
Pete Seeger was [a key performer in 1963], and Joan Baez. She was on the cover of Time magazine. And she brought Dylan to the festival. In ’64, as she said, they were the King and Queen of Newport. He walked the streets with a bull-whip, with her beside him. (5)
“I used to see him on the streets of the town with Joan Baez; at that time they were like the king and queen,” Lerner recalls. “He had a big bullwhip, 20ft long, and he would walk along the street cracking it.” (6)
Bob Dylan with his bullwhip, Newport Folk Festival, 1963. Photo by Rowland Scherman.
In her memoir, A Freewheelin’ Time, Suze Rotolo recalled:
Sometime in late spring or early summer, before the 1963 Newport Folk Festival, someone came back to the Village from out West with a bullwhip as a present for Bob; I don’t remember who it was for sure: it may have been Jack Elliott, Harry Jackson, Ian Tyson, or Peter La Farge, since they were the cowboys of the Village at that time.
Even though Jack, né Elliott Adnipoz, was a cowboy from Brooklyn, a bullwhip was not his style, nor was it Ian’s. I will hazard a guess that La Farge, a folksinger with more of a tough-guy presence than the others, gave Bobby the bullwhip and instructed him in how to snap and crack it properly.
Bobby practiced cracking that bullwhip whenever he found the space. He took the whip with him to the Newport Folk Festival in 1963 and cracked it for hours backstage or around the pool, cigarette dangling from his mouth, kicking up dust. He got real good at it. During the day we spent a lot of time by the pool. Bob liked using the diving board in addition to thwacking the bullwhip.
The sense of business hovering – the sound of money, mixed with the prospect of record deals and fame – was exciting for up-and-coming folk musicians hoping for a break. There was a lot going on. Photographers David Gahr and Jim Marshall were everywhere at once, snapping away. Bob was all business and all fun at the same time. Cracking that bullwhip. Shaking up the ground. (7)
From Facebook, Dick Waterman added a picture of Bob Dylan with his bullwhip:
I note this as neither a positive or a negative but tomorrow marks 50 years to the day that I started as a professional photographer.
I had taken a few pictures in the Cambridge area but July 25, 1963, was the opening day of the Newport Folk Festival and I went there on assignment for “The National Observer.” I was a free lance writer and I had sold them on the idea that this ‘folk music’ scene was going to become a major story.
The amazing thing is the number of artists who I covered that weekend are still active. I wrote about Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, John Hammond, Ian Tyson (with wife Sylvia) and young Bob Dylan who had his first LP out of Columbia Records.
I photographed Dylan walking around with a coiled bullwhip. It had no meaning at all, entirely symbolic in that he just wanted to give people something to talk about. (I have watermarked this Dylan shot because I hope to sell it someday.)
So for better or for worse, I hit the ground running with some good shots and it’s been a wonderful ride . . .
(4) Sounes, Howard. Down the highway: the life of Bob Dylan. New York: Grove Press, 2001, p 140 – 141
(7) Rotolo, Suze. A freewheelin’ time: a memoir of Greenwich Village in the sixties. New York: Broadway Books, 2008, p 228 – 231.