Bob Dylan born Robert Allen Zimmerman, began playing the guitar and harmonica as a child. While in high school he formed a rock and roll band called The Golden Chords and began performing at coffeehouses while in college.
He made his mark with folk fans in Greenwich Village, New York in 1961. By the time he appeared at Gerde’s Folk City opening for John Lee Hooker, Dylan already had a following of his own!
Dylan’s first album in 1962 was simply titled, “Bob Dylan”. It received very little interest and only sold around 5,000 copies over it’s first year.
The second album released in May of 1963, proved more successful for Dylan. He’d started to stake his claim as a both a writer and singer. “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” only included two cover songs, the rest were Dylan’s original writings!
The album went to number 22 on the charts, but eventually went platinum. In 2002, the Library of Congress chose 50 recordings to be added to the National Recording Registry, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” was one of them!
“Blowin’ in the Wind” was not only a hit for Dylan, it has became a hit for many other artists as well. And, still remains an illustrative song for troubling times and has became a signature for many rallies and protest.
His next appearance at Gerde’s Folk City was five months later and it received a rave review in the New York Times. After reading the review John Hammond with Columbia A&R found Dylan and in the fall of 61′ the contract was signed.
Dylan had sang casually with Joan Baez at some of the New York coffee houses. They had a connection and became lovers in 63′. Baez had already established her own success in the folk music industry and would help Dylan on his road to success by inviting him on stage with her when she performed.
She’d tell audiences he was “a man to keep your eyes on” and was largely responsible for a huge increase in his fan base. Dylan once said, “She brought me up. I rode on her, but I don’t think I owe her anything.”
The Ed Sullivan Show can be credited for giving more than one infamous rock star their start or at least in giving them the publicity they needed to make it in the business. But, Dylan walked out on his scheduled appearance!
He’d planned to perform “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”, but was informed that he would have to choose another song. The show feared being sued by the John Birch Society. Dylan refused to comply with the shows censorship and walked out!
Early in 1964 his third album “The Times They Are A Changin'” was released. This album contained all of Dylan’s own writings and covered issues of poverty, racism and the changes in society. The album reached number 20 on the charts and eventually went gold.
“Another Side of Bob Dylan” was released later that year and featured a lighter mood than his earlier works. Appropriately named it marked the beginnings of his transition from folk into rock and roll stardom.
Dylan quickly changed his appearance to suit the rock star image. Described by a London reporter as “Hair that would set the teeth of a comb on edge. A loud shirt that would dim the neon lights of Leicester Square. He looks like an undernourished cockatoo.”
With “Bringing It All Back Home” in March of 1965, Dylan introduced electric instruments into his music. The album included one of Dylan’s most famous songs, “Mr. Tambourine Man”.
His summer performance at the Newport Folk Festival, was almost disastrous! Much of the time the heckling and boo’s over rode the cheering and applause! The speakers and microphones were out of balance and emitted very poor sound quality. But, the electric guitar was what set the audience off! His performance outraged the folk music community!
Hostility and turmoil erupted from the minute the band started with a rock and rolling “Maggie’s Farm”! Yells to bring back the previous band didn’t stop Dylan from finishing his song. And, he preceded to belt out “Rolling Stone”.
After fans yelling “Get rid of that band” they still performed “It Takes a Train To Cry” before leaving the stage for a long absence! Dylan returned to the stage and sang “Mr. Tambourine Man” and won the audience back. They completed the set with “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and Dylan didn’t appear at the Newport festival again until 2002!
The rumors of that day are contradictory, it’s been said that on the original sound tapes there is no “booing” heard coming from the audience. But, then it’s said that in the documentary films about the festival, the booing is real. Although there’s still debates over who was doing it and why they were booing!
Just four days after his historical Newport appearance, Dylan went back into the studio to record “Positively 4th Street”. A song that many would consider Dylan’s way of putting down his friends and acquaintances from the folk community!
