In 1960, a man recorded a then-unknown coffeehouse singer.
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- It's not the Holy Grail of Bob Dylan recordings -- but maybe a piece of it.
A murky, rare 1960 recording of Dylan playing guitar and singing folk songs has been donated to the Minnesota Historical Society. Fans can listen to a copy of the half-hour "Minnesota Party Tape" for free at the center's library, but bootleggers beware -- no taping allowed.
Unless you're a die-hard Dylan fan, the low-fi quality is a tough listen.
"If you don't know it's Dylan, you think it's someone pretending to be Dylan and not doing a good job," says Cleve Pettersen, the Minneapolis man who as a teenager recorded the tape of Dylan playing for friends at an apartment.
Pettersen, 60, was about 15 and the eager new owner of a reel-to-reel tape recorder when a friend told him about a local singer. Dylan, who turned 19 that year, was performing in Twin Cities coffeehouses during his brief stint as a student at the University of Minnesota.
Born Robert Allen Zimmerman and reared in the hardscrabble Minnesota mining town of Hibbing, he had just adopted the stage name Dylan -- an affectation Pettersen says was considered "sort of a joke."
Dylan was not even considered the most outstanding performer of the coffeehouse crowd, Pettersen says. But he was willing to be recorded. So Pettersen headed to an apartment near campus. Dylan was there with his girlfriend, Bonnie Beecher (who later married Woodstock jester and Grateful Dead cohort Wavy Gravy), and a woman named Cynthia.
"They drank a bottle of wine. They were getting happy, and they played pretty steadily into this tape recorder for whatever, maybe an hour or so, maybe less," Pettersen recalls.
It was the first and last time Pettersen met Dylan.
"He was more than polite and gracious and agreeable and accommodating. It was nice," Pettersen says. "Here was this teenage kid with a tape recorder who was asking a favor from him, that he didn't owe a single thing to anybody. And he accommodated me."
Dylan runs through a dozen songs on the tape, which Pettersen says he recorded with a "cheesy little hand-held mike." It starts with Dylan yodeling Jimmie Rodgers' "Muleskinner Blues (Blue Yodel No. 8)" and includes his version of Woody Guthrie's "Talkin' Merchant Marine."
Dylan's voice already has its distinctive nasal tone. The feeling is loose and jokey as he calls back and forth to his friends.
"Cynthia, don't be mean to me," Dylan says at the end of one song.
Wanting to make sure the tape didn't deteriorate, but deciding against auctioning it off, Pettersen decided to donate it to the society. (He retains veto power over any commercial uses for the next 25 years.)
"It's not a big deal. I acquired it by blind luck, and it's not really important. It's just amusing," Pettersen says. "So for me to be running around saying 'Give me cash!' is kind of gross," says Petersen, who lost interest in music during the disco era.
"He could have gone to eBay or whoever and probably made a fortune on a tape like that," said Bob Feldman, owner of St. Paul-based folk label Red House Records. "I think that would have been against all of Dylan's wishes."
Representatives for the famously reclusive Dylan did not return a call for comment. Besides such artifacts as Prince's costume from "Purple Rain," the Minnesota Historical Society has all of Dylan's records in its collection, as well as a scrap of the lyrics to the song "Temporarily Like Achilles" handwritten by Dylan.
They're all "pieces of the Grail, in a way," says society curator Bonnie Wilson.
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