Bob Dylan: Did he live in Gallup as a child? A Work in Progress: Stay Tuned

Bob Dylan Gallup, NMAs you recall, last month we printed a segment of the first interview Bob Dylan gave in the early 60s as he burst onto the national music scene in New York City. In that interview, Dylan told the interviewer that he grew up in the West and Midwest and that he lived several years in Gallup.  This was, by the way, not an isolated claim by Dylan; in almost every interview he gave in that era he claimed that he had lived an adventurous life traveling around as a carnival worker and he would regularly claim to have lived in Gallup.

Not long into his national career, Newsweek printed a critical article on Dylan – who was born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota – which, among other things, claimed that his tale of an adventurous youth was a fiction. According to Newsweek, Dylan grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota, the home of home run king Roger Maris.

Last month we asked if any of you had information connecting Dylan to Gallup in his youth and, if not, why he would have included Gallup as part of a made up persona. Well . . . as they say, the silence was deafening; we didn’t hear from you. The absence of anyone claiming to have known Dylan sure suggests that his claim of growing up in Gallup was fictional, but we are still open to hearing from anyone who claims otherwise. But, this isn’t the end of the story as far as we are concerned. If Dylan wasn’t from Gallup, we want to know why he adopted us in his imagination.  And, we’ll put our theory out there. Our guess –and that’s all it is: a guess – is that at some point as a youngster Dylan was driving with his family through Gallup on Route 66. Well what did he see as he drove through town? A huge sign smack dab in the middle of a town filled with Indians and cowboys that said “Zimmerman’s.” And when it came time to invent a persona to match the image of “the freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” he thought back to that sign and the town where he saw it.

As far as we are concerned, this story is not over. If you have information or your own theory, we still want to hear from you . . . and we have decided to go straight to the source. That’s right, we want to hear from Dylan himself. It’s now our mission to get an interview with Dylan. We may end up like Michael Moore chasing an interview with GM’s Chairman, but we are going to try everything we can think of to get Bob Dylan to speak to us and we will keep you posted. Stay tuned.

13 Responses to “Bob Dylan: Did he live in Gallup as a child? A Work in Progress: Stay Tuned”

  1. Alfred Walker
    September 30, 2010 at 12:01 am #

    My wife (Sharon McKim Walker (formerly Troncoso)) grew up in Gallup and has convinced me that Dylan’s song “Isis” was based (at least a lot of the imagery was based) on a visit to Gallup. The second verse describes Gallup, even tongue-in-cheek: “I came to a high place of darkness and light/The dividing line ran through the center of town/I hitched up my pony to a post on the right/Went in to a laundry to wash my clothes down.” New Mexico (“the wild unknown country where I could not go wrong” of the first verse) is prized by artists for its play of shadow and light, the BNSF divides the town, and how many laundries are in Gallup? The fourth verse: “I was thinking about turquoise I was thinking about gold/I was thinking about diamonds and the world’s biggest necklace” sounds like Gallup also. Dylan undoubtedly passed through, and he probably spent enough time in town to pick up a good bit of the local flavor. I hope you get your interview.

  2. John Dorrill
    September 7, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    I don’t recall the season but it was in a cool evening of 68 or 69, my friend Jerry Montgomery and I were at Denny’s and we ran across this fellow who was talkative, and friendly. He piled into Jerry’s red Dodge pick up truck and we cruised the town for while and then we decided to go to a party at Hot Springs.
    I remember on the way that was first time me and Jerry ever tried pot. This guy called himself Bob Dylan. I saw him a few times after that. He was always friendly. When I first heard of Dylan the singer and got a chance to compare his picture with what I recalled of him..I am certain it’s the same person.

    • ramblin rozy
      May 12, 2013 at 10:47 am #

      I think dennys came long after 68 – 69…

  3. tony
    September 8, 2011 at 12:03 am #

    Yeah ..Dylan played football with us in the Perkey and played pin ball machines at the Greyhound bus sation

  4. Randy Sloman
    February 21, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

    What do The Zimmermans say?

  5. Jim Cooley
    April 19, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    The early Bob Dylan persona was an elaborate construction that started with his name. He was preceded in this by Elliot Adnopoz, otherwise known as “Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, the diminutive “cowboy” folksinger who was the son of a Jewish Brooklyn dentist.

    It is in a radio interview that Dylan claimed to have lived in Gallup. You can hear a part of this interview in Martin Scorsese’s PBS documentary on Dylan that is available on DVD. Dylan claimed that he composed cowboy and Indian songs while he lived there. He speaks in an affected western accent dropping all the “g’s” from every gerund.

