More Virtual Museum: John Hammond’s Own Acetate of “Gospel Plow” from Bob Dylan’s first album

(click on photos to enlarge)

People seemed to enjoy the George Harrison lyrics posted here last week (under the title “The Virtual Museum,”) so I’m going to try to make this a regular feature of the blog, and post more ultra rare goodies that may be of interest to collectors and others interested in artifacts that tell the story of popular music.

Above is John Hammond’s personal acetate for “Gospel Plow,” from Bob Dylan’s 1962 self-titled debut album. Hammond, in my opinion the greatest A&R (artist & repertoire) Man of the 20th century, discovering and/or signed Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Ray Vaughn and of course Bob Dylan.

Hammond signed Dylan to Columbia Records in 1961, and became his first producer and chief promoter. His belief in Dylan was so complete–even in the face of a complete lack of sales–that Dylan was known around Columbia Records as “Hammond’s Folly.” The acetate pictured above is a historic artifact of Dylan and Hammond’s earliest work together–a disc of Dylan’s recording of “Gospel Plow” from the sessions for his first album (this song was recorded in one take, on November 22, 1961–the second and final day of the recording sessions for his first album.) Hammond produced these sessions, and this one-sided 10″ disc has the only take recorded of this song.

Individual acetates of each song were cut for Hammond, and used by him to review the song choices and sequence the album. This acetate was given by Hammond to Missy Staunton, who worked as assistant to Billy James, Dylan’s publicist at Columbia. In Staunton’s letter which accompanied this disc, she explains that working with James “I first got to know John Hammond and other A&R people” and “I went to recording sessions and everyone knew I loved music, so sometimes I would be offered acetates when people were done with them.” As with all Columbia Records acetates of this era, there is no label, but the master number (CO 68748,) take number (TK 1,) song title and “B.Dylan” are written in the center in grease pencil. Note that “J. Hammond” is written on the sleeve at the top left corner, indicating who this disc was to be sent to. It’s a pretty extraordinary feeling to hold in your hands one of the first few discs ever to contain Bob Dylan’s music–and one that John Hammond himself used to compile Dylan’s first album. Available on Recordmecca. (Why sell something so historic ? I’m fortunate enough to have acquired 3 different Hammond/Dylan’s acetates from the first album, so I decided to cut this one loose.)

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