Bob Dylan Couldn’t Even Play Shows For Free When He Moved To New York: ‘He Was Too Raw’

Bob Dylan moved to New York with the intention of establishing himself as a musician. He succeeded, but not without some difficulties. He did not make a strong impression upon his arrival; no one was very impressed with his singing or guitar playing, and he struggled to find places that would hire him to play shows. They saw it as an act that could clean up a room, not draw in the audience.

A black and white photo of Bob Dylan wearing a hat and playing guitar in front of three microphones in a New York club.
Bob Dylan | Sigmund Goode/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Bob Dylan struggled to find work when he moved to New York

Dylan moved from Minnesota to New York to follow in the footsteps of his hero, Woody Guthrie. Upon his arrival, he was quickly noticed by his fellow musicians. According to musician Dave Van Ronk, Dylan looked like “the scruffiest fugitive from a cornfield I think I’ve ever seen” (via The Ballad of Bob Dylan: A Portrait by Daniel Mark Epstein). His approach to the harmonica was haphazard and untrained. Still, Van Ronk said he found Dylan impressive.

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