The folk revival scene in New York’s Greenwich Village was far from a fairy tale. Although the zeitgeist was abuzz on the things that money can’t buy, chief among them was poverty. However, within this hodgepodge stronghold of artistry was the blossoming romance of the king and queen of folk music – Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.
The times were a-changing in more ways than one and as Dylan proclaims, Joan Baez (or Joaney as he calls her) was at the forefront of it. “Joaney was at the forefront of a new dynamic in American music. She had a record out that was circulating in the folk circles, I think it was just called Joan Baez and everybody was listening to it, me included, I listened to it a lot,” he declares in the 2009 documentary Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound.
Her influence on Dylan was profound, “She had a very unusual way of playing the guitar,” he recalls, “I have never heard anyone play it the way Joaney did, I tried to practice it but I never could get that style down.” Her voice proved stirring for him too, “She had that heart-stopping soprano voice and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.” But perhaps most importantly during an era when most of the folk wayfarers were clutching the same shared handful of old tunes, he says, “Her range of songs was very unusual for that time, just the combination of all the things she did which were put together in such a miraculous way.”
In time, this led to them playing together and a subsequent whirlwind romance. While she later played with Dylan as part of The Rolling Thunder Revue in a more rollicking guise than we were used to, Dylan reminisces just as fondly on the early days. “I always liked singing and playing with her,” Dylan recalled, “I thought our voices really blended well; we could sing just about any kind of thing and make it make sense. To me, it always sounded good, and I think it sounded good to her too.”
At the height of these shows was the moment that Joan Baez announced him as the saviour of folk music, and in an ironic twist of fate, it was this ever-expanding maelstrom that surrounded him, and the labels came with it that pushed them apart. In Dylan’s own words, he says, “I was just trying to deal with the madness that had become my career, and unfortunately, she got swept up along, and I felt very bad about it, I was sorry to ever see our relationship ever end.”
Although the relationship and break-up may have spawned a thousand songs in a nebulous sense, it was Joan Baez’s 1974 reflection, ‘Diamonds and Rust’ that seemed to deal with the end of folks most dazzling couple head-on. This wasn’t lost on Dylan and he was, in fact, delighted to have been part of the pastures from which the song flowered, no matter if it was nettlesome. “I love that song ‘Diamonds and Rust’, to be included in something that Joaney had written, I mean to this day it still impresses me.”
However, perhaps his most succinct and poignant declaration of his love for Baez and her impact on his life came at his MusiCares Speech in 2015. During which he announced, “Joan Baez she was the queen of folk music then and now. She took a liking to my songs and brought me with her to play concerts where she had crowds of thousands of people enthralled with her beauty and voice. People would say, ‘what are you doing with that ragtag scrubby looking welk’ and she’d tell them in no uncertain terms, ‘you be quiet and listen to his songs’. we even played a few of them together.”
Concluding with heartfelt sincerity, “Joan Baez is as tough-minded as they come. A truly independent spirit, nobody can tell her what to do if she doesn’t want to do it. I learnt a lot of things from her. For her kind of love and devotion I could never repay that back.”