DDV Music - Music Information and Education

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

Portrait photograph by Daniel Kramer
Origin Hibbing, Minnesota
Years active 1959 - present
Genre(s) Folk music, Rock, Country
Label(s) Columbia

Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter, musician and poet whose enduring contributions to American song are often compared, in fame and influence, to those of Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin, Woody Guthrie, and Hank Williams. His place in American and European culture in the 1960s through to the present is unique.

Much of Dylan's best known work is from the 1960s, when he became an informal documentarian and reluctant figurehead of American unrest. Some of his songs, such as "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are A-Changin'" became anthems of the anti-war and civil rights movements. He remains an influential and popular artist; his album of new songs, 2001's "Love and Theft", reached #5 on the charts in the US and #3 in Britain.

Dylan's early lyrics incorporated politics, social commentary, philosophy and literary influences, defying existing pop music conventions and appealing widely to the counterculture of the time. While expanding and personalizing musical styles, Dylan has shown steadfast devotion to traditions of American song, from folk and country/blues to rock 'n' roll and rockabilly, to Gaelic balladry, even jazz, swing and Broadway.

Dylan performs with the guitar, keyboard and harmonica. Backed by a changing lineup of musicians, he has toured steadily since the late 1980s. He has also recently performed alongside other iconic or near-iconic artists, such as Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Tom Petty and Eric Clapton. Although his contributions as performer and recording artist have been central to his career, his songwriting is generally held as his highest accomplishment.

Musical career and personal life


Bobby Zimmerman (a.k.a Bob Dylan) in high school
Bobby Zimmerman (a.k.a Bob Dylan) in high school

Bob Dylan was born in Duluth, Minnesota and raised in Hibbing, Minnesota, northwest of Lake Superior. His grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, Russia, and Ukraine, and his parents, Abraham Zimmerman and Beatrice Stone (Beatty), were part of the area's small but close-knit Jewish community. He lived in Duluth until age seven, when his father was stricken with polio. The family returned to nearby Hibbing, Beatty's hometown, where Robert "Bobby" Zimmerman spent the rest of his childhood.

Zimmerman spent much of his youth listening to the radio, first to the powerful blues and country stations broadcasting from New Orleans and, later, early rock and roll. He made his earliest known recordings on Christmas Eve 1956, with two friends in a department store booth, singing verses of songs by Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Lloyd Price, The Penguins and others. He formed several bands while in high school; the first, The Shadow Blasters, was short-lived, but the second, the Golden Chords, proved more durable. They played covers and the Zimmerman-penned tune "Little Richard" at their high-school talent show. In 1959 he toured briefly under the name of Elston Gunnn with Bobby Vee, playing piano and supplying handclaps.

An able but not outstanding student, Zimmerman enrolled at the University of Minnesota in 1959 and moved to Minneapolis. His musical focus on rock and roll gave way to an interest in subtler, Gaelic-inflected American folk music, typically performed with an acoustic guitar. He soon became actively involved in the local Dinkytown folk music circuit, fraternizing with local folk enthusiasts and occasionally "borrowing" many of their albums. During his Dinkytown days Zimmerman began introducing himself as "Bob Dylan" (or Dillon). In his autobiography "Chronicles" (2005) Dylan writes: "What I was going to do as soon as I left home was just call myself Robert Allen... It sounded like a Scottish king and I liked it." However he discovered by reading Downbeat magazine that there was already a saxophone player called David Allyn. Dylan explains that he liked the way Allyn has changed the spelling of his last name to appear more exotic. A little later he came across Dylan Thomas and then made a choice between Robert Allyn and Robert Dylan: "I couldn't decide - the letter D came on stronger" he explained. He decided on "Bob" as there were several Bobbys in popular music at the time (Bobby Vee, Bobby Vinton, Bobby Rydell).

Dylan quit college at the end of his freshman year but stayed in Minneapolis, working the folk circuit there with temporary sojourns in Denver, Colorado, and Chicago, Illinois. In January 1961, en route to Minneapolis from Chicago, he changed course and went to New York City to perform and to visit his ailing musical idol Woody Guthrie in a New Jersey hospital. Initially playing mostly in small "basket" clubs for little pay, he gained some public recognition after a review in the New York Times by critic Robert Shelton. Shelton's glowing review and word-of-mouth around Greenwich Village led to John Hammond, a legendary music business figure, signing Dylan to Columbia Records that October.

