Virtual Museum: Bob Dylan’s Early Influences

Here’s a fascinating touchstone in the Bob Dylan story–Bonnie Beecher’s personal copy of the 10″ Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee album “Get On Board” on Folkways. This was one of the records Beecher played for her paramour, Bob Zimmerman in 1960. As documented in Clinton Heylin’s book “Behind The Shades Revisited,” Beecher was “Dylan’s original ‘Girl From The North Country’ and first muse.” She met the future Dylan in Minneapolis, at the 5 O’clock Scholar folk club, where he was discussing obscure folk records with local Harvey Abrams. Heylin reports, “like Dylan, Bonnie was ostensibly attending (the) university (of Minnesota.) Such was the mothering instinct that she, and many others had for the young tyke that she ended up being kicked out of her sorority house for associating with such dissolute company. Yet she continued to take him under her wing.” Beecher is quoted “no one would let him even play for dinner. I ended up shoplifting for him, stealing food from my sorority house.”

One of the many reasons Dylan was initially so drawn to Beecher was that she had a collection of obscure folk and blues records, unavailable in Minnesota, bought on her yearly school trips to New York to see Broadway shows. She would regularly sneak off from her school group to search for the Folkways albums so difficult to find outside of New York. She and Bob spent many hours together listening to her records, which influenced Dylan greatly. When I was lucky enough to meet her, she still had this album and a Leadbelly one that she specifically remembers listing to with Dylan. I was fortunate to obtain both of these from her.

This album has Beecher’s original home-made cover (perhaps as the record is a cut out, with a hole punched through the label, it didn’t come with a cover.) As you can see, Beecher wrote the artists names (on both sides) as well as her own name. The disc is very well played, and in G condition. Accompanying it is a handwritten letter of authenticity from Beecher, now known as Jahanara Romney, that states “This Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee album, “Get On Board” was owned by me while I was at the University of Minnesota and was one of the albums Bob Dylan and I listened to. Jahanara Romney, formerly Bonnie Beecher.”

A great Dylan historical artifact, offered for the first time anywhere, this week on Ebay (click here for a link to the auction.)

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