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Thursday, October 13, 2016
Herald-Tribune: Earliest Known Version of Dylan Classic Mr. Tambourine Man" Recorded in Sarasota
It appears the icon played sometime in 1964 at the home of folk singer/songwriter Eric von Schmidt.
If you stroll through Siesta Key Village on any weekend night, you are sure to hear someone strumming an acoustic guitar on a quaint restaurant patio and playing a Bob Dylan song to a smattering of applause.
But here's a new revelation: It looks as though Dylan himself once played a set on Siesta Key, and the performance may have produced the first known recording of one of his most famous songs.
It appears Dylan played sometime in early May of 1964 at the home of the late folk singer/songwriter Eric von Schmidt, one of Dylan's friends and early influences, who lived for several years at 532 Beach Road.
A set list that included a very early rendition of “Mr. Tambourine Man” has been floating around the Internet for years, but whether such a performance ever took place was never verified because the tapes were never in general circulation among collectors.
Up until recently, even the von Schmidt family had their doubts. Von Schmidt's daughter, Caitlin, was not sure Dylan ever played on Siesta Key, but did not live at the home back then either. Katherine Kelly, Von Schmidt's former stepdaughter, recently doubted it took place as well.
Kay Kelly, Katherine's mother, was married to von Schmidt for seven years, until 1971, and owned the home on Beach Road. Katherine Kelly said she thought it seemed unlikely von Schmidt had moved in yet when the Dylan recording took place.
However, Sony Records recently released a limited number of nine vinyl records of 1964 Dylan recordings, and 16 songs from the Beach Road session take up three of those records, according to people who have posted on various websites after hearing the records. So apparently it did happen. The New York Times recently confirmed the existence as well.
Sony announced it was only releasing 1,000 of the recordings to stores in Europe and apparently only because the company could be in danger of losing copyright protection if they weren't released.
Dylan at the time was on the cusp of becoming one of the greatest songwriters in music history, and his appearance on Siesta Key only adds to the legend of the island. It is believed Ernest Hemingway once played chess at the Siesta Key home of author John D. MacDonald, famous for his Travis McGee books. Lakewood Ranch resident Dick Vitale once said he heard that Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe used to walk the beach as well.
'Mr. Tambourine Man'
What has Dylan aficionados excited about the von Schmidt session is that it contains a 6:11 version of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” the genesis of what would come to be among Dylan's best songs and has been translated in many languages around the world. In a 2005 reader's poll in Mojo magazine, fans voted it as No. 4 all-time among Dylan tunes.
The Byrds took it to No. 1 on the charts in 1965, and journalist Hunter S. Thompson liked Dylan's version so much it was played at his funeral.
It is believed Dylan began writing the song in early 1964 after attending Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and he completed it in April. That means he would have played it on Siesta Key just weeks — perhaps even days — upon completion. If the song was played at von Schmidt's house in early May, as believed, it could have been the first known recording of it. The song's debut in public was May 17 in London.
“Mr. Tambourine Man” appeared on the 1965 album “Bringing It All Back Home,” considered one of the greatest albums of all-time. On the cover of that album is a cover of one of von Schmidt's albums called “The Folk Blue of Eric Von Schmidt.”
Von Schmidt, who had his songs covered by such people as Johnny Cash and Joan Baez, was a regular on Siesta Key even after his divorce in 1971. He called the key home for 20 years before moving to Connecticut in the 1980s. Von Schmidt died in 2007 at age 75.
Considering the respect Dylan had for von Schmidt, a Grammy award winner, it certainly seems likely that Dylan would perform at his home on Beach Road.
In the liner notes for von Schmidt's 1969 hit album “Who Knocked the Brains Out of the Sky?” Dylan wrote of von Schmidt, in only the way Dylan could write:
“He is a man who can sing the bird off the wire and the rubber off the tire. He can separate the men from the boys and the note from the noise. The bridle from the saddle and the cows from the cattle.
“He can play the tune of the moon, the why of the sky and the commotion of the ocean.