Billy Faier, the five-string banjo pioneer who traveled with Woody Guthrie and Ramblin’ Jack Ellott, and hosted a radio show featuring a very young Bob Dylan, died over the weekend. He was reportedly 85 years old, although on his website, he humorously wrote he was born in 1978 RPM. I conducted an email interview with Faier more than five years ago, and posted it in installments as part of a celebration of Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday in May, 2011.
Some of the content centered on Dylan’s October, 1962, appearance on Faier’s radio program, where Dylan played four songs – “Baby Let Me Follow You Down,” “Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues,” “The Death Of Emmett Till,” and a rare version of “Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor.”
“Bob Dylan was on my radio show, The Midnight Special, along with many other folksingers on station WBAI, a Pacifica Station in New York City in the very early sixties,” Faier said. “(It was) a live show every Saturday night. His appearance was quite unmemorable. The only reason I’m sure of it is that I have a photo of him at the occasion. It will take a lot of time to find it because my only copy of it is in a file of all my photos on disc, but not in my computer. And it is a too-dark shot, hardly recognizable.
“In my memory there was no interview. There may have been a couple of introductory questions because I’m sure I introduced him before he sang. At the time he was one of many unknown kids who came to sing a song or two. He was certainly not a superstar yet, and I don’t think he had recorded his first album. However, I must admit my own memory is very shaky. I have about three or four tapes of those couple of hundred shows I did and I don’t remember him being on any of them. I could be wrong about that.”
When I told him I had a copy of Dylan’s appearance, Faier replied, “If you find a copy of his performance on my show I would love to hear it. It would have to be from someone’s air check. It is great to be reminded of stuff I completely forgot.” After he received the CDR in the mail, Faier thanked me, saying, “Harold, CD arrived today and I got a kick out of listening to it. It made Dylan a little more real to me since I haven’t followed him at all for many years. But from my few words with him on the CD I know that I must have liked him then, even though he was sometimes hard to take socially. (Otherwise I wouldn’t have adjusted the mic for him.)”
In addition to interviewing Dylan, Faier also discussed his time in Woodstock, including the effects of the 1969 Woodstock festival on the community, his shop, and seeing the Band, Albert Grossman, Van Morrison, the Incredible String Band, and others in town. He also told stories of time spent with Pete Seeger, who wrote the linter notes to one of Faier’s LPs. I was also honored Faier allowed me to post his previously unpublished article about hanging around with Woody Guthrie and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott in the spring of 1954.
For various tributes, please check out Faier’s Facebook page.
Of the dozens of Dylan Internet sites … Expecting Rain … and the byteclay.com Bob Dylan blog by Harold Lepidus are the best places for up-to-the-minute Dylan news – David Kinney, “The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob.”(Simon & Schuster, 2014)
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