“Like a Rolling Stone” was released on single in 1965. It hit number 2 on the U.S. charts and number 4 in the UK. It was over six minutes long and greatly influenced the idea of what pop singles should convey! In 2004, it was listed as number 1 in Rolling Stones magazines top 500 greatest songs of all times!
With the release of “Highway 61 revisited in 1965, Dylan started gathering a band to perform concerts in support of the album. Dylan again met with heckling fans still demanding his return to the folk culture at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium show. But, the Hollywood Bowl performance was a hit!
Dylan and his newly hired touring band, The Hawks, received increasingly better audience response. However, all of their recording efforts in the studio had been flops.
At the advice of his producer, Dylan went to Nashville to record “Blonde on Blonde” in 1966. Dylan referred to the sound as “that thin wild mercury sound”. Al Kooper who performed in the band for the album, called it a masterpiece. He said it was an explosion of two cultures, the world of Nashville and the New York hipster being smashed together!
Dylan married Sara Lownds on November 22, 1965 and by the spring of 1966 was on a world tour. The first half of the tour featured a solo Dylan, backing himself on the harmonica and acoustic guitar. But, for the second half he was rejoined by The Hawks and the electrifying music was back.
The sudden transition didn’t set well with fans and the tour ended with a famous confrontation with the crowd at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in England. Furious over Dylan’s new sound, one fan yelled “Judas”, he answered with “I don’t believe you, you’re a liar”! He then preceded to blast out “Like a Rolling Stone” after telling the band to “Play it loud” within reach of the microphone!
Dylan returned to New York and a demanding schedule. He had already received payment for an ABC television show and his publisher was pressing for a completed manuscript of his poem/novel Tarantula. On top of that his manager had already scheduled a very extensive touring engagement for the summer and fall.
While riding his motorcycle on July 29, 1966, the brakes locked up. The extent of his injuries were never fully released to the public. Although Dylan said that he’d suffered several broken vertebrae in his neck, supposedly no one called an ambulance and he wasn’t taken to the hospital.
When interviewed about the crash later Dylan would admit that he’d felt exploited. He said, “The accident had woken him up, he realized that he’d just been working for all these leeches. And, I didn’t want to do that. I had a family and I just wanted to see my kids.” Dylan had taken an 18 month hiatus after the accident.
There are many bootleg recordings that are circulating around containing the music Dylan and the Hawks recorded during his hiatus.
The Hawks changed their name to The Band in 1967 and recorded the album “Music From Big Pink”. The album launched the group on a long and very successful career of their own.
Returning to Nashville in 1967, Dylan released “John Wesley Harding”. The album was a mix of the old west and the bible. Religion had always been an influence on Dylan’s writing.
His next album in 1969 included a duet with Johnny Cash, “Lay Lady Lay” became a hit single. “Nashville Skyline” was literally a country music album! He later appeared on the Johnny Cash Show performing other duets.
In 1972, Dylan not only signed to record songs for the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid movie, he also took on a minor role as one of Billy’s gang! “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” has withstood the test of time and has been covered by over 150 different artists!
Dylan continued writing, performing and recording over the next few years. He also collaborated with other artists in writing songs for their albums. None of his own albums saw much success at the time.
Dylan became a born again Christian in the late 70’s. He released two gospel albums, “Slow Train Coming” was released in 79′ and yielded the single “Gotta Serve Somebody” that won Dylan a Grammy Award for “Best Male Vocalist”!
Dylan declared his faith at performances, once saying “Years ago they said I was a prophet. I said, No, it’s not me! They used to convince me that I was a prophet. Now I come out and say Jesus is the answer. They say, Bob Dylan’s no prophet. They just can’t handle it”!
Throughout his late 79′ early 80′ tour, Dylan didn’t include any of his older music in the performances. All of the songs performed where his new gospel songs!
Dylan’s new life as a Christian proved to be very unpopular with some of his fans. Shortly before his death John Lennon’s “Serve Yourself” was recorded in response to “Gotta Serve Somebody”!
