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Bob Dylan and Joan Baez: The King and Queen of Folk

A story of the relationship between Joan Baez and Bob Dylan

By

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez

© National Archives/Getty Images

For many, when you utter the words "folk music," the first two people that come to mind are Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, the biggest stars of the 1960s folk craze. When 19-year-old Bob Dylan arrived in Greenwich Village in January 1961, Joan Baez had long been crowned the “Queen of Folk," but within two short years, Dylan would ascend the throne as King of this musical monarchy, with the two wowing audiences from coast to coast with their live duets.

Two Talents Collide

In his 2004 autobiography Chronicles: Volume One (compare prices), Dylan wrote that, back in Minnesota, the first time he saw Baez on TV, “I couldn’t stop looking at her, didn’t want to blink. . . . The sight of her made me sigh. All that and then there was the voice. A voice that drove out bad spirits . . . she sang in a voice straight to God. . . . Nothing she did didn’t work.”

Baez, on the other hand, was unfazed by what she heard when she first saw Dylan perform at Gerde's Folk City in 1961. However, by the time they finally met at Boston's Club 47 in April 1963, Dylan had evolved into the scene's most promising singer-songwriter, and Baez was blown away. Several weeks later at the Monterey Folk Festival, she would join Dylan onstage for a duet of "With God on Our Side" (purchase/download), marking the beginning of one of popular music's most legendary stage partnerships.

Bob Who?

In July 1963, a still-unknown Dylan debuted the Newport Folk Festival, performing two  duets with Baez, one in her set and one in his own. By now smitten, Baez then invited Dylan along on her August tour, where she would bring him out for duets and give him short solo spots to hawk his wares. As she later recalled, “I was getting audiences up to 10,000 at that point, and dragging my little vagabond out onto the stage was a grand experiment... The people who had not heard of Bob were often infuriated, and sometimes even booed him.”

As the Queen of Folk, Baez's endorsement played a huge role in Dylan's early rise to success. But once his second album The Freewheelin Bob Dylan caught on, Dylan's career soared as he stole the fire from his stage mate and lover. Soon the tables would turn, with Baez needing Dylan's endorsement, which he gave by way of his sleeve notes for her second live album, Joan Baez in Concert Part 2 (compare prices). In his typical verse/commentary, he wrote that the “iron bars an’ rattlin’ wheels’ are real, the nightingale sound of Joan Baez’s voice an alien, smooth opposite... The only beauty’s ugly, man / The crackin’ shakin’ breakin’ sounds’re / The only beauty I understand’’

Later, during his 1965 tour of Europe, with Baez's career on the slide, Dylan invited her along, promising to reciprocate that early exposure with spots during his shows. After she flew over, though, Dylan never followed through, in the process breaking Baez's heart and ending their two-year music-fueled romance.

The Rolling Thunder Reunion

Despite Dylan's snub, in 1968 Baez went on to release the album, Any Day Now: Songs of Bob Dylan (compare prices). And in 1972 she would write a song for Dylan titled "To Bobby" (purchase/download), with lyrics beckoning her former stage mate to get back into the action and help solve the problems of humanity. Then in 1975, Baez called out to Dylan again with her romantic reminiscence, "Diamonds and Rust" (purchase/download), singing the lyrics:

Now you're telling me
You're not nostalgic
Well give me another word for it
You who're so good with words
And at keeping things vague.

If it was nostalgia Baez was seeking, she would soon get it after joining his 1975-76 renaissance road show, the Rolling Thunder Revue. As part of the opening set, Baez would do a couple songs, and then Dylan would join her onstage for duets ranging from Merle Travis's “Dark as a Dungeon” to the traditional song, "The Water is Wide." On top of her role in the Revue, Baez was also cast as The Woman in White in what would become Dylan's 1978 four-hour film, Renaldo and Clara, which was shot throughout the 30-show tour across New England and Canada.

The King and Queen's Last Hurrah

On June 6, 1980, Dylan and Baez would reunite for the one-off “Peace Sunday” concert that took place in Pasadena, California, where they did duets of “With God on Our Side,” Jimmy Buffet's "A Pirate Looks at Forty," and "Blowin' in the Wind." For hungry fans, a Dylan/Baez reunion tour had always been a sensational idea, and for some time, Baez had been urging Dylan to do just that. But Dylan wasn't interested. That is, until 1984 when—most likely to amp up poor ticket sales—he invited her to join an already booked European Dylan/Santana package tour.

To get her on board, tour promoter Bill Graham promised Baez the world, but in the end delivered on nothing. To unsuspecting consumers, throwing Baez into the mix was to insinuate the much dreamed-of Dylan/Baez duet, but those who bought tickets on that basis would be as sadly disillusioned as Baez, who was promised not only top billing with Dylan, but a duet for each show.

With her name tacked onto concert posters as a mere "special guest," Baez simply became the opening act for the headliners, Dylan and Santana. Livid and feeling used, Baez jumped ship halfway through the tour with Graham begging her to stay. But she'd had enough. "In the end I paid... a monetary forfeit, which I had expected to do," wrote Baez in her 1988 autobiography, And a Voice to Sing With (compare prices). "But paying money was nothing compared to the battering my ego and spirit had taken for over a month."

Dylan and Baez Today

Despite their ups and downs over the years, and the vitriol permeating Baez's autobiography, when reminiscing today, both Dylan and Baez speak fondly of one another. Although very few of their duets have been released, Baez's three-CD box set Rare, Live & Classic (compare prices) features "Troubled and I Don't Know Why" from their August 1963 performance at Forest Hills. Previously unreleased duets of "It Ain't Me Babe" and "With God on Our Side" can be heard on Baez's 1997 disc, Live at Newport. For the visual experience, duets from all their Newport appearances can be seen in Murray Lerner's The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival.

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