At the time his voice, musicianship and songwriting were still raw. His performances, like his first Columbia album (1962's Bob Dylan), consisted of familiar folk, blues and gospel material seasoned with a few of his own songs. As he continued to record for Columbia, he also recorded more than a dozen songs for Broadside Magazine (a folk music magazine and record label), under the pseudonym Blind Boy Grunt. In August 1962, Robert Allen Zimmerman went to the Supreme Court building in New York, and changed his name to Robert Dylan. By the time his next record, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, was released in 1963 he had begun to make his name as both a singer and songwriter, specializing in protest songs, inspired partly by Joe Hill and initially in the style of Guthrie but soon practically developing his own genre.

His most famous songs of the time are typified by "Blowin' In The Wind", its melody partially derived from the traditional slave song "No More Auction Block", coupled with Dylan's original lyrics challenging the social and political status quo. "Blowin' In The Wind" itself was widely recorded and was an international hit for Peter, Paul and Mary, setting an enduring precedent for other artists. While Dylan's topical songs solidified his early reputation, somewhat overlooked among them on Freewheelin' was a mixture of finely crafted bittersweet love songs ("Don't Think Twice, It's Alright", "Girl From the North Country") and jokey, frequently surreal talking blues ("Talking World War III Blues", "I Shall Be Free"). Humor was a large part of Bob Dylan's persona.

The Freewheelin' song "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall", built melodically from a loose adaptation of the stanza tune of the folk ballad Lord Randall, with its veiled references to nuclear apocalypse, gained even more resonance as the Cuban missile crisis developed only a few weeks after Dylan began performing it. Perhaps even more so than "Blowin' In The Wind", "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" marked an important new direction in modern songwriting, blending a stream-of-consciousness, imagist lyrical attack with time-honoured folk progressions to create a sound and sense that struck listeners as somehow new and ancient simultaneously. The lyrics were contemplative yet hard-hitting: "...I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it/ I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it,/ I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin',/ I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin',/ I saw a white ladder all covered with water,/ I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken...". Soon after the release of Freewheelin Dylan emerged as a dominant figure of the so-called "new folk movement" headquartered in Lower Manhattan's Greenwich Village. The Beatles, amongst others, listened to this album and 1964's The Times They Are A-Changin'> obsessively and realized that entire albums of boy-meets-girl songs were now, at one blow, outmoded.

With Joan Baez during the Civil Rights March on Washington D.C., 1963
With Joan Baez during the Civil Rights March on Washington D.C., 1963

While undeniably a fine interpreter of traditional songs, Dylan's singing voice was unusual and untrained and his phrasing as a vocalist was eccentric. He sang his songs with an arrogance and aggression that was anathema to the music industry of the time. Many of his most famous early songs first reached the public through versions by other performing musicians who were more immediately palatable. Joan Baez, regarded at the time as the reigning queen of folk, became Dylan's advocate as well as his lover. In addition to jumpstarting Dylan's performance career by inviting him onstage during her concerts, she chose to record several of his early songs. Given her considerable fame at the time, her recordings of Dylan's songs were influential in bringing Dylan to national and international prominence.

Others who recorded and released his songs around this time included The Byrds, Sonny and Cher, The Hollies, Manfred Mann, The Brothers Four, Judy Collins and Herman's Hermits, most attempting to impart more of a pop feel and rhythm to the songs where Dylan and Baez performed them mostly as sparse folk pieces keying rhythmically off the vocals. So ubiquitous were these covers by the mid-1960s that CBS started to promote him with the tag: "Nobody Sings Dylan Like Dylan". Paradoxically, many new artists sprang up at this time with singing styles suspiciously similar to Dylan's, typically using his inflections and tone while dispensing with the 'mumbly' and gruff qualities.

