Carla Rotolo

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Carla Rotolo (March 5, 1941 - August 25, 2014) was an artist, folksinger and folk music researcher.

Early life[edit]

Rotolo was the first child of Joachim Rotolo and Mary (Pezzati) Rotolo who were union activists. Her mother Mary was a writer and editor for several union newspapers her father would paint worker murals.

Like her mother Rotolo was a political activist but also followed in her father's footsteps who was an artist. As an artist, she painted, drew and sculpted. She also worked as a set decorator for many off Broadway plays and shows in New York. Her younger sister Suze would often join her.[1]

Greenwich Village years[edit]

In the early 1960s Rotolo was an assistant to the eminent folklorist and musicologist Alan Lomax.[2][3] She would accompany him on his excursions down South to record remote folk singers. Rotolo helped with the 1960 release of twelve folk albums for the Prestige International Records label.[1]

She was involved with the Greenwich Village folk scene and was friends with Dave Van Ronk, dated the noted folk singer Paul Clayton and knew many of the movers and shakers of Greenwich Village.[4] Rotolo appears in the Alan Lomax documentary Ballads, Blues and Blue Grass which was released in 2012.[5]

In 1961 Rotolo was an enthusiastic fan of the then-unknown folksinger Bob Dylan. According to author Robert Shelton, Rotolo "came up with an idea to help record Dylan and some other unknowns". Shelton continued, "that because, of the urgings of the Dylan coterie in general, Carla in particular, and my interest in reviewing, Mike Porco booked Bob into Folk City for two weeks."[6]

Rotolo would sometimes sing three-part harmony with Van Ronk and Dylan. She introduced her seventeen-year-old sister Suze to Dylan early on which led to a three-year relationship. Rotolo did all she could to promote Dylan. She introduced him to important people and helped him with his research into folk tunes. Dylan would spend hours during the day and night listening to and examining her vast collection of records and books.[7]

Dylan would eventually repay her with his 1964 song "Ballad in Plain D", labeling her as the "parasite sister", after Rotolo came to her sister's aid as Suze and Dylan were breaking up, in Rotolo's apartment.[8] Although she found the accusation tedious and stupid, since she was always employed and far from a parasite she had done a lot to help out the young Bob Dylan including letting him sleep on her couch, the label was to follow her for the rest of her life.[9]

When interviewed by Howard Sounes for his 2001 Dylan biography, Down the Highway The Life Of Bob Dylan, Rotolo stated: "I remember it being a terrible experience". Informing Sounes that when she heard the song, she had no doubt that she was meant to be the "parasite".[10]

Rotolo resented the term, pointing out that she worked to pay the rent and further rejected the inference that she was interfering in Dylan's and her sister's business. "I got dragged into something that, frankly by then I didn't give a fuck about, because Suze was going to choose whoever she liked, I couldn't keep sitting in my no-door room with screaming and yelling going on." She stated that on the night in question she had asked Dylan to leave, but he refused to go. And that Dylan pushed her, so she pushed him back and that a physical fight almost ensued, adding that friends had to be called and Dylan forcibly removed. Carla was left with a very negative view of Dylan, considering him selfish, manipulative, and emotionally immature.[10]

Later life[edit]

In the '70s she worked for the controversial Grove Press run by Barney Rosset and later worked for former baseball player Joe Garagiola, as his personal assistant during his years at NBC. Afterwards she'd work as a proofreader and copyeditor at various publications.[11]

In 1986, Rotolo was credited with compiling the recordings for a 134-track Bob Dylan bootleg collection called Zimmerman: Ten of Swords. It is considered the "most famous Bob Dylan bootleg of all time". In a shot at Bob Dylan's "Ballad in Plain D", printed on the back of the multi-record set is, "This album was compiled by: Carla Rotolo, chairperson of the board, P.S.A.* (* Parasite Sisters Anonymous)." [12][13]

Right after the Dylan bootleg release, Carla moved to Sardinia, Italy, to look after her aged mother and step-father. She made two extensive trips back to the States in 1998 and 2005 visiting friends and relatives.[11]

Carla Rotolo grave, 2014

In July and August 2014 Carla Rotolo was portrayed by actress Jaime Babbitt in the Larry Mollin play Search: Paul Clayton – A True Tale of Love, Folk Music and Betrayal at the Martha's Vineyard Playhouse in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts.[14][15]

Rotolo continued to be politically active while living abroad and took part in several conservationist rallies and other efforts to bring awareness to the plight of animals and the natural environment. She staunchly supported of the World Wildlife Fund and Doctors Without Borders as well as many other causes.[16]

Rotolo died during a bad kitchen fall in her condo in Santa Teresa di Gallura and was buried September 3, 2014, at the Buoncammino Cemetery outside of town.[16]


  1. ^ a b Roots of the Revival: American and British Folk Music in the 1950s, Ronald D. Cohen, Rachel Clare Donaldson, page 128.
  2. ^ Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, p. 265.
  3. ^ Bob Dylan: Voice of a Generation, Jeremy Roberts, page 37.
  4. ^ Paul Clayton and the Folksong Revival, Bob Coltman, page 165.
  5. ^ Ballads, Blues and Bluegrass, Media-Generation DVD, 2012
  6. ^ No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan, Robert Shelton, Beech Tree Books, 1986
  7. ^ No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan, Robert Shelton, Beech Tree Books, 1986, page 134.
  8. ^ Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs, Jim Beviglia, page 45.
  9. ^ No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan, Robert Shelton, Beech Tree Books, 1986, page 222.
  10. ^ a b Howard Sounes, Down the Highway The Life Of Bob Dylan Doubleday 2001 ISBN 0-552-99929-6 P123
  11. ^ a b Yankee Jazz Beat, Carla Maria Rotolo (1941-2014)
  12. ^ Ten of Swords
  13. ^ Philadelphia Inquirer For Dylan Die-hards, A Classy Bootleg, Howard Goodman, February 13, 1986
  14. ^ Martha's Vineyard Times, Folksinger Paul Clayton the 20th century Salieri to Bob Dylan’s ‘Amadeus’, Holly Nadler, July 23, 2014.
  15. ^ Boston Globe, ‘Search’ is tangled up in Bob Dylan, Joel Brown, July 10, 2014.
  16. ^ a b Carla Maria Rotolo Memorial

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