VIDEO: Pete Seeger on Dylan Going Electric at Newport Folk Festival: "He Was Singing a Great Song"

July 24, 2015
Web Exclusive

In a 2004 interview with Amy Goodman, Pete Seeger responds to rumors that he tried to pull the plug on Bob Dylan’s electrified set at the Newport Folk Festival on June 25, 1965.

For more, watch our 2014 special, We Shall Overcome: Remembering Folk Icon, Activist Pete Seeger in His Own Words & Songs.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Pete Seeger, and on this bio of you, it says, "Pete Seeger’s adherence to the sanctity of folk music came to a boiling point with the advent of folk rock, and it’s long been rumored that he tried to pull the plug on Bob Dylan’s very electrified set with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1965." Is that true?

PETE SEEGER: No. It’s true that I don’t play electrified instruments. I don’t know how to. On the other hand, I’ve played with people who play them beautifully, and I admire some of them. Howling Wolf was using electrified instruments at Newport just the day before Bob did. But I was furious that the sound was so distorted you could not understand a word that he was singing. He was singing a great song, "Maggie’s Farm," a great song, but you couldn’t understand it. And I ran over to the soundman, said, "Fix the sound so you can understand him." And they hollered back, "No, this is the way they want it!" I don’t know who they was, but I was so mad I said, "Damn, if I had an axe, I’d cut the cable right now." I really was that mad. But I wasn’t against Bob going electric.

As a matter of fact, some of Bob’s songs are still my favorites. What an artist he is. What a great—I would say maybe he and Woody and Buffy Sainte-Marie and Joni Mitchell and Malvina Reynolds are the greatest songwriters of the 20th century, even though Irving Berlin made the most money. They wrote songs that were trying to help us understand where we are, what we’ve got to do. Still are writing them.

See our archive of interviews with Seeger, and interviews in which he is mentioned.

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