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_musician.jpgKangas, 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
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

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