In the early 1960s, musician John Byrne Cooke got to hang out with Bob Dylan, even accompanying and photographing the legendary singer-songwriter on numerous occasions, including a Massachusetts road trip from Cambridge to Amherst.
Cooke was born in New York City, studied photography at Vermont's Putney School, and went on to attend Harvard University in the early 1960s. While there, Cooke became immersed in the emerging folk music movement, hung out at Club 47, and joined the Harvard-based bluegrass band, the Charles River Valley Boys. Their first record was produced by Paul Rothchild, who went on to produce such artists as the Doors, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and Janis Joplin, among others. Besides a musician, Cooke is an author, actor, and photographer. From 1967 until her death in 1970, he was Joplin's road manager. He is also the son of British journalist and television broadcaster Alistair Cooke, and the great-grandnephew of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
In April, 1964, Cooke spent some time hanging out and traveling with Dylan during a New England tour, which included stops at Providence, Brandeis University, Boston's Symphony Hall (the 24th), Cambridge's Club 47 (the 25th), and "The Cage" at UMass Amherst (the 26th). Dylan had also recently played Tufts University in early March.
Cooke recently spoke with me about that trip, over the phone from his studio in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, his home since 1982.
"There were very few folk clubs. The folk community was very small at the time," Cooke told me. "This was the peak of the folk music community. There was a connection between Greenwich Village and Cambridge. There are more folk clubs now, but they are not getting on the cover of Time magazine.
"Boston had the Golden Vanity in 1963, '64, but Club 47 (now Club Passim) was the most important coffee house in the greater Boston - or even eastern Massachusetts."
"I was done with Harvard one year before April, 1964," Cooke recalled. "I had known Dylan for a few years by then. Dylan was the first guy that had a road manager. We'd heard that jazz musicians had them, but not folk singers. Victor (Maymudes) would drive, he would take care of everything. We thought, 'This is really neat', and it was a new thing - 'Look how Bob's doing!'"
Dylan was touring New England after his following grew, due in large part to Joan Baez.
"In 1963, Dylan played Newport. People knew him, but few had seen him. Peter, Paul & Mary's version of 'Blowin' in The Wind' went high up the charts just before.
"Baez was the reigning 'Queen of Folk.' After Newport 1963, Baez introduced Dylan to her audience in a fall concert tour, which gave a substantial boost to his career. In October 31, 1964, Dylan played Philharmonic Hall - now Avery Fisher - and by that time sold it out. Thanks to Joan's help, from July, 1963, to October, 1964 - just over a year -Dylan became more famous than Joan."
While conversing with Cooke, it's obvious he remembers a lot about his time with Dylan, but the years have blended the events together, and he would often refer to his own photographs to confirm various people and moments. Luckily for Dylan fans, he is a stickler for accuracy.
Dylan made a guest appearance at Club 47 on April 25th. The next day, Dylan, Maymudes, Cooke, and others drove their cars out west to Amherst.
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