When he wasn't on stage or in the streets, Dylan spent endless hours listening to records: Ewan MacColl, Blind Willie McTell and -- above all -- the three boxed volumes of the Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music. First released in 1951, this anthology is an extraordinary collection of eighty-four vintage recordings... Most of the material dates from the late 1920s, when the commercial labels, spurred on by the fantastic sales enjoyed by country star Jimmie Rodgers and blues singer Bessie Smith, had feverishly recorded a host of Black and Appalachian singers, often on location. The most striking thing... is the utter strangeness that saturates almost every cut... In a 1965 interview, Dylan suggested that the putative "authenticity" of such music fascinated him far less than its ineffable peculiarity: "Folk music," he said, "is the only music where it isn't simple. It's weird, full of legend, myth, Bible and ghosts... chaos, watermelons, clocks, everything..."
It was this sense of strangeness and out-of-time otherness that Dylan now began to reach for in his music...
Jim Miller, Bob Dylan, Witness, 2, 2-3 (Summer/Fall 1988), reprinted in Elizabeth Thomson & David Gutman, The Dylan Companion, London, 1990, pp. 18-19.
BARRY MILES (on Allen Ginsberg in 1984):
Harry Smith came to visit, hurt his leg, and, as in "The Man Who Came to Dinner," stayed almost a year. It was a stormy interlude; Harry's health was poor, and he was a difficult, stubborn guest unused to sharing a dwelling. He took a perverse enjoyment in antagonizing Allen, who was once reduced to slapping him in frustration.
n one occasion, Bob Dylan came to meet him; many of the songs Dylan performed in the early days of his career he had taken from the Folkways "Anthology of American Folk Music" which Harry had compiled. To Allen's annoyment, Harry refused to get up.
Miles, Ginsberg: A Biography, New York, NY, 1989, p. 528.
Late one night I sat in Allen Ginsberg's East 12th Street apartment with Allen Ginsberg and Harry Smith, the eminent ethnomusicologist and folklorist...
Beginning in the late 1930s, Harry Smith began traveling throughout the South and Western United States, visiting Indian reservations and amassing a vast collection of 78rpm recordings of American blues and folk music. The 33 1/3 long-playing format was just being introduced, and for the next 25 years the outdated lacquer discs could be had for pennies. Soon Harry began tracking down record plants and recording outfits, hauling away carloads of recordings for a penny each. In time, Harry had assembled one of the greatest collections of recorded folk music in private hands, a collection that was eventually divided between the Smithsonian Institution and the New York Public Library -- but not before Harry had assembled the three seminal three-record [sic] sets for Folkways Records, 'American Folk Music.' It was this anthology of America's musical heritage spawning ballads, folk songs and the blues that more than any other factor spawned the folk revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s...
Raymond Foye, The Night Bob Came Around, The Telegraph, No. 36, Summer 1990, p.16
Because actually what's really interesting is the folk music revival of the '50s comes from a six record, three boxed set put out by Folkways recorded, or compiled by Harry Smith, American Folk Music, which turned on the Almanac Singers, and the, uh, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Dylan and Jerry Garcia, and all the guitarists of the '50s that, uh, heard American folk music in extenso for the first time in 1952, uh, edition.
Harry Smith was a very unique character and a great genius as a hermetic philosopher, filmmaker, uh, painter, uh, archivist, uh, magician, uh, legendary person who knew Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker, and come from the Northwest and knew peyote and American Indians, and was living in New York and now can be seen at the filmmakers with his "Heaven and Earth" movie and experimental films of the '40s, animated collage, the first animated collage, and the inventor of the mixed media that invaded the Fillmore Auditorium, and then became the collage mixed media that you get on MTV too.
So he set off a folk revival, and then there were folk musicians playing in the city at Folk City....
Dancing in the Street BBC Interview
Harry Smith's anthology is a likely source for Clarence Ashley's "The House Carpenter" (track No. 3, 1930) and "The Cuckoo" ("The Coo Coo Bird", track No. 57)
Possible source for the following songs covered by Dylan at some time in his career (songs marked * were possibly part of his repertoire):
The Butcher's Boy (Railroad Boy) (trad./Buell Kazee) (track No. 6, 1928)
The Wagoner's Lad (Loving Nancy) (trad./Buell Kazee) (track No. 7, 1928)
Omie Wise (G. B. Grayson) (track No. 13, 1927)
My Name Is John Johannah (trad./Kelly Harrell, 1927) (*)
John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man (Carter Family) (track No. 17, May 10, 1928)
Stackalee (Frank Hutchison) (track No. 19, 1927)
Little Moses (Carter Family) (track No. 53, Feb 14, 1929)
James Alley Blues (Richard 'Rabbit' Brown) (track No. 61, Mar 5, 1927)
See That My Grave Is Kept Clean (Blind Lemon Jefferson) (track No. 76, 1928)
K. C. Moan (The Memphis Jug Band) (track No. 81, 1929)
Fishing Blues (Henry "Ragtime Texas" Thomas) (track No. 84, 1929)
Frankie (Mississippi John Hurt) (track No. 21, 1928)
Down On Penny's Farm (The Bently Boys) (track No. 25, 1929)
Possible source for Woody Guthrie's "Talking Columbia," "Talking Sailor."
Likely source for Tom Glazer's "Talking Inflation Blues" (aka "Talking Lobbyist").
Woody Guthrie's "Talking Subway" (in Greenway's version) likely inspiration/lyrics source for Dylan's "Talking New York.."
Most likely source for "(In Search Of) Little Sadie"