When Carla Brown punched Bob Dylan

Following a teenage obsession with 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, Bob Dylan became aware of American folk music as popularised by Woody Guthrie. In January 1961, this musical hunger led him to New York City following a college dropout and a few run-ins with his father, who saw safety in a traditional career path.

Against the odds, Dylan began to shape a remarkable career on the New York folk circuit. Like Guthrie, he laid his foundations in protest anthems, including early hits like ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, ‘Talkin’ World War III Blues’ and ‘Masters of War’.

Dylan’s early aversion to war and violence was a reaction to the Cold War and other contemporary global conflicts. However, something a little closer to home may have stoked such fires in the early 1970s.

In a 2023 interview with The Church Studio, the singer and first wife of Leon Russell, Carla Brown, revealed a rather comical yet violent altercation between herself and Dylan. While accompanying Russell on a tour with Joe Cocker in 1970, she felt a tug on her arm backstage and reacted violently, having been mugged recently.

“When we went to do our show for the Cocker Tour, as I was going backstage, somebody grabbed my arm,” she recalled. “And I’d just got mugged, ok? So, I’m like, BAM! [swings arm] And I go on up the stairs.”

Although Dylan was a worldwide sensation long before the early 1970s, Brown claims not to have recognised him. “Peter Nichols, the Englishman, comes upstairs, and he says, ‘Somebody just popped Bob Dylan!’ And Leon immediately turned and looked at me, ‘Go in that other room [and apologise].’ I go in there, and I said I didn’t know who the hell it was,” she continued.

Brown seemed somewhat dejected that she didn’t get to meet the songwriting legend. However, several years later, she crossed his path again. “So I was never to meet Bob Dylan, but Mary went to audition for Bob, and I went with her, and he kept staring at me,” Brown recalled. “He’s on the piano, and he’s like, ‘Do I know you?’ And I said, ‘No, you don’t.’”

“So he has never found out,” she laughed in relief. “So when he came to Tulsa for something, somebody said, ‘Are you gonna go see Dylan?’ And I said, ‘Hell no!’ It’d be my luck that he’d recognise me this time.”

This wasn’t the first time Bob Dylan found himself in a quasi-violent altercation. In 1965, the ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ singer met Donovan for the first time. After a pleasant meet and greet, things turned sour when one of Donovan’s entourage allegedly threw a bottle from a first-floor window onto the street below.

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