The 1964 Fender Stratocaster which Bob Dylan used in his famed first electric set at the Newport Folk Festival is in the news this weekend because it’s current owner has lent it to the Festival’s organizers for display to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the controversial moment. Rolling Stone reports that Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Isray, who is so absurdly rich that he not only has a rare guitar collection but a curator to care for it, purchased the Sunburst Fender for nearly $1 million in 2013 (the full story posted yesterday is here). It’s the most ever paid for a guitar.
After being introduced by Peter Yarrow on July 25, 1965, Dylan and a band appropriated from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band launched into a raucous rendition of “Maggie’s Farm.” The crowd’s reaction — a mixtures of cheers and jeers — has been the subject of debate for decades. Many believe the crowd was booing because of the brevity of Dylan’s set. Al Kooper, who was performing with Dylan, is quoted suggesting as much in The Rough Guide to Dylan: “They didn’t give a shit about us being electric. They just wanted more.”
Dylan’s May 17, 1966 performance at the Manchester Free Hall in England is the recording with a more hostile crowd reaction. His first set, unaccompanied and acoustic, drew polite applause, but when he returned for a second set backed by The Hawks, the audience heckled him between songs. Most famously, someone shouted “Judas!”
Dylan shouts back, “I don’t believe you. You are a liar!” Turning to the band, he says, “Play it fucking loud!” and the band begins “Like a Rolling Stone.” The recording was widely bootlegged in the early 70s (Dave Marsh wrote a review for Creem in 1971) and finally released officially in The Bootleg Series at Live 1966.
His Sunbust Stratocaster was apparently left on a private jet. The pilot’s daughter presented the guitar for sale in 2013 after settling a dispute with Dylan, who claimed to have kept the guitar himself. Details of their negotiation were kept out of the public. Rolling Stone‘s original story about the guitar’s potential sale (here) suggest the guitar is authentically the one Dylan used at the Festival, and also that the seller did not have the right to auction it. The singer’s attorney pointed out he owned several Fenders at the time, and others — as well as other drafts of lyrics — had been stolen. Probably, this sort of thing happened to Dylan fairly often in those days, which may explain some of his eccentricities.
“Maggie’s Farm” performed by Bob Dylan and band at the Newport Folk Festival fifty years ago. This recording is from the “newly discovered source tapes” used in the soundtrack to Martin Scorcese’s documentary, No Direction Home, and released as volume seven in The Bootleg Series.