    My guess is that Dylan absorbed part of Peter LaFarge’s background. Peter LaFarge was the son of Oliver LaFarge, the Indian scholar and writer, and was the composer of “The Ballad of Ira Hayes.” Peter grew up on a ranch in Fountain, Colorado and also affected a cowboy image in his stage presentation, although his was a more authentic claim.Dylan was close to Peter in his early Greenwich Village days and even collaborated with him on a couple of songs. Also, on the liner notes of his first album Dylan claimed to have performed at a strip joint in Central City, Colorado in 1959, yet another fabrication.

    There is also the Woody Guthrie persona that Dylan identified with through his reading of “Bound for Glory.” The rambling, itinerant folk singer was an essential part of Guthrie’s image, some of it true and some it manufactured. Dylan was part of the quest for authenticity of the 60’s, the “salt of the earth”, just “down home folks”, which is ironic in that, in many cases, it based on total falsehoods.

    So I seriously doubt that Dylan was ever in Gallup in his early days, much less as a cowboy. I believe Dylan to be a true genius in many ways, not the least of which is self promotion.

    Jim Cooley

  6. Jim Cooley
    April 19, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    In the previous comment I failed to address the question: “Why Gallup?” The interview with Oscar Brand in which Dylan claims to have grown up in Gallup was conducted in October of 1961. That same year, Chuck Berry had a big hit with his version of the Bobby Troup song, “Route 66.” Gallup, New Mexico was in the consciousness of any teen with access to a radio, and that was all of them, including Dylan.

    This was also within the bygone era of the picture postcard when everyone sent friends and relations photo evidence of their journeys west. Gallup bills itself as being the “Indian Capitol of the United States,” but it is possibly the postcard capitol as well, the only possible contender being the Grand Canyon.

    As a teenager in 1961 I was well aware of Gallup’s iconic old west, cowboy and Indians status and I would imagine that Dylan was, too. Coupled with Dylan’s agility in pulling all sorts of exotic information out of whatever orifice that was available to him at the time, I would surmise that Dylan’s life in Gallup existed only in his head, and the minds of his more gullible fans.

  7. ron maldonado
    February 15, 2013 at 10:36 am #

    Liner notes from Dylan’s first album. Straight from the horses mouth. He lived in Gallup


    Produced by John Hammond

    Of all the precipitously emergent singers of folk songs in the continuing renascence of that self-assertive tradition, none has equaled Bob Dylan singularity of impact. As Harry Jackson, a cowboy singer and a painter, has exclaimed: “He’s so goddamned real it’s unbelievable!” The irrepressible reality of Bob Dylan is a compound of spontaneity, candor, slicing wit and an uncommonly perceptive eye and ear for the way many of us constrict our capacity for living while a few of us don’t.

    Not yet twenty-two at the time of this albums release, Dylan is growing at a swift, experience-hungry rate. In these performances, there is already a marked change from his first album (“Bob Dylan,” Columbia CL 1779/CS 8579), and there will surely be many further dimensions of Dylan to come. What makes this collection particularly arresting that it consists in large part of Dylan’s own compositions The resurgence of topical folk songs has become a pervasive part of the folk movement among city singers, but few of the young bards so far have demonstrated a knowledge of the difference between well-intentioned pamphleteering and the creation of a valid musical experience. Dylan has. As the highly critical editors of “Little Sandy Review” have noted, “…right now, he is certainly our finest contemporary folk song writer. Nobody else really even comes close.”

    The details of Dylan’s biography were summarized in the notes to his first Columbia album; but to recapitulate briefly, he was born on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota. His experience with adjusting himself to new sights and sounds started early. During his first nineteen years, he lived in Gallup, New Mexico: Cheyenne, South Dakota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Phillipsburg, Kansas; Hibbing, Minnesota (where he was graduated from high school), and Minneapolis (where he spent a restless six months at the University of Minnesota).

    “Everywhere he went,” Gil Turner wrote in his article on Dylan in “Sing Out,” “his ears were wide open for the music around him. He listened to the blues singers, cowboy singers, pop singers and others — soaking up music and styles with an uncanny memory and facility for assimilation. Gradually, his own preferences developed and became more , the strongest areas being Negro blues and county music. Among the musicians and singers who influenced him were Hank Williams, Muddy Waters, Jelly Roll Morton, Leadbelly, Mance Lipscomb and Big Joe Williams.” And, above all others, Woody Guthrie. At ten he was playing guitar, and by the age of fifteen, Dylan had taught himself piano, harmonica and autoharp.

    In February 1961, Dylan came East, primarily to visit Woody Guthrie at the Greystone Hospital in New Jersey. The visits have continued, and Guthrie has expressed approval of Dylan’s first album, being particularly fond of the “Song to Woody” in it. By September of 1961, Dylan’s singing in Greenwich Village, especially at Gerde’s Folk City, had ignited a nucleus of singers and a few critics (notably Bob Shelton of the “New York Times”) into exuberant appreciation of his work. Since then, Dylan has inexorably increased the scope of his American audiences while also performing briefly in London and Rome.

