Grand Junction’s John Winn recalls life as a musician, friendship with Bob Dylan (video)
May 4, 2015
Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Summit Daily News, a sister paper to The Free Press that operates out of Frisco, Colo.
Now he's 80 and his buddy "Bobby" is 73.
He is John Winn, who lived on The Summit for decades, writing and performing folk songs between teaching skiing and tennis, moving over to Grand Junction with wife Kristin in 1995.
Bobby went onto the world stage.
So, who's Bobby? He's Robert Allen Zimmerman, born and raised in Minnesota. Unless you know your music trivia, you're still going — Huh?
You've known him for years as Bob Dylan, just honored by MusiCares, the nonprofit arm of the Grammys that aids impoverished musicians during times of financial and medical crisis.
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Dylan addressed the audience of 3,000 musicians and industry veterans gathered in Los Angeles to honor him as MusiCares' 2015 Person of the Year.
His speech capped a star-studded musical tribute by a wide variety of artists whom he handpicked to interpret his songs.
The show, which was not broadcast, included performances by Bruce Springsteen ("Knocking on Heaven's Door"), Neil Young ("Blowin' in the Wind"), Jack White ("One More Cup of Coffee"), Crosby, Stills and Nash ("Girl From the North Country"), Tom Jones ("What Good Am I?"), Willie Nelson ("Senor") and Los Lobos ("On a Night Like This").
And John knows him as Bobby, and they go a long way back — to New York City. Early in his career, John hit the big time in the Big Apple.
"I was one of the featured artists to perform in the first 'Hootenanny in Carnegie Hall' in 1963. Here's the review I got in the New York Times for my performance in that concert:
'John Winn represented the minstrel-troubadour tradition with high artistry.'"
Those memories serve him well today as he writes and records music and is putting his fingers to the keyboard for a book.
"I've begun writing a book of vignettes about my experiences in Greenwich Village during the early 1960s. My friendship with Bobby is part of the story. Some of these have been noted by other writers, such as Anthony Scaduto, who wrote 'Dylan,' in which Suze Rotolo (Bobby's girlfriend during his Village days) speaks of a night in a NYC studio when Bobby and I sang an extemporaneous phony 'Folk' ballad that lasted about half an hour. This was back when Bobby was still singing mostly Woody Guthrie's songs.
"I've just finished basic tracks on a new CD, titled 'I Ain't ; if space is Dead Yet.' That's the title song, and now being an octogenarian, I have a more complete and growing knowledge of the joys of the Golden Years. It's in the final studio mix stage so I have some time to complete a video of a song that Bobby sang to me on the day that he wrote it back in 1962. It's a love song to Suze about how much he misses her, titled 'Tomorrow Is a Long Time.'"
Here's how John introduces it on the video:
"One day in the summer of 1962 I was walkin' down West Fourth Street in the Greenwich Village and I saw Bobby leanin' back against the building where he had a little apartment. He was really lookin' down so I asked, "What's goin' on?" He told me that Suze had gone to Italy and he didn't know if she was ever comin' back. I knew that was a bummer 'cause I also knew how close they were. Then he said he had just written a song and asked if I would like to hear it. Of course I did. We went upstairs. He picked up his guitar and now, some 50-odd years later, this is the song I heard him sing that day."
"I sing the song as I heard it — a simple and beautiful love ballad. It's striking to me that I decided to do this video on the eve of this justly deserved award to Bobby. His words echo the 'truth' that I felt about him when we first met. We were sitting in the Gaslight in 1961. He was telling me these wild stories 'bout how he was an orphan who was raised on an Indian reservation in New Mexico, how he'd run away when he was 16 to join the circus and then rode the rails with Big Bill Broonzy ('Key to the Highway'). I'm lookin' at this guy who appeared to be about 19 and thought that these were some pretty wild stories, and that's what they were. But as I sat there listening to him ramblin' on I thought to myself, 'These stories are unbelievable,' and that's what they turned out to be. Yes, they were stories, but they were really good stories. He had not been singing his own songs yet, but to me there was something about him that shouted out that he was the real deal. That was the truth that I heard echoing in the words he spoke at the MusiCares presentation."
As a musician, Dylan has sold more than 100 million records, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time; he has received numerous awards, including Grammys, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award; he has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Pulitzer Prize jury in 2008 awarded him a special citation for "his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power." In May 2012, Dylan received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
John related his own story to Spike! like this:
"I was born April 13, 1934, at home — t'was the way in those days — in the tiny river town of Canton, Missouri, 21 miles north of Hannibal, where I mostly grew up," John says. "I started skiing down a cow pasture hill in Hannibal when I was 12. The one thing I remember most from that first run after I had gone downhill about 50 feet — 'This is a lot more fun than basketball.'"
Here's how John got to Colorado:
"I was in my second year in college, sitting in a zoology class and decided I needed mountains and snow more than knowledge of the life of a paramecium. I walked out of that classroom, packed a bag and stuck out my thumb. Three days later I was seeing the snow-covered Rockies for the first time."
"A brief detour occurred when I was in the Army, where I was stationed at Fort Carson. After my discharge in '56, I went to work for Max and Edna Dercum at Ski Tip Ranch as a dishwasher. I also sang old folk songs for the guests in the evening. I got good enough skiing that I began teaching beginner lessons at A-Basin that winter."
John taught skiing for "about 61 years as I count 'em," he says, with A-Basin as a start, followed up with Winter Park; Sugarloaf, Maine; Waterville Valley and Wildcat Mountain, New Hampshire; Telluride; Sunday River, Maine; back to Winter Park, then Keystone and Powderhorn.
As for the tennis career, John taught at Copper (where Spike! met him in the tennis "bubble") and the Frisco Recreation District. "I was a USPTA-certified instructor over quite a few years," he says. "It was a good fit with skiing."
"My last three years were spent — happily in my early '70s — teaching telemarking back at A-Basin," he adds.
With a full menu of creative pursuits combined with continuing athletic conditioning, John keeps a busy routine, which he details like this:
"I still work out daily and ski a couple of days a week, mainly at Powderhorn (now co-owned by Andy Daly), with a few trips tossed in to Loveland and others for seasoning; I've dialed my workouts back to brisk walks and bike rides that I call my 'Tours de Neighborhood.' My knees are pretty used up, stairs are difficult, but smooth tele turns on groomers are still fun. As I used to tell my students, 'Learn to turn and gravity will be your friend.'"
Apparently gravity helped John and Kris get farther on the Western Slope.
"Kris and I drifted downriver until we found a warmer place — Grand Junction filled the bill for us," John says. "Good biking and hiking, Powderhorn is a nice ski area, good medical facilities and a growing arts and music scene. There are some hot days in the summer and some cold spells each winter, but overall it's a pretty nice place to live."
"I still practice daily and do occasional small concerts," John says. "My octogenarian voice is holding up OK, but the high notes aren't so high and the low notes aren't so low anymore."
As for Kris, who was born in Chicago and started skiing at 2, she has worked for the city for almost 20 years. She now manages the visitor center at the Horizon Drive exit off of I-70. One of her major responsibilities is coordinating a staff of 90 senior volunteers. She will be retiring May 15.
John's website is: http://www.johnwinnmusic.com
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