Moving along with the pre-Bob Dylan Bob Dylan, I’ve had to skip 1959 as I don’t think I have any recording of him from that year. 1960, on the other hand…
The two bootlegs I have from 1960 vary considerably in quality. The first is excerpts from the Karen Wallace tape, recorded in May 1960. This is slow-going as so much of the material is chopped up. Apparently there is a ninety minute tape out there in the world, but that’s not what I heard.
There’s a big distinction between this material and the recordings from 1958, when Dylan was in high school. Here he is playing traditional folk music. He doesn’t sound like a soon-to-be star (at least from what I can tell) but the level of improvement is clearly noticeable.
The better tape is the “Minnesota Party Tape” (not to be confused with the “Minnesota Hotel Tape” from 1961). The sound quality is far superior (though still not great), and so is Dylan’s performance just four months later. Again, a lot of traditional music and Woody Guthrie covers, but you can distinctly hear Dylan becoming Dylan at this early stage. His voice has a strong touch of the Nashville Skyline ring to it, although you can clearly hear the rasp, particularly on the Guthie covers “Talking Columbia” and “Talking Sailor”.
To me the most interesting parts of the Minnesota Party Tape are the four talking blues song at the end. I remember being fascinated by Pete Seeger’s version of “Talking Union” when I was a teenager and got a copy of his Greatest Hits album.
At the time (mid-1980s) rap and hip hop were first becoming popular on top forty radio, and the link between the talking blues, the more political version of it derived from Guthrie, and rap seemed pretty clear to me.
I now learn that the talking blues stems from the comedy country songs of Chris Bouchillon, and that it was adapted by Guthrie (who was erroneously credited with developing it by Seeger and others). Dylan is reportedly influenced by the album “Talking Blues” that Folkways released in 1958, and two of the songs on Minnesota Party Tape can be found on that release.
I searched for articles linking the talking blues to rap, and there looks like there is a lot of commentary out there. I’m going to go read about it. In the meantime, here’s Woody Guthrie: