Inside The Studio Of Bob Dylan’s First Album With Suze Rotolo

This article was last updated on May 27, 2022

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The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan

She was Bob Dylan’s first and most significant NY girlfriend and the girl on the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

By Stephen Pate – It was the love affair of the 20th Century captured forever on the cover of a record album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Their love was so iconic it played out in the false memory of Tom Cruise in the movie Vanilla Sky.

Suze (Susan) Rotolo the was the beautiful and social activist daughter of Italian-American immigrants and avowed Communists when she met Bob Dylan  in July 1961 at a folk concert at the famous Riverside Church in Morningside Heights, Manhattan.

Bob Dylan was smitten by the lively brunette as he wrote in his autobiography Chronicles: Volume One,

“Right from the start I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She was the most erotic thing I’d ever seen. She was fair-skinned and golden-haired, full-blood Italian. The air was suddenly filled with banana leaves. We started talking and my head started to spin. Cupid’s arrow had whistled past my ears before, but this time it hit me in the heart and the weight of it dragged me overboard… Meeting her was like stepping into the tales of 1001 Arabian Nights. She had a smile that could light up a street full of people and was extremely lively, had a kind of voluptuousness—a Rodin sculpture come to life.”

Suze Rotolo wrote about the same first encounter “We started flirting and talking backstage at Riverside Church early in the day and didn’t stop until the day was done. He (Dylan) was funny, engaging, intense and he was persistent. These word completely describe who he was the time we were together; only the order of the words would shift depending on mood or circumstance.”  A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties

Their love affair lasted until 1964 and inspired many Bob Dylan songs like Boots of Spanish Leather and Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right.

Bob Dylan and Suze Rotolo were deeply in love, as deeply in love as young couples can be. He was the poet, the musician, the songwriter on the cusp of the longest run of success and notoriety yet still an unknown at the time.

Suze Rotolo was the daughter of first generation Italian Americans with roots in the Communist Party. Suze taught Dylan about civil rights and was effectively his activist conscience through most of the 60’s. Her influence over Dylan did not end with their break-up can be heard long after in songs like “Hurricane” and “Dignity“.

An old letter of Suze Rotolo from November 1961 surfaced recently on Expecting Rain.  While the letter says nothing new, it confirms in a candid way what Suze Rotolo wrote in her autobiography A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties written before she passed away in 2011.

The letter to her friend was rushed, excited and with almost awestruck sentences that run together in a blur. The newly released letter follow events at Bob Dylan’s first Columbia Records recording session.

Suze Rotolo’s November 1961 letter to Susan Zuckerman (now Susan Green)

“things are going fantastically, unbelievably great for the pig [Suze Rotolo’s nickname for Bob] things are happening to him that only happen in the movies…. [the ellipses in this letter are Suze’s] take my word for it, they’ll be selling bob dylan hats pretty soon. just listen: he recorded for columbia records 2 weeks ago. i went to one of the sessions and i couldn’t believe my eyes.

john hammond (the guy who “discovered” the pig and is doing all for him) completely flipped. i swear if dylan vomited into the microphone hammond would have said “great bob, but try it again with harmony”….now i think dylan is good, and all….but i swear EVERYBODY AT COLUMBIA RECORDS (from the PRESIDENT on down) thinks bob dylan is the new GOD. they are dropping everything just to push his record…they think he’s going to be new idol of the usa. no shit. they are putting his record out in 2 months. the fastest ever. the publicity men are going apeshit. he’ll be on tv, in magazines, etc. etc….oh well.

you are and i are the best actresses and literary geniuses of the 20th century and our talents are being wasted….i don’t want to get sucked under by bob dylan and his fame. it really changes a person completely when they become well known by all and sundry. they develop this uncontrollable egomania. I can see it happening to bobby. and I’ve tried to tell him in so many ways, but it’s useless, it really is. he’s beginning to love me only in relation to himself, if that makes sense.”

Near the end of the letter, Suze writes: “please comment or something. i am in need of advice, friendship, and all around shit. huh?…so when do you hit ny? let’s see if we can share an apt or a hotel room or something. i’m serious.”

Submitted by STEPHAN PICKERING / חפץ ח”ם בן אברהם Torah אלילה Yehu’di Apikores / Philologia Kabbalistica Speculativa Researcher, לחיות זמן רב ולשגשג

Bob Dylan recording session

In her memoir, A Freewheelin’ Time, Suze Rotolo gives an different perspective on the recording session for Bob Dylan’s eponymous first album Bob Dylan.

“Quietly Bob said: This is the beginning of what I have always known. I am going to be big.

He said it calmly and knowingly, and it was true. No bragging, no Look at me, no Ain’t I grand. That was not his way. He spoke only what he knew to be true. He would not have said so otherwise…

I had never been in a recording studio before and it exhilarating. The speakers were huge and the playback sound enveloped the studio, giving me the sensation that I inside the music—listening to sound from the inside out, When the album came out and I read the liner notes by “Stacey Williams,’ an alternate moniker for Bob Shelton, I laughed at his description of me as sitting “devotedly and wide-eyed through the recording session” and Bob as fretting his guitar on “In My Time of Dyin’ ” with my lipstick holder. I didn’t wear lipstick and how typical of a guy to translate my reaction to being in a recording studio for the first time as devotion. At least he got the “wide-eyed” right.

Bob Dylan

During the sessions, John Hammond did not interfere Bob’s process but watched and listened, letting Bob do he wished.

Columbia planned to rush his album into stores within two months, believing Dylan to be the next big thing. I watched Bob as he sang and saw his focus, his loyalty to the work at hand, the art he was making. Bob was intense, both sure and not sure of what he was doing. After he’d ask: What do you think, what do you think?

Bob wanted a shearling jacket to wear for his picture on cover of the album, but there was no way he could afford a real one. We had a hard time finding a jacket that looked right. We finally found a synthetic shearling in a shop on Sixth Avenue in the Village that looked pretty good—almost like the real thing—and had a price to match.

Bob carefully adjusted the collar, just so. He was ready for his self-titled close-up.”

From A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties

Suze Rotolo’s memoir A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties is available from, (Canada) and (UK).

Bob Dylan’s autobiography Chronicles Volume One is available from (Canada) and (in the UK)

The album Bob Dylan is available from iTunes Bob Dylan – Bob Dylan and, (in Canada), and (In the UK).


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By Stephen Pate, NJN Network

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