Protest and another side

By 1963, Dylan was becoming increasingly prominent in the civil rights movement, singing at rallies including the March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr.> gave his "I have a dream" speech. In January, he appeared on British television in the BBC play Madhouse on Castle Street, featuring as a Greek chorus-type figure. Dylan's next album, The Times They Are A-Changin', reflected a more sophisticated, politicized and cynical Dylan. This bleak material, concerned with such subjects as the murder of civil rights worker Medgar Evers and the despair engendered by the breakdown of farming and mining communities ("Ballad of Hollis Brown", "North Country Blues"), was tempered by two enduring love songs, "Boots of Spanish Leather" and "One Too Many Mornings", and the epic renunciation of "Restless Farewell". The Brechtian-influenced "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", a highlight of the album, describes a young socialite's killing of a hotel maid. Never explicitly mentioning race, the song leaves no doubt that the killer is white, the victim black.

By the end of 1963, however, Dylan felt both manipulated and constrained by the folk-protest movement. Accepting the "Tom Paine Award" from the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee at a ceremony shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a drunken, rambling Dylan questioned the role of the committee, insulted its members as old and balding, and claimed to see something of himself (and of every man) in assassin Lee Harvey Oswald>.

Perhaps inevitably then, his next album, the accurately but prosaically titled Another Side Of Bob Dylan, recorded on a single June evening in 1964, had a lighter mood than its predecessor. The surreal Dylan reemerged on "I Shall Be Free #10" and "Motorpsycho Nightmare" employing a sense of humor which would persist throughout his career. "Spanish Harlem Incident" and "To Ramona" were touching love songs, "I Don't Believe You", a prototypical rock and roll song about unrequited love (the rock and roll song was finally electrified by Al Stewart on his 1972 album "Orange"), and "It Ain't Me Babe", a romping rejection of the role his reputation thrust at him. His newest direction was signaled by three songs: "Chimes of Freedom", long and impressionistic, sets elements of social commentary against a denser metaphorical landscape in a style later characterized by Allen Ginsberg as "chains of flashing images"; "My Back Pages" even more personally attacks the simplistic and arch seriousness of his own earlier topical songs; and a musically undeveloped "Mr. Tambourine Man", written before many songs included on Another Side but held back for Dylan's next release.

In the early 1960s, Dylan had adopted a sort of Huckleberry Finn persona and told picaresque tales of knocking around, hopping freights, and working at folksy jobs. In that bohemian phase, lasting a few years, he sang and wrote somewhat like the Woody Guthrie of 25 or 30 years earlier. However, as he "brought it all back home" Dylan's point of view as a writer became at once more thoroughly contemporary and more surrealistic, and probably more honest.

Throughout this time Dylan's artistic development moved so fast that he frequently left both critics and fans behind. His March 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home was a further stylistic leap. Influenced by The Beatles (whose artistic development had already been enhanced by Dylan's influence) and the rock and roll of his youth, the first side contained his first significant original up-tempo rock songs. Lyrically, however, the songs were pure Dylan, exhibiting his dry wit and inhabited by a sequence of grotesque, metaphorical characters. The raucous first single, "Subterranean Homesick Blues", owed much to Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business" and was provided with an early music video courtesy of D. A. Pennebaker's cinéma vérité presentation of Dylan's 1965 tour, Dont Look Back. Its lyrics drew references in large from the beat poetry of the time, its name possibly referring to The Subterraneans. In 1969, the militant Weatherman group took their name from a line in "Subterranean Homesick Blues" ("You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows").

Side 2 of the album was a different matter, including four lengthy acoustic songs whose undogmatic political, social and personal concerns are illuminated with the rich poetic imagery that would become another trademark. One of these songs, "Mr. Tambourine Man" had already been a hit for The Byrds, albeit in a truncated form, and would remain one of Dylan's most enduring compositions, while "Gates Of Eden", "It's All Over Now Baby Blue", and "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" have justifiably been fixtures in Dylan's live performances for most of his career.

That summer, Bob Dylan stoked the drama of his legacy by performing his first electric set (since his high school days) with a pickup group drawn mostly from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band at the Newport Folk Festival. Dylan had appeared at Newport twice before in 1963 and 1964. Two wildly divergent accounts of the crowd's response in 1965 survive to this day. The settled fact is that Dylan, met with a mix of cheering and booing, left the stage after only three songs. As one version of the legend has it, the boos were from the outraged folk fans Dylan alienated with his electric guitar. An alternative account has it that audience members were upset by poor sound quality and a surprisingly short set. Whatever sparked the crowd's disfavor, Dylan soon reemerged and sang two much better received solo acoustic numbers, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "Mr. Tambourine Man." Again that summer in August, Dylan played at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, and again was met with boos from the audience, when he started to play his electric guitar after a few acoustic songs. At the same moment of the booing from the crowd, a group of boys ran onto the field in front of the outdoor stage, and played tag and wrestled with the police who were trying to prevent them from reaching the stage. These two simultaneous disturbances may or may not had anything to do with each other. Nevertheless, the import of the appearances at Newport and Forest Hills worked its way into the awareness of this restless generation: thoughtful acoustic music was no longer enough even for tradition-aware singers like Dylan; times were indeed "a changin" and electricity was needed to express those changes.