Brief touring in the fall of 1980, saw Dylan performing some of his songs that had been so popular during the 60’s. Most of his albums done in the 80’s were described as showing carelessness in the studio.
He went on to perform at the Live Aid concert and on “We Are the World”, a single done by several artists as a fund raiser for Africa’s famine relief. Dylan was Willie Nelson’s inspiration for organizing the Farm Aid events to help American farmers!
Dylan stepped into the rap world in 1986 when he appeared on Kutris Blow’s “Kingdom Blow” album! His vocals can be heard on “Street Rock”!
Rolling Stone magazine dubbed his “Knocked Out Loaded” album of 86′ as “a depressing affair”! The album didn’t even hit the top 50, but in later years several critics would call “Brownsville Girl” a work of genius!
During the late 80’s Dylan toured with stars like Tom Petty and the Heart Breakers and a tour with The Grateful Dead, produced the release of a live album entitled “Dylan & The Dead”.
Dylan then launched a new tour, a tour that has became known as “The Never Ending Tour”! Beginning on June 7, 1988 the tour would continue over the next 20 years!
Returning to the movies once again, Dylan starred in the 1987 movie “Hearts of Fire”. He portrayed Billy Parker, a washed up rock and roll star – the movie was a commercial flop!
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honored the legendary Dylan with an induction in January of 1988. In Bruce Springsteen’s speech he said, “Bob freed your mind the way Elvis freed your body”!
He then teamed up with Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and George Harrison on the successful album “Traveling Wilburys”. Minus Orbison after his untimely death, they recorded their second album, mysteriously titled “Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3”.
Dylan kicked off the 90’s with “Under the Red Sky”, a collection of simpler songs that was dedicated to “Gabby Goo Goo”, the nickname Dylan gave to his four year old daughter! The album wasn’t very successful despite the well known lineup included such as Guns N’ Roses man Slash, George Harrison and Elton John.
It would be a long seven years before his next album, “Time Out of Mind” was released in 1997. The album was all original Dylan and won him the first solo “Album of the Year” Grammy!
Dylan received a Kennedy Center Honor in December of 97′. While presenting the award Clinton said, “He probably had more impact on people of my generation that any other creative artist. His voice and lyrics haven’t always been easy on the ear, but throughout his career Bob Dylan has never aimed to please. He’s disturbed the peace and discomforted the powerful”!
Clinton was right, Dylan followed his own heart when it came to his music. His desire to move from folk into rock and roll wasn’t dissuaded by disapproval of many of his fans.
The next several years included other releases, performances, trying his hand at co-writing a movie “Masked & Anonymous” and a autobiography titled “Chronicles: Volume One” that was number two on the New York Time’s best seller list.
In August of 2006 “Modern Times” was released, despite the graveled sound that time has added to his voice the album was a huge success. The album hit the U.S. charts at number one, a place in the charts that Dylan hadn’t seen for 30 years!
The album was nominated for 3 Grammy Awards and won “Best Contemporary Folk/American Album”. Dylan’s “Someday Baby” won him “Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance” and Rolling Stone magazine ranked it Album of the Year!
Dylan has done it all, so when he began a career as a DJ in 2006 none of us should have been surprised! He hosted the Theme Time Radio Hour for XM Satellite Radio! Each show was based around a particular theme, the Baseball show was included in the National Baseball Hall of Fame! The show was so popular it was scheduled for a second season!
Many of his songs have became revered as anthems of the times. He sang about nuclear wars, political convictions and the whole upheaval of the 60’s. He rallied for peace and brought a sense of political consciousness into the world of rock and roll! He has been considered the king of protest!
Dylan had the courage to voice his feelings on major issues that many were afraid to stand up against. Willing or not he became the voice for a whole generation and made a stand against the system!
Bob Dylan has been many things over the years, he’s been a part and even a beginning for many styles of music. He’s been a poet, a protester and an educator! And, yes in many ways he’s even been a prophet!
But, after well over four decades in the business, Dylan still remains a force to be reckoned with!
Copyright David Slone 2010 all rights reserved and may not be republished in any form