Bob Dylan

  • Folk rock singer, musician and songwriter born Robert Zimmerman in Duluth Minnesota in 1941.
  • The family moved to Hibbing Minnesota when Zimmerman was six years old. He listened to blues and country music on the radio, and as a teenager, he preferred rock and roll music. In high school, he formed several bands, playing covers of songs by Elvis Presley and Little Richard. After high school, he moved to Minneapolis to attend college, and he began to perform folk music instead of rock – he preferred folk because it was “a more serious type of thing”…with “deeper feelings.” He performed at coffee houses around the University of Minnesota, calling himself Bob Dillon.
  • After his freshman year, he dropped out of college and moved to New York City in 1961, intent on becoming a musician. He met his idol Woody Guthrie, and he performed at clubs around Greenwich Village, befriending other folk artists of the day, and changing the spelling of his last name to Dylan. He accompanied other artists with his harmonica playing, and his first recording was playing harmonica on a Harry Belafonte album released in 1962. Favorable reviews of his work from critics increased his exposure, and he was signed to a recording contract.
  • Dylan’s debut album, the self-titled Bob Dylan, was released in 1962. It mostly covered traditional folk, blues and gospel songs – only two songs from the album were original compositions by Dylan, including his ode to Woody Guthrie, Song to Woody. It sold 5,000 copies, barely breaking even.
  • His second album was released in 1963 – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. It included his 60s folk anthems Blowin’ in the Wind, Girl From the North Country, A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall and Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.  Three weeks after the album’s release, Peter, Paul & Mary released a cover of Blowin’ in the Wind, making the song a global hit. The album initially sold modestly, but eventually it was certified platinum, and it reached #1 in the UK. It led to national and international fame for Dylan’s songwriting – he became “the voice of his generation.” In 2002 the album was added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.
  • He released seven more albums in the 60s, five of which were platinum sellers. 1965’s Highway 61 Revisited included his most famous single, Like A Rolling Stone. For many years, it was Rolling Stones’ pick as the Greatest Song of All Time (in the 2021 update by the magazine, it dropped to #4). The album was ranked the #18 Greatest Album of All Time by Rolling Stone. The album was his first to feature rock musicians instead of acoustic songs. His Blonde on Blonde album in 1966 included Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 – his famous “everybody must get stoned” lyric reached #2 on the Hot 100 chart. In 1969, he released Nashville Skyline – with this album, he had evolved into country music, including a duet with Johnny Cash. It included the single Lay Lady Lay, which peaked at #7 on the Hot 100 chart. 
  • Dylan continued to record in the 70s, releasing ten studio albums and three live albums. While his singles did not chart highly (his highest charting single was in 1973 with Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, written for the soundtrack for the film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid – the single peaked at #12), his songs continued to tell stories that were embraced by critics and music fans. His 1974 tour with The Band as his backing band became iconic, and the famous film that documented the last concert by The Band – 1978’s The Last Waltz – includes most of Dylan’s set at the show.
  • By the 80s, his albums were not selling as well – none of the seven albums that he released reached higher than #20 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and for the most part, his singles did not chart on the Hot 100. In 1988, he joined the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys, along with George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty (Dylan’s moniker was “Lucky Wilbury” on their first album, and “Boo Wilbury” on their second). The two albums released by the group were certified platinum.
  • He continued to record, releasing four albums in the 90s, four in the 00s, four in the 10s and one in 2020. A resurgence of interest in Dylan music occurred, and two of these album were certified platinum. His music explored different themes and genres. He went back to his acoustic roots with Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong. 1997s Time Out of Mind dabbled in country blues and rockabilly, winning three Grammy awards, including Album of the Year. He released Love and Theft in 2001, winning a Grammy award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. It ranked #411 on Rolling Stones’ GOAT album list, while Newsweek ranked it the #2 album for the 00s decade. His 2006 Modern Times album won two Grammy awards, and Rolling Stone named it the best album of 2006. In the 10s, he released three albums that were covers of classic American pop songs originally made popular by artists like Frank Sinatra. A single released in 2020 – Murder Most Foul – was his longest song at 16:56 in length, and it was his first song to reach #1 on any Billboard chart, topping the Rock Digital Songs Sales Chart.
  • Dylan began to paint in the 60s – one of his paintings was used for the cover of The Band’s 1968 album Music From the Big Pink. He did hundreds of paintings and drawings, and he published eight books of his artwork.
  • Dylan was recognized with some of most important awards in music and culture. He won ten Grammy awards, plus an Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award. Eight albums or singles were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, and five songs were noted as songs the “shaped rock and roll.” He received a Kennedy Center Honors award in 1997, and in 2012 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2016, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature – the first musician to receive such an honor. Rolling Stone ranked Dylan at #1 on the 2015 list of the Greatest Songwriters of All Time.
  • In addition to his status of cultural phenom, thousands of his songs have been covered by other artists. See my “Awesome” blog from June 10, 2018, to learn more about the thousands of Dylan songs recorded by other artists. Here’s a classic video before they made music videos, Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, one of my faves.

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