Creative height, motorcycle crash

The single "Like a Rolling Stone" was a U.S. and U.K. hit, cementing his reputation as a lyricist; at over six minutes, devoid of a bridge, the song also helped to expand the limits of hit radio. (In 2004, Rolling Stone listed it at #1 on its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.) Its signature sound, with a full, jangling band and a simple organ riff, would characterize his next album, Highway 61 Revisited (titled after the road that led from his native Minnesota to the musical hotbed of New Orleans; and referencing any number of blues songs; e.g., Mississippi Fred McDowell's "61 Highway"). The songs were in the same vein as the hit single, surreal litanies of the grotesque flavored by Mike Bloomfield's blues guitar, a tight rhythm section and Dylan's obvious enjoyment of the sessions. The closing song, "Desolation Row", is a lengthy apocalyptic vision with references to many figures of Western culture.

A successful mix of Folk music, Rock and Roll and Dylan's own brand of surrealism, Blonde on Blonde (1966) is often considered to be one of the finest recordings of American popular music.
A successful mix of Folk music, Rock and Roll and Dylan's own brand of surrealism, Blonde on Blonde (1966) is often considered to be one of the finest recordings of American popular music.

In support of the record, Dylan was booked for two U.S. concerts and set about assembling a band. Mike Bloomfield was unwilling to leave the Butterfield Band, so Dylan mixed Al Kooper and Harvey Brooks from his studio crew with bar-band stalwarts Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm, best known for backing Ronnie Hawkins. In August 1965 at Forest Hills Auditorium, the group was heckled by an audience who, Newport notwithstanding, still demanded the acoustic troubadour of previous years; their reception on September 3rd at the Hollywood Bowl was more uniformly favorable.

Neither Kooper nor Brooks wanted to tour with Dylan, and he was unable to lure his preferred band, a crew of west coast musicians best known for backing Johnny Rivers, featuring James Burton and drummer Mickey Jones, away from their regular commitments. Dylan then hired Robertson and Helm's full band, The Hawks, for his tour group, and began a string of studio sessions with them in an effort to record the follow-up to Highway 61 Revisited.

Dylan secretly married Sara Lownds on November 22, 1965; their first child, Jesse Byron Dylan, was born on January 6, 1966. Dylan and Lownds had four children in total: Jesse, Anna, Samuel, and Jakob (born December 9, 1969). Dylan also adopted Sara Lownds' first daughter Maria Lownds (born October 21st, 1961) from a prior marriage. In the 1990's, the youngest of the pair's children, Jakob Dylan, became well known as the lead singer of the band The Wallflowers. Jesse Dylan is a film director and a very successful businessman.

Dylan and Lownds divorced in July 1977, though they reportedly remained in regular contact for many years and, by some accounts, even to the present day.

While Dylan and the Hawks met increasingly receptive audiences on tour, their studio efforts floundered. At John Hammond's suggestion, producer Bob Johnston brought Dylan to Nashville to record, surrounding him with a cadre of top-notch session men. Only Robertson and Kooper came down from New York City to play more limited roles. The Nashville sessions brought out what Dylan would later call "that thin wild mercury sound" and a classic record often viewed as one of the greatest in American popular music, Blonde on Blonde (1966).

Dylan undertook an ambitious "world tour" of Australia and Europe in the spring of 1966. Each show was split into two parts: in the first half Dylan performed solo, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica; in the second half, backed by the Hawks he played fully-charged electric music. This jarring switch chafed at many fans, who jeered and slowly handclapped. The tour culminated in an infamously raucous confrontation with his audience at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in England (officially released on CD in 1998). At the climax of the concert, one fan, angry with Dylan's electric sound, shouted; "Judas!" from the audience, and Dylan responded, "I don't believe you! You're a liar!" before turning to the band and exhorting them to "Play loud!" as they launched into the last song of the night - "Like a Rolling Stone".