    The first of Dylan’s songs in this set is “Blowin’ in the Wind.” In 1962, Dylan said of the song’s background: “I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong and they know it’s wrong. I’m only 21 years old and I know that there’s been too many wars…You people over 21 should know better.” All that he prefers to add by way of commentary now is: “The first way to answer these questions in the song is by asking them. But lots of people have to first find the wind.” On this track, and except when otherwise noted, Dylan is heard alone-accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica.

    “Girl From the North Country” was first conceived by Bob Dylan about three years before he finally wrote it down in December 1962. “That often happens,” he explains. “I carry a song in my head for a long time and then it comes bursting out.” The song-and Dylan’s performance-reflect his particular kind of lyricism. The mood is a fusion of yearning, poignancy and simple appreciation of a beautiful girl. Dylan illuminates all these corners of his vision, but simultaneously retains his bristling sense of self. He’s not about to go begging anything from this girl up north.

    “Masters of War” startles Dylan himself. “I’ve never really written anything like that before,” he recalls. “I don’t sing songs which hope people will die, but I couldn’t help it in this one. The song is a sort of striking out, a reaction to the last straw, a feeling of what can you do?” The rage (which is as much anguish as it is anger) is a away of catharsis, a way of getting temporary relief from the heavy feeling of impotence that affects many who cannot understand a civilization which juggles it’s own means for oblivion and calls that performance an act toward peace.

    “Down the Highway” is a distillation of Dylan’s feeling about the blues. “The way I think about the blues,” he says, “comes from what I learned from Big Joe Williams. The blues is more than something to sit home and arrange. What made the real blues singers so great is that they were able to state all the problems they had; but at the same time, they were standing outside them and could look at them. And in that way, they had them beat. What’s depressing today is that many young singers are trying to get inside the blues, forgetting that those older singers used them to get outside their troubles.”

    “Bob Dylan’s Blues” was composed spontaneously. It’s one of what he calls his “really off-the-cuff songs. I start with an idea, and then I feel what follows. Best way I can describe this one is that it’s sort of like walking by a side street. You gaze in and walk on.”

    “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” represents to Dylan a maturation of his feelings on this subject since the earlier and almost as powerful “Let Me Die in My Footsteps,” which is not included here but which was released as a single record by Columbia. Unlike most of his song-writing contemporaries among city singers, Dylan doesn’t simply make a polemical point in his compositions. As in this sing about the psychopathology of peace-through-balance-of-terror, Dylan’s images are multiply (and sometimes horrifyingly) evocative. As a result, by transmuting his fierce convictions into what can only be called art, Dylan reaches basic emotions which few political statements or extrapolations of statistics have so far been able to touch. Whether a song or a singer can then convert others is something else again.

    “Hard Rain,” adds Dylan, “is a desperate kind of song.” It was written during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 when those who allowed themselves to think of the impossible results of the Kennedy-Khrushchev confrontation were chilled by the imminence of oblivion. “Every line in it,” says Dylan, “is actually the start of a whole song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn’t have enough time alive to write all those songs so I put all I could into this one.” Dylan treats “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” differently from most city singers . “A lot of people,” he says, “make it sort of a love song-slow and easy-going. But it isn’t a love song. It’s a statement that maybe you can say to make yourself feel better. It’s as if you were talking to yourself. It’s a hard song to sing. I can sing it sometimes, but I ain’t that good yet. I don’t carry myself yet the way that Big Joe Williams, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Lightnin’ Hopkins have carried themselves. I hope to be able to someday, but they’re older people. I sometimes am able to do it, but it happens, when it happens, unconsciously. You see, in time, with those old singers, music was a tool-a way to live more, a way to make themselves feel better at certain points. As for me, I can make myself feel better some times, but at other times, it’s still hard to go to sleep at night.” Dylan’s accompaniment on this track includes Bruce Langhorne (guitar), George Barnes (bass guitar), Dick Wellstood (piano), Gene Ramey (bass) and Herb Lovelle (drums).

    “Bob Dylan’s Dream” is another of his songs which was transported for a time in his mind before being written down. It was initially set off after all-night conversation between Dylan and Oscar Brown, Jr., in Greenwich Village. “Oscar,” says Dylan, “is a groovy guy and the idea of this came from what we were talking about.” The song slumbered, however, until Dylan went to England in the winter of 1962. There he heard a singer (whose name he recalls as Martin Carthy) perform “Lord Franklin,” and that old melody found a new adapted home in “Bob Dylan’s Dream.” The song is a fond looking back at the easy camaraderie and idealism of the young when they are young. There is also in the “Dream” a wry but sad requiem for the friendships that have evaporated as different routes, geographical and otherwise, are taken.

    Of “Oxford Town,” Dylan notes with laughter that “it’s a banjo tune I play on the guitar.” Otherwise, this account of the ordeal of James Meredith speaks grimly for itself.

