After we cut "Suzie Baby," which was about five months after Holly's death, we started working in the [North Dakota] area and the record looked like it was doing well, and we had a vision of success in the group. And we worked June, July, August, somewhere around there and we thought to ourselves that maybe we should add a piano, y'know, to the band. It was just a rhythm section at that time, and in doing that we would probably have the ultimate rock 'n' roll band.
So we sort of asked around the Fargo area and a friend of ours suggested a guy that had been staying at his house, and was working at a café as a busboy -- the Red Apple Café in Fargo -- and so my brother met him and they went over to the radio station to use the piano and they sort of plunked around a bit and played "Whole Lotta Shakin'" in the key of C, and he told my brother that he had played with Conway Twitty, which was a lie, but for openers he thought, "Phew!" He didn't even want to audition the guy -- he got the job.
He was Bob Zimmerman at the time -- that was his name. He wanted us to use the stage name of Elston Gunn for him. And we went out and bought him a shirt; it was a small investment to make him a member of the band. So he was identical to us -- looked like he'd always been there -- and went out and played a couple of small jobs in North Dakota, just tiny places... One was in a church basement, the other in a little pavillion.
He was kind of a scruffy little guy, but he was really into it. Loved to rock 'n' roll. He was pretty limited by what he could play. He was pretty hot -- in the key of C. He liked to do handclaps, like Gene Vincent and the Bluecaps, who had two guys who were handclappers. He would come up to my microphone and do that every now and then, and then scurry back to the piano.
But we realized that... he didn't have a piano and we weren't in a position where we wanted to buy one; lug a piano around with us... that was really too much of a hassle. So we decided to work as a four-piece band and we told him that, er, y'know, we decided not to use the piano. And he was a bit disappointed at the time, and eventually left Fargo... We paid him $15 a night, so we paid him $30 and he was on his way.
He left Fargo and went down to Minneapolis and went to school, and then, about a year later, we were out in Long Island or Staten Island, playing. And one of the guys in the band saw him in the audience -- this was before he was popular -- and he said, "I saw Bob Zimmerman, in about the second row." And we all said, "No kidding? I wonder how he got so far east." 'Cos he was just a spacey little guy, y'know, just sort of worming his way around. And then about a year after that I was in Greenwich Village and I saw an album -- his first album cover. And I realized that was him.
David Nesvold email@example.com asked in a private email, Mar 8, 1998:
As a purveyor of all things Dylan, you can perhaps help me pinpoint the year Bob Dylan was fired as a piano player by Bobby Vee in Fargo, ND.
My all-too-inadequate memory says it was summer-fall 1959.
I do recall that Bob Dylan washed dishes at the Red Apple Cafe, wolfed down "Buck-Nines" at the Bison Hotel and stayed with a family named Jolson...
In an another email, Mar 9, 1998, David further elaborated:
Sometime in 1959 I was introduced to Bob Zimmerman at the Bison Hotel by his local host, Mike Jolson, a lad of Zimmerman's age. (He's the friend mentioned by Bobby Vee.)
Jolson recommended Zimmerman for the Velline Bros. Band. And if Mike isn't the one, it's his older brother, Al, who was about the same age as Bobby Velline's brother.)
The Bison? At that time, it was a decaying Hotel with an all-night restaurant, located beside the Great Northern Railway tracks and featuring on its surrounding lawn a statue of William the Conqueror.
The Buck-Nine was a thinly-sliced sirloin steak about the same diameter as a basketball, served on a softball-sized plate and THE DISH at THE PLACE for late-night to early-morning habitues (survivors) of Fargo Nightlife (as it were).
Zimmerman, a scraggly youth, was scrunched into the corner of a Bison booth beside the mildly rotund Jolson, who was busy as usual promoting himself. Zimmerman was introduced as the piano player for the Shadows, I remember. I said 'nice to meetcha' or someother, then meandered to other booths filled with people I knew better.
If I heard Zimmerman play with Velline, I don't remember it. I did attend the concert in Moorhead when Velline filled the bill because Holly died that cold February in 1959.
Pick up a Midwestern USA map, and imagine it's 1959.
- See Duluth.
- See Fargo.
- See Minneapolis, the site of U of M, Zimmerman's next stop, if I read correctly the bios.
Why Fargo? Must have been the Jolson family connection, although I am ignorant of any details.
As for including any of this on your website, I doubt you will want to. As you can read, this is more about my personal memories than about Bob Dylan. But thanks for the flattery.
On another personal note: the first time I heard Bob Dylan was the late summer of 1963 while working in a local AM radio station writing advertising copy for farm implements, used cars and other indispensable American items. One of the DJ's, whose evening show featured jazz, gave me a demo record and said, "Listen to this guy, he's crazy." That meant "good" in 1963 in Fargo. It was Bob Dylan, singing about jumping stringbeans between bombshelters. I shook my head and gave the record to a friend.
Shortly thereafter, while serving unwillingly as a private in US Army, I became a Bob Dylan fan. Been one ever since. After leaving the Army and returning to Fargo, where many of my friends who had escaped the draft still lived and were now Dylan fans, I was informed of the true identity of Bob Dylan. He was Zimmerman, that scraggly friend of Mike Jolson's who occasionally frequented the Bison in 1959.