Ric Kangas Auctions Original Bob Dylan Recordings
by Drew Mackie More than 50 years ago, a young man in Hibbing, Minnesota, dreamed about singing — publicly, professionally, and in the style of the early rock legends that inspired him. Those familiar with the history of pop music have probably assumed that this hopeful is a young Bob Dylan. It’s not. This story is about a man named Ric Kangas, who grew up in the same town as Dylan, but set out on a different path to realize his dreams. As one might surmise, Kangas did not become the famed musician he had hoped to become. However, his life so far has resulted in stories — the kind only a well-traveled soul can tell — and an unending pursuit of artistic fulfillment. What’s more, Kangas’s friendship with the young Dylan, then known as Robert Zimmerman, has ultimately yielded an artifact that should interest not only Dylan fans but lovers of all things musical: the first-ever recording of an original Bob Dylan song. The tape, which currently resides with Kangas at his Santa Barbara home, went up for auction on September 16. As tantalizing as such a snapshot into Dylan’s early life might be, the story of how the tape was made and how Kangas — who had long avoided standing in Dylan’s shadow — decided to part with it make it all the more personal. Kangas, who has lived in Santa Barbara since December of 2005, recalled the story from his living room, a space densely lined with instruments, recording devices, paintings, and photos. According to Kangas, he and Zimmerman became friends after a high school talent show. Eventually, Kangas purchased a tape recorder — and one day, Zimmerman came over and recorded three songs: what has now become known as “When I Got Troubles,” a ballad called “I Got a New Girl,” and a riff on Clarence “Frogman” Henry that Kangas later took to calling “The Frog Song.” Parting Ways Soon afterward, the boys’ friendship ended when Kangas was drafted to Vietnam. While at boot camp, Kangas’s mother sent him a letter that included a magazine cover featuring Zimmerman, who by then had been introduced to the world as Bob Dylan. Kangas was shocked but altogether happy for his hometown friend. “I was real pleased. I mean, if this could happen to him, then maybe there was a chance for the rest of us,” he said. Following his service, Kangas continued to pursue his career. A stint as the frontman for the Duluth group The Sonics resulted in a gang fight. “I guess I was an outsider,” Kangas said. “The police advised me not to come back.” Kangas then took his guitar and his “suitcase tapes” — which included the Dylan recordings — to New York, where he again tried to pursue folk singing. In the end, Kangas moved to Nashville, where he signed a recording contract but never made a living of it. “They’d tell me I didn’t sound like anyone. And I guess I didn’t,” Kangas said. “It was the wrong type of music to push.” In 2005, Martin Scorsese released the documentary No Direction Home. The film and subsequent soundtrack both featured “When I’ve Got Troubles,” and Kangas felt now was as good a time as any to see what public interest in the recordings might be. “As long as it’s going to be heard anyway, I might as well put it up for sale,” he said. Kangas put the recordings on eBay, with a reserve of $1 million. “I didn’t expect anyone to buy it. If they did, that would have been great, but I was just curious to see what the response might be.” Dylan fans apparently started buzzing on online message boards enough that Kangas agreed to auction the items through Heritage Auction Galleries, a Dallas, Texas-based firm that sells American pop culture memorabilia. Though some estimates have placed the value of the recordings at $100,000, Kangas placed the tapes in the auction with a reserve price of $20,000. By the end of the live auction on Oct. 6, however, the tapes had not sold. He estimates that two of the three songs having been previously released on the soundtrack to No Direction Home lessened the package’s overall appeal. “Unfortunately, none of the high-end music items were auctioned off,” Kangas said, noting that guitars once used by Presley, Eric Clapton, and Kurt Cobain also did not find homes. Undaunted by the failure of the auction, Kangas said he figures he will return the tapes to the suitcase from which they came. “I think I’ll put them there for another ten or twenty years or so. Maybe by then, there will be an interest in them again,” he said. Kangas and Dylan do not speak any longer, as often happens with childhood. “The last time I saw Bob and spoke with him in person was at a 1974 show in Memphis,” Kangas said. “[Dylan] asked me, ‘Are you still writing songs?’ I said I was. And he said, ‘I’ll have to have someone come by to see you.’” No manager or associate or friend of Dylan’s ever came. Kangas said he later received phone calls from Dylan that resulted in similar exchanges with similar results. In fact, the last time Kangas actually saw Dylan was the same night many Santa Barbara residents did — October 21, 2004, when Dylan performed at UCSB’s Thunderdome. According to Kangas, one blessing that has arisen from the rediscovery of his suitcase tapes has been the chance to refamiliarize himself with the songs he had written as a young man. “If any music publishers are interested in some old songs written by ‘that other songwriter from Hibbing,’ they can contact me,” he said. Indeed, one can’t help wonder if Kangas might somehow be better off without the old Dylan tapes around. Beyond the money the auction might generate, perhaps Kangas deserves to remove himself from Dylan’s legacy a bit. If nothing else, it’s karmic balance for all those records Dylan borrowed back in Hibbing and never returned.
To contact Ric Kangas for information regarding the Dylan tapes or to book his Elvis tribute show or mentalist act, write him at email@example.com.