“A friend of mine ran into me on the street one day and said there was a guy he thought I should meet. He was sitting alone in a joint, having just come to town. So I was one of the first acquaintances Bob Dylan met when he came to the big city. We hung out together a lot, because at the time we had a lot in common. One night we were playing at the Café Wha?, and John Cohen, who was with the New Lost City Ramblers, came in and was blown away by my John Hurt style guitar and Bob’s blues harp….”
Eric von Schmidt and Jim Rooney, Baby, Let Me Follow You Down, Garden City, 1979, p. 204.
Mark Spoelstra and Bob Dylan. Gerdes Folk City, 1962. Photograph by Ted Russell.
“When Dylan first arrived in New York City on Tuesday, January 24, 1961, he caught a subway down to Greenwich Village and blew into the Café Wha? in a flurry of snowflakes… Dylan asked the owner, Manny Roth, if he could perform — and he did, playing a short set of Woody Guthrie songs. In the following weeks, Dylan would appear occasionally at the coffeehouse, playing harmonica… behind Mark Spoelstra and Fred Neil…”
John Bauldie, Positively 4th Street Revisited, Q, No. 104, May 1995, p. 56.
Hear an audio snippet of an interview with Bob Dylan talking about the Cafe Wha? by following the link to the 1984 interview with Bert Kleinman here:
“In the Village I played with Mark Spoelstra, Fred Neil, Bob Dylan, and Lisa Kindred. We hung out at the “Café Wha?” It was a grubby, awful scene there…. We were all treated like shit…. Although Dylan could neither sing or play the guitar, he clearly had something on stage that none of the rest of us did. He could entertain… When he got a job at Gerde’s for $90.00 a week it was big news.”
Eric von Schmidt and Jim Rooney, Baby, Let Me Follow You Down, Garden City, 1979, p. 125.
Photograph courtesy of Ted Russell.
Bob Dylan recalls a disturbing event when meeting Spoelstra at a “creepy but convenient little coffee house on Bleecker Street near Thompson run by the character called the Dutchman” before heading to Gerdes. There was a horrible sight to meet them as the Dutchman had been murdered:
“The Dutchman resembled Rasputin, the Siberian mad monk. It was mostly a jazz coffeehouse… From the coffeehouse, Mark and I were going to walk over to Gerdes Folk City and run over some songs with Brother John Sellers, a Mississippi gospel blues singer who MC’d the shows there.
“I was heading to meet Mark, walking along Carmine Street, past the garages, the barbershops and dry cleaners, hardware stores. Radio sounds came shifting out of cafes. Snowy streets full of debris, sadness, the smell of gasoline. The coffeehouses and folk music joints were only a few blocks away, but it seemed like miles would go by.
“When I got to the place, Spoelstra was already there and so was the Dutchman. The Dutchman was lying dead in the doorway of his storefront. There were splotches of blood on the ice and red lines in the snow, like spiderwebs….
Spoelstra and I walked away, headed towards Sullivan Street. “It’s sad. Makes you sorry as hell, but what can you do?” he said…”
Bob Dylan, Chronicles Volume One, 2004, p. 74-75.
From Michael Gray:
“That summer, the two often appeared behind Brother John Sellers at Gerde’s Folk City hootenannies, backing up his gospel shouts and tambourine with guitars and harmonica (and were even announced as Brother John & the Dungarees). Spoelstra says in the film No Direction Home that in these early years, Dylan shared with him and so many others the belief that song could help to abolish racial segregation and change the world for the better: that they talked about these things with enthusiasm”.
Read Michael Gray’s entry about Mark Spoelstra in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia – available at the blog:
Bob Dylan and Mark Spoelstra both played together at the Indian Neck Folk Festival in Branford, Connecticut — May 1961.
Dylan’s recorded performance of three Woody Guthrie songs — ‘Talking Columbia’, ‘Hangknot, Slipknot’ and ‘Talkin’ Fish Blues’ — was on 6 May, 1961:
Mark Spoelstra passed away on 25 February 2007 at his home in the Sierra Foothills, California.
Mark Spoelstra’s website: http://markspoelstra.net/
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