    “Talking World War III Blues” was about half formulated beforehand and half improvised at the recording session itself. The “talking blues” form is tempting to many young singers because it seems so pliable and yet so simple. However, the simpler a form, the more revealing it is of the essence of the performer. There’s no place to hide in the talking blues. Because Bob Dylan is so hugely and quixotically himself, he is able to fill all the space the talking blues affords with unmistakable originality. In this piece, for example, he has singularly distilled the way we all wish away our end, thermonuclear or “natural.” Or at least, the way we try to.

    “Corrina, Corrina” has been considerably changed by Dylan. “I’m not one of those guys who goes around changing songs just for the sake of changing them. But I’d never heard Corrina, Corrina exactly the way it first was, so that this version is the way it came out of me.” As he indicates here, Dylan can be tender without being sentimental and his lyricism is laced with unabashed passion. The accompaniment is Dick Wellstood (piano), Howie Collins (guitar), Bruce Langhorne (guitar), Leonard Gaskin (bass) and Herb Lovelle (drums).

    “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance” was first heard by Dylan from a recording by a now-dead Texas blues singer. Dylan can only remember that his first name was Henry. “What especially stayed with me,” says Dylan, “was the plea in the title.” Here Dylan distills the buoyant expectancy of the love search.

    Unlike some of his contemporaries, Dylan isn’t limited to one or two ways of feeling his music. He can be poignant and mocking, angry and exultant, reflective and whoopingly joyful. The final “I Shall Be Free” is another of Dylan’s off-the-cuff songs in which he demonstrates the vividness, unpredictability and cutting edge of his wit.

    This album, in sum, is the protean Bob Dylan as of the time of the recording. By the next recording, there will be more new songs and insights and experiences. Dylan can’t stop searching and looking and reflecting upon what he sees and hears. “Anything I can sing,” he observes, “I call a song. Anything I can’t sing, I call a poem. Anything I can’t sing or anything that’s too long to be a poem, I call a novel. But my novels don’t have the usual story lines. They’re about my feelings at a certain place at a certain time.” In addition to his singing and song writing, Dylan is working on three “novels.” One is about the week before he came to New York and his initial week in that city. Another is about South Dakota people he knew. And the third is about New York and a trip from New York to New Orleans.

    Throughout everything he writes and sings, there is the surge of a young man looking into as many diverse scenes and people as he can find (“Every once in a while I got to ramble around”) and of a man looking into himself. “The most important thing I know I learned from Woody Guthrie,” says Dylan. “I’m my own person. I’ve got basic common rights-whether I’m here in this country or any other place. I’ll never finish saying everything I feel, but I’ll be doing my part to make some sense out of the way we’re living, and not living, now. All I’m doing is saying what’s on my mind the best way I know how. And whatever else you say about me, everything I do and sing and write comes out of me.”

    It is this continuing explosion of a total individual, a young man growing free rather than absurd, that makes Bob Dylan so powerful and so personal and so important a singer. As you can hear in these performances.

    — Nat Hentoff

  8. Nessa V
    April 3, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    Bob Dylan is from Hibbing, Minnesota. Some Horses Lie. If your a Dylan Fan then you know why. He heard about Gallup, I suspect through his visits with Woody Guthrie. Woody Guthrie whom is from Okemah, OK traveled through Gallup to California during the Dust Bowl Era. Dylan probably liked the mysticism of being from the west so he said he was from Gallup and this has been touched on in some biographies. He has probably passed through many times though.

  9. rozy
    May 12, 2013 at 10:55 am #

    I’m a Dylan fan and i’ve often wondered if he ever did live in Gallup. But i highly doubt it. He may have passed through in the old days at the beginning of his music career and wrote songs that picked up on the flavor of Gallup but i don’t think he lived here. I hope he does do an interview with you all. Let me know i’d like to have him autograph my bootleg series. :)

  10. John Encinio
    March 30, 2014 at 10:43 pm #

    I recall seeing him sitting at a window in the apartments up above Tom’s Variety Store. He was sitting there with his head, right arm and shoulder sticking out of the open window open looking north toward the railroad tracks. He wasn’t doing anything, just sitting there looking out and staring toward the tracks. I seem to remember he had a cigarette in his right hand. Skinny guy, unkempt hair, no expression on his face.

  11. Rj Garn
    June 1, 2014 at 4:36 pm #

    I believe , like changing his name, Zimmerman just came up with the most far out, exotic place, within the usa, that rolled off his fiercely imaginatve tongue, Gallup, a town name that swings, conjures up cowboys and indians, and fit with his Woody Guthrie okie image.

  12. Russell
    March 11, 2015 at 9:56 am #

    The rumor is he was nephew of “Zimmerman”, and spent a summer here in high school, visited the Navajo Reservation. etc… As good as any other I’ve heard.

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