After his European tour, Dylan returned to New York, but the pressures on him continued to increase: his publisher was demanding a finished manuscript of the poem/novel Tarantula and manager Albert Grossman had already scheduled a grueling summer/fall concert tour. On July 29, 1966, while Dylan rode his Triumph 500 motorcycle in Woodstock, New York, its brakes locked, throwing him to the ground. Though the extent of his injuries were never fully disclosed, it was confirmed that he indeed broke his neck. Whether through necessity or opportunism, Dylan used an extended convalescence to escape the pressures of stardom.

Once Dylan was well enough to resume creative work, he began editing footage into Eat the Document, a rarely exhibited follow-up to Don't Look Back. In 1967 he began recording music with the Hawks at his home and, legendarily, the basement of the Hawks' nearby "Big Pink". The relaxed atmosphere yielded renditions of many of Dylan's favored old and new songs and some newly written pieces. These originals, at first compiled as demos for other artists to record, began to circulate on their own merits. Columbia belatedly released selections from them in 1975 as The Basement Tapes. Later in 1967, the Hawks (soon to be rechristened as The Band) independently recorded the album Music From Big Pink, thus beginning a long and successful recording and performing career of their own.

In December 1967, Dylan released his first album since the motorcycle crash called John Wesley Harding. The album was a quiet, contemplative record of shorter songs, set in a landscape which drew on both the American West and the Old Testament. The sparse structure and instrumentation, coupled with lyrics which took the Judeo-Christian tradition seriously, marked a departure not only from Dylan's own work but from the escalating psychedelic fervor of the 1960s musical culture. It included "All Along the Watchtower", with lyrics derived from the Book of Isaiah (21:5-9). The song was later immortalized by Jimi Hendrix in a version that Dylan himself has acknowledged as definitive.

Woody Guthrie died in October 1967, and Dylan made his first public appearances in 18 months at a pair of Guthrie memorial concerts the following January.

Dylan's next release, Nashville Skyline (1969), was virtually a mainstream country record featuring instrumental backing by Nashville musicians, a mellow-voiced, contented Dylan, a duet with Johnny Cash, and the hit single "Lay Lady Lay". Dylan appeared on Cash's new television show and then gave a high-profile performance at the Isle of Wight rock festival (after rejecting overtures to appear at the Woodstock event far closer to his home).

The 1970s

In the early 1970s, critics charged Dylan's output was of varied and unpredictable quality. "What is this shit?" Rolling Stone magazine writer and Dylan loyalist Greil Marcus notoriously asked, upon first listening to 1970's Self Portrait. In general, Self Portrait, a double LP including few original songs, was poorly received. Later that year, Dylan released New Morning, considered by some as a return to form. His unannounced appearance at George Harrison's 1971 Concert for Bangladesh was widely praised, but reports of a new album, a television special, and a return to touring came to nothing.

In 1972, Dylan signed onto Sam Peckinpah's film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, providing the songs and taking a role as "Alias", a minor member of Billy's gang. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door", among Dylan's most covered songs, has proved much more durable than the film itself.

Dylan signed with David Geffen's new Asylum label when his contract with Columbia Records expired in 1973. He recorded Planet Waves with The Band; like New Morning, Planet Waves was initially viewed as a return to peak form, but in retrospect appears less substantial (although "Forever Young" has proved to be one of Dylan's most lasting songs). Columbia Records almost simultaneously released Dylan, a haphazard collection of studio outtakes often termed a "revenge" release.

In early 1974, Dylan and The Band staged a high-profile, coast-to-coast tour of North America; promoter Bill Graham claimed he received more ticket purchase requests than for any prior tour by any artist. The tour was documented on the album Before the Flood, but Dylan refused to allow a tour film to be produced.

After the tour, Dylan and his wife became publicly estranged. He filled a small red notebook with songs about his marital problems, and quickly recorded a new album entitled Blood on the Tracks in September 1974.

Word of Dylan's efforts soon leaked out, and expectations were high. But Dylan delayed the album's release, and then re-recorded half of the songs in Minneapolis by year's end. Released in early 1975, Blood on the Tracks was critically acclaimed and commercially successful, and is considered his finest album by many fans. The songs are among his most intimate.

