This appeared in my local paper a while back, and I thought it might be of
some interest here:
Dylan's 1962 visit: positively Stanley St.
SPECIAL TO THE GAZETTE
The summer of 1962, as Bob Dylan recalls it, was a time when any possible
icon status must have felt a long way off. In fact, just landing work on
the established folk circuit was a problem: "You needed at least one record
out even if it was on a small label to get work at any of these clubs."
Help was at hand in the form of Terri van Ronk, wife of the late folksinger
Dave, who died in 2002. She lined up a few out-of-town gigs for the young
unknown, "in places like Elizabeth, N.J. and Hartford - once at a folk club
in Pittsburgh, another in Montreal. Scattered things," he recalls in
Chronicles, his new autobiography.
Scattered, maybe, but seeds were sown. When I reviewed Chronicles last
week, I pointed out that this very early Montreal visit was mentioned.
Reminiscences were solicited from Gazette readers, and a dozen or so
e-mails came in.
While they provide a good lesson in the variability of memory - at least
four different club names and locations were suggested - a fairly
consistent picture eventually emerges after talking to a few of the
"There was a lst minute cancellation at Moe's club," recalls
musician/storyteller/musicologist Jack Nissenson, 71, "So he brought in
this guy from New York. Moe had absolutely no idea who this guy was."
The Moe in question is Moe Feinberg, the venue is the PotPourri Club at
1432 Stanley St., and the guy from New York, paid $125 for an engagement
running from June 28 to July 1, was Dylan, still half a year away from
releasing his first album.
The PotPourri, later known as the Seven Steps, was a bookstore with a small
folk club/coffeehouse in the back. Gordon Peffer, now 63 and retired from a
career teaching English at Dawson College, was working at the PotPourri in
"One stormy night I was in the front and this folksinger was in the back.
Moe said, 'Go keep the kid company. Make him feel there's an audience.'
There weren't more than six or seven other people in there. Dylan wasn't
quite Dylan at that time."
Peffer must have been there on one of the quieter nights, because
Nissenson's recollection is different: "He took the place by storm. It was
amazing, the effect he had on the crowd."
Nissenson is a onetime member of the Pharisees, (along with Peter Weldon,
whose e-mail appears on this page), who worked with the fledgling
McGarrigle sisters. There was no doubt in his mind that this kid was the
"You could tell immediately that Dylan had heard a lot of American folk
music. And it was clear that he also knew Scottish and English and Irish
folk stuff too, because he was paraphrasing it. He wrote his own versions
of those old, old songs. He was only a kid, but he knew his stuff."
There was time to hang around between sets.
"I remember that he was very uncommunicative, on a one-to-one basis," says
Nissenson. "If you said anything to him, he would just tell you a story."
Peffer corroborates: "He was friendly but shy. In a group he wouldn't be
the one to do the talking. You kind of had to draw him out."
Our tale might have pretty much ended there had Dylan not then been invited
to Shimon Ash's Finjan Club on Victoria Ave. for an informal set on July 2.
"I remember the Finjan served very good felafel" recalls Peffer, "and for
music they'd bring in people like Shlomo Carlebach, the Singing Rabbi." On
this day, at least, Carlebach made way for Dylan, and Nissenson brought
along an old English reel-to-reel recorder to preserve the event.
"I have a feeling that tape has become a piece of folklore," says
Nissenson, and he's right.
Musician and blues scholar Michael Nerenberg picks up the story: "I bought
that tape recorder, and the tapes, from Jack. This was in 1963. I moved up
to Morin Heights in 1970 so everybody up here knew the tape. We used to
listen to it in the leatherworks store here, everybody gathering around to
hear this Dylan tape. In 1975, I loaned the tapes back to Jack, and someone
disappeared with them."
Nissenson" "Some guy from the States phoned me, saying that he had heard
that I had this tape, and could he borrow it. I said sure, and I never saw
them again. I have two theories. Either he wanted the tapes to make pirated
copies, or he was working for Dylan collecting tapes so that they wouldn't
At some point, though, they were, and as a bootleg, the Finjan tape has
attained favoured status among hardcore Dylanologists.
But Nissenson says he had no inkling of any such thing in 1962. "Oh, no. We
weren't really thinking in those terms in those days. It wouldn't have
occurred to us that any folksinger could ever be that big. And he was so
idiosyncratic that I certainly wouldn't have picked him as the one to break
But break through he did. Howard Sounes' biography Down The Highway: The
Life Of Bob Dylan records that on July 30, 1962, less than a month after
his time in Montreal, Dylan registered with his new song publisher a new
composition called Blowin' In The Wind. He wasn't much longer for the
Ian McGillis is a Montreal writer.
"How many songs do you want me to play?".