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There But For Fortune - Joan Baez

People nowadays don't realise, or often have forgotten, how pre-internet there were all kinds of facts we didn't know, and we therefore made assumptions based on our limited knowledge that were wrong. Take the example of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan came to fame in the early 1960's via the New York folk scene. At that time most folk singers were seen in America as commies - the biggest US folk group in the fifties were the Weavers and they were blacklisted as such in the McCarthy era. The folk movement therefore saw Dylan as theirs - their great hope who they had made - and this is the context for the famous cry of "Judas" from the audience at Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1966 which was a standout incident in a year in which he was booed by folkies at concerts all over the world. He was not only betraying his folk roots in favour of rock, he was seen to be selling out to commercialism.

Ordinary mortals like myself, especially those of us too young to go to his concerts, saw him only fleetingly on British tv - I can't ever recall him being on Tops of the Pops or Ready Steady Go - so we were reliant on the movie "Don't Look Back" which was a "behind the scenes" record of Dylan's stay in London on the occasion of his 1967 concert at the Royal Albert Hall mixed with other footage from America from as far back as 1963. The film featured many scenes with Dylan and his then girl friend Joan Baez playing together and she was present in most of the famous hotel and backstage shots.Later I saw films of Dylan and Baez duetting in US folk concerts. I therefore always thought that, as fellow folkies, Baez owed her fame as a singer to her association with him. I couldn't have been more wrong.

In 1960 her first studio album went "gold" in the US as did her second the following year as well as two live albums. By the time she met Dylan in 1961 she was the uncrowned "Queen of Folk" and in 1963 invited him on stage to perform with her at the Newport Folk Festival, America's premiere folk event. This was just one of many such invitations, which, there is no doubt, must have accelerated his inevitable rise to fame.

Her version of Phil Ochs' "There But For Fortune" from 1965 was her first UK top ten single. Her other top ten entry was her 1971 cover of the Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" which was her only US top ten hit. It has all the hallmarks of her earlier music, a vocal pure and sweet as rainwater suffused with honesty and integrity. But also almost self-effacing, disappearing beneath the earnest message of the song. Just as she always came across as modest and self-effacing in "Don't Look Back".

"...and I'll show you a young man with so many reasons why -

there but for fortune go you or I".

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