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News / Life / Clark County Life

Everybody Has A Story: The guy from Hibbing who played guitar and sang

Vancouver woman befriended Bob Dylan before he was famous

By Julie Sauer, Salmon Creek
Published: February 19, 2017, 6:01am

We were women of our time. It was the late 1950s/early 1960s, and we were Kappa Alpha Thetas, sorority sisters at the University of Minnesota. We had expectations of being educated housewives and mothers.

But the world was changing. The Kingston Trio was popular; they wore suits and looked like Yale. Some of us played the ukulele and sang “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore.” Glenn Yarborough was on the scene, Judy Collins was coming into view, pot and the sexual revolution were just around the corner. And one of us, Cynthia, was moving even more quickly into the ’60s. She was artistic and made friends with the likes of the blues great Josh White. She hung out in Dinky Town coffeehouses near the university. And that is where she met Bobby Zimmerman, a guy from Hibbing who played the guitar and sang.

Cynthia started bringing Bob around the Theta house during our sophomore year. At one time early on, we sat on straight back chairs in a side room in a circle while Bob played. He lay his guitar in his lap and used a knife as a slide, simultaneously playing a harmonica he had around his neck — a cigarette stuck in the upper strings. Cynthia bought him his first harmonica holder.

Another time, we sat across the street in front of a mansion, under the trees, drinking cheap red jug wine and strumming along on baritone ukes, listening to him sing in his nasal twang.

And sometimes he played the Theta piano, especially “Yes, Jesus Digs Me,” which permanently offended our house mother.

Our memory is that Bob lived frugally in a single room above a drugstore. Cynthia bought him clothes at the Salvation Army store. A posse of us contributed to his feeding from the Theta fridge, handing plates of food to him from the sorority house back door when the house mother wasn’t looking, while he waited patiently on the back porch.

Soon we started going to a Dinky Town coffeehouse, The Ten O’Clock Scholar, to hear his music. The owner regularly bounced him out the door, opposed to his musical vibes, so he began to play at The Bastille, a newer, friendlier coffeehouse on the other side of campus, and his fans walked through Dinky Town carrying signs that read, “Storm the Bastille.”

Bob wanted to change his name to Dylan Stone. But we thought that was too harsh, and Cynthia eventually suggested he simply go with Bob Dylan. By the summer of 1960, we had started calling him Dylan.

Bob was famous among us for his economy of words. We have memories of completely wordless evenings in his company. One evening, I was expecting a phone call from him; I can’t remember why. When the phone finally rang, there was silence on the other end of the line, and I eventually said, “Dylan, is that you?”

It was him. He instructed me to meet in front of Jones Hall on campus the next day. We met, went to an “Art of the Film” class, watched a movie and parted company, with no more than a half-dozen words exchanged.

One snowy winter evening, we were all sitting on the Theta living room floor, and Dylan asked if he could catch a ride. I had my brother’s old blue Plymouth parked outside. Dylan wanted me to drop him off at the Great Northern Railway station, which I did. He said he was going to New York to meet Woody Guthrie. I have no idea if he actually boarded a train that night. I thought he was being mysterious and spontaneous, as was his way.

He returned to Minneapolis after his first success in New York. I didn’t see him, but he told one of the other girls, “Look at me now, baby, I’m a big star.” He had a clipping from The New York Times with the famous review from Gerde’s Folk City. By late 1961, he was playing in Carnegie Hall.

I remember Bobby Zimmerman fondly as someone talented, fun, charismatic and sweet. He later wrote a song, “Bob Dylan’s Dream,” about his “first friends.” We always liked to think it was about us.


Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Email is the best way to send materials so we don’t have to retype your words or borrow original photos. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.

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