In all his various iterations—from folk troubadour to sunglass-clad, plugged-in contrarian to born-again Christian rocker to bluesy, plainspoken elder statesman—Bob Dylan’s artistic persona has always come across as one of clear vision. There’s no waffling in the moment, no tiny cracks of indecision or reticence. Bob Dylan picks his path—often blazing it for others to follow behind—and he doesn’t look back.
The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964, however, show us a new side to Dylan. They show us the Dylan who is just starting out, frantically writing songs, but still feeling for his own ground. At times, he’s as in command as ever, and in others, he feels a little green still, a little untested. Part of this comes from the fact that Dylan was a gamble for Columbia Records. Most of the Greenwich Village folk crowd ended up on smaller labels, like Folkways, and targeted smaller crowds. Dylan, though, was getting coverage in the Times as early as 1961, and John Hammond over at Columbia took a flier on him.