The Story Of Bob Dylan’s Unknown Alter Ego

The Story Of Bob Dylan’s Unknown Alter Ego | Society Of Rock Videos

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Before He Made It Big

Bob Dylan’s eccentricity has always accompanied his musical and literary genius. He’s also unpredictable – releasing dozens of albums and going on tour but never heavily promoting any of them. He rarely does interviews and appears in public only when it pleases him.

And so perhaps it doesn’t come as a surprise that before he settled on Bob Dylan (he realized early on that Robert Allen Zimmerman doesn’t roll of the tongue and isn’t easy to remember), he went through a couple of other stage names and personas. But it was performing under the name Elston Gunnn that became a watershed moment for him.

He explained in Chronicles, “The Elston Gunnn name thing was only temporary. What I was going to do as soon as I left home was just called myself Robert Allen. As far as I was concerned, that was who I was – that’s what my parents named me. It sounded like the name of a Scottish king, and I liked it. There was little of my identity that wasn’t in it.”

As Gunnn, Dylan managed to land a gig with Bobby Vee’s band The Shadows. Vee told Goldmine in a 1999 interview, “He was in the Fargo/Moorhead area. He was working as a busboy at a place called the Red Apple Cafe. We didn’t know that at the time. Bill [Velline] was in a record shop in Fargo, Sam’s Record Land, and this guy came up to him and introduced himself as Elston Gunnn–with three n’s, G-U-N-N-N.”

Vee recalled, “He said he heard we were looking for a piano player, which we were, and he said that he had just gotten off the road with Conway Twitty. Bill was blown away. ‘Man, how good can this be? This was as good as it gets!’ And went over to the radio station with him, over to KGFO, and there was this piano in the studio and auditioned him on the piano. He came back and he said, ‘He played pretty good in the key of C.’ We didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s all he could play in, was the key of C. I-IV-V in the key of C.”

Dylan was paid 15 bucks a night and he didn’t have his own piano. But of course, Dylan wasn’t meant to be in the background. He had too much talent for that. And so Vee explained, “It was ill-fated. I mean, it wasn’t gonna work. He didn’t have any money, and we didn’t have any money. The story is that I fired him, but that certainly wasn’t the case. If we could have put it together somehow, we sure would have. We wished we could have put it together. He left and went on to Minneapolis and enrolled at the University of Minnesota.”

It was a couple of years later when Vee discovered what happened to his former bandmate. At the time, he “was in New York in Greenwich Village. I was walking down the street. There was a record store there, and there was an album in the front window. And it said, ‘Bob Dylan.’ And I thought to myself, ‘Looks a lot like Elston Gunnn!'”

Vee listened to Dylan’s records and it wasn’t long before he himself became a fan.

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