In either June (Michael Krogsgaard, Master of the Tracks, 1988, p. 17) or early Fall 1961 (October? -- Clinton Heylin, A Life In Stolen Moments, 1996, p. 22) 1961, Bob Dylan played harmonica during a Harry Belafonte recording session (produced by Hugo Montenegro) at RCA Studios, New York, NY.
The resulting track ("Midnight Special") was released on RCA LPM 2449/LSP 2449 in March 1962.
Harry Belafonte came out of the army and stayed with Hank Pearson, my neighbor upstairs, and Bobby said that one day he would like to be as big as Belafonte -- that was his dream, his goal.
You know, though, I never heard how he got the job to play with Harry Belafonte on that record, but, boy, did he complain about it later, about how he had to rehearse and rehearse and rehearse, doing it the same over and over.
Harry Belafonte and his producer, Hugo Montenegro, were trying to come up with a slightly different sound for the popular singer... They decided on a hard-driving harmonica, and Dylan was asked to back up Belafonte...
He was ecstatic about the session... But he returned dejected, annoyed, angry. Belafonte is a total professional, a musical perfectionist. He will work on a song, do it again and again... until he has it exactly the way he thinks his record should sound. To Dylan... the perfection Belafonte sought was too much. He stamped back to the Smiths' [McKenzie's] place afterward and announced that he had quit after only one song.
Anthony Scaduto, Bob Dylan, London, 1973 (Abacus edition), pp. 86-87.
HARRY BELAFONTE, vocals
MILLARD THOMAS & ERNIE CALABRIA, guitars
NORMAN KEENAN, bass
DANNY BARRAJANOS, DON LAMOND, PERCY BRICE, drums
JOE WILDER, trumpet solos
JEROME RICHARDSON, saxophone solos
BOB DYLAN, harmonica ("Courtesy Columbia Records")
BOB SIMPSON, engineering and mastering
PETER PERRI, photos
PRODUCED BY HUGO MONTENEGRO
CONDUCTED AND ARRANGED BY JIMMY JONES.
TRACK LISTING & COMMENTS:
TRACK MARKED (+) WITH BOB DYLAN, harmonica;
TRACKS MARKED (*) WERE ALSO COVERED BY BOB DYLAN
(at one time or another...).
- MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (+)
Let the Midnight Special shine its everlovin' light on me
- CRAWDAD SONG
You don't miss water till the well runs dry
And you don't miss your man till he says goodbye
- MEMPHIS TENNESSEE
I got a new way a-spellin' Memphis, Tennessee
- GOTTA TRAVEL ON (*)
There's a lonesome freight at 6:08
Comin' through the town
And I feel like I've got to travel on
- DID YOU HEAR ABOUT JERRY (*)
Timber, Timber, Lord this Timber's gotta roll
- ON TOP OF OLD SMOKEY
If you ever see a dark cloud rollin' in the sky
It's my woman goin' to heaven, with a teardrop in her eye
- MULESKINNER (*)
I can carve my initials on any ol' mule's behind
- MAKES A LONG TIME MAN FEEL BAD (*)
My baby sister keeps writin', "Come on home"
And my tears run down because my time's so long
- MICHAEL ROW THE BOAT ASHORE
So Christian soldiers off to war, Hallelujah
Hold the line in Arkansas, Hallelujah
This album started with a lonesome harmonica player, playing his heart out in a shanty on a hand-me-down harmonica. It started in a penitentiary with one prisoner turning his hard luck into blues.
Some of the songs "started" just yesterday in contemporary Gospel... and also three centuries ago on a little fishing island off the coast of Georgia, isolated enough to preserve the original songs of generations of slaves. All of it is magnificent song from one of the most powerful wellsprings in history....
Whether by intuition, painstaking planning or unruly genius, Belafonte has projected a music here which is essentially new.
A large proportion of the words are his, written in dressing rooms on tour, wrestled with for hours in his workshop. The arrangements were pushed and molded on the spot during recording which, as always, was a feverish, creative discipline extending through the night... night after night.