Bob Dylan and Joan Baez: The King and Queen of Folk

Their storied early relationship quickly soured, professionally and personally

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan perform.

National Archive/Getty Images

For many who hear the words "folk music," the first two people who come to mind are Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, the biggest stars of the 1960s folk craze.

When 19-year-old Dylan arrived in Greenwich Village in January 1961, Baez had long been the “Queen of Folk." In two short years, Dylan ascended the throne as King of this musical monarchy as they wowed audiences from coast to coast with their live duets.

Two Talents Collide

In his 2004 autobiography "Chronicles: Volume One," Dylan wrote that back in Minnesota, the first time he saw Baez on TV:

“I couldn’t stop looking at her, didn’t want to blink... The sight of her made me sigh. All that and then there was the voice. A voice that drove out bad spirits... she sang in a voice straight to God... Nothing she did ​didn’t work.”

Baez, on the other hand, was unfazed by what she heard when she first saw Dylan perform at Gerde's Folk City in 1961. However, by the time they met at Boston's Club 47 in April 1963, Dylan had evolved into the scene's most promising singer-songwriter, and Baez was blown away.

Several weeks later at the Monterey Folk Festival, she joined Dylan onstage for a duet of "With God on Our Side," which was the beginning of one of popular music's most legendary stage partnerships.

Bob Who?

In July 1963, a still-unknown Dylan debuted at the Newport Folk Festival, performing two duets with Baez, one in her set and one in his own. By now smitten, Baez invited Dylan along on her August tour, where she brought him out for duets and gave him short solo spots to hawk his wares.

As she later recalled,

“I was getting audiences up to 10,000 at that point, and dragging my little vagabond out onto the stage was a grand experiment ... The people who had not heard of Bob were often infuriated, and sometimes even booed him.”

As the Queen of Folk, Baez's endorsement played a huge role in Dylan's rise to success. Once his second album, "The Freewheelin Bob Dylan," caught on, Dylan's career soared as he stole the fire from his stage mate and lover.

The tables turned, with Baez needing Dylan's endorsement, which he gave in his sleeve notes for her second live album, "Joan Baez in Concert Part 2." In his typical verse/commentary, he wrote that the

“iron bars an’ rattlin’ wheels are real, the nightingale sound of Joan Baez’s voice an alien, smooth opposite... The only beauty’s ugly, man / The crackin’ shakin’ breakin’ sounds’re / The only beauty I understand’’

Later, during his 1965 tour of Europe, with Baez's career on the slide, Dylan invited her along, promising to reciprocate that early exposure with spots during his shows. After she flew over, though, Dylan never followed through, breaking Baez's heart and ending their two-year, music-fueled romance.

The Rolling Thunder Reunion

Despite Dylan's snub, in 1968 Baez released the album "Any Day Now: Songs of Bob Dylan." In 1972 she wrote a song for Dylan titled "To Bobby," with lyrics beckoning her former stage mate to get back into action and help solve the problems of humanity.

Then in 1975, Baez called out to Dylan again with her romantic reminiscence "Diamonds and Rust," singing the lyrics:

"Now you're telling me
You're not nostalgic
Well give me another word for it
You who're so good with words
And at keeping things vague."

If Baez was seeking nostalgia, she soon got it after joining his 1975-76 renaissance road show, the Rolling Thunder Revue. As part of the opening set, Baez did a couple of songs, and then Dylan joined her onstage for duets ranging from Merle Travis' “Dark as a Dungeon” to the traditional "The Water Is Wide."

On top of her role in the Revue, Baez also was cast as The Woman in White in what became Dylan's 1978 four-hour film, "Renaldo and Clara," which was shot throughout the 30-show tour across New England and Canada.

The King and Queen's Last Hurrah

On June 6, 1980, Dylan and Baez reunited for the one-off “Peace Sunday” concert in Pasadena, California, doing duets of “With God on Our Side,” Jimmy Buffet's "A Pirate Looks at Forty," and "Blowin' in the Wind."

For hungry fans, a Dylan/Baez reunion tour had always been a sensational idea, and for some time, Baez had been urging Dylan to do just that. But Dylan wasn't interested until 1984 when most likely to ramp up poor ticket sales, he invited her to join an already booked European Dylan/Santana package tour.

To get her on board, tour promoter Bill Graham promised Baez the world but in the end, delivered nothing. To unsuspecting consumers, throwing Baez into the mix insinuated the much-dreamed-of Dylan/Baez duet, but those who bought tickets on that basis were sadly disappointed. Baez was promised not only top billing with Dylan, but also a duet for each show.

With her name tacked onto concert posters as a mere "special guest," Baez simply became the opening act for the headliners, Dylan and Santana. Livid and feeling used, Baez jumped ship halfway through the tour, with Graham begging her to stay. But she'd had enough.

Baez wrote in her 1988 autobiography, "And a Voice to Sing With":

"In the end, I paid... a monetary forfeit, which I had expected to do. But paying money was nothing compared to the battering my ego and spirit had taken for over a month."

Dylan and Baez Today

Despite their ups and downs over the years and the vitriol permeating Baez's autobiography, when reminiscing today, Dylan and Baez speak fondly of one another.

Although few of their duets have been released, Baez's box set "Rare, Live & Classic" features "Troubled and I Don't Know Why" from their August 1963 performance at Forest Hills. Previously unreleased duets of "It Ain't Me Babe" and "With God on Our Side" can be heard on Baez's 1997 album, "Live at Newport."

You can see duets from all their Newport appearances in Murray Lerner's "The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan" at the Newport Folk Festival.