That summer, Dylan wrote his first successful "protest" song in twelve years, championing the cause of boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter who he believed had been wrongfully imprisoned for a triple homicide in Paterson, New Jersey (an eponymous 1971 tribute to George Jackson, a Black Panther who was killed in prison, sank almost unnoticed). After visiting Carter in jail, Dylan wrote "Hurricane", presenting the case for Carter's innocence. Despite its 8 1/2 minute length, the song was released as a single, peaking at #31 on the Billboard Chart, and performed at every 1975 date of Dylan's next tour, the Rolling Thunder Revue. The tour was something different: a varied evening of entertainment featuring many performers drawn mostly from the resurgent Greenwich Village folk scene, including T-Bone Burnett; Steven Soles; David Mansfield; former Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn; Scarlet Rivera, a violin player Dylan discovered while she was walking down the street to a rehearsal, her violin case hanging on her back; and a reunion with Joan Baez (the tour marked Baez and Dylan's first joint performance in more than a decade). Joni Mitchell added herself to the Revue in November, and poet Allen Ginsberg accompanied the troupe, staging scenes for the film Dylan was simultaneously shooting. Sam Shepard, who would later achieve some fame as a playwright and actor, traveled along as a sort of informal chronicler.

Running through the fall of 1975 and again through the spring of 1976, the tour also encompassed the release of the album Desire (1976), with many of Dylan's new songs featuring an almost travelogue-like narrative style, showing the influence of his new collaborator, playwright Jacques Levy. The spring 1976 half of the tour was documented by a TV concert special, Hard Rain, and an LP of the same title; no concert album from the better-received and better-known opening half of the tour would be released until 2002, when Live 1975 appeared as the fifth volume in Dylan's official Bootleg Series.

The fall 1975 tour with the Revue also provided the backdrop to Dylan's nearly four-hour film Renaldo and Clara, a sprawling, improvised, and frequently baffling narrative mixed with striking concert footage and reminiscences. Released in 1978, the movie received generally poor, sometimes scathing, reviews and had a very brief theatrical run. Later in that year, Dylan allowed a two-hour edit, dominated by the concert performances, to be more widely released.

In November 1976, Dylan appeared at The Band's "farewell" concert, along with other guests including Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, and Neil Young. Martin Scorsese's cimematic chronicle of this show, The Last Waltz, acclaimed as perhaps the best American concert film yet produced, was released in 1978 and included about half of Dylan's set.

Dylan's 1978 album Street Legal was lyrically one of his more complex and absorbing, it suffered, however, from a poor sound mix (attributed to his studio recording practices), submerging much of its instrumentation in the sonic equivalent of cotton wadding until its remastered CD release nearly a quarter century later.

Dylan's work in the late 1970s and early 1980s was dominated by his becoming, in 1979, a born-again Christian. He released two albums of exclusively religious material and a third that seemed mostly so; of these, the first, Slow Train Coming (1979), is generally regarded as the most accomplished, winning him a Grammy for best male vocalist. The second album, Saved (1980), was not so well-received. When touring from the fall of 1979 through the spring of 1980 Dylan refused to play secular music and delivered sermonettes on stage, such as:

"Years ago they used ..., said I was a prophet. I used to say, 'No, I'm not a prophet,' they say, 'Yes, you are, you're a prophet.' I said, 'No, it's not me.' They used to say, 'You sure are a prophet.' They used to convince me I was a prophet. Now I come out and say Jesus Christ is the answer. They say, 'Bob Dylan's no prophet.' They just can't handle it." (January 25, 1980, Omaha)

Dylan's religious conversion was met with distrust by some fans and fellow artists. John Lennon, for example, recorded "Serve Yourself," a parody of Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody."

Hard-working elder statesman


In the fall of 1980, Dylan briefly resumed touring, restoring several of his most popular 1960s songs to his repertoire, for a series of concerts billed as "A Musical Retrospective". Shot of Love, recorded the next spring, featured Dylan's first secular compositions in more than two years, mixed with explicitly Christian songs and material that resisted pigeonholing.

In the 1980s, the quality of Dylan's recorded work varied, from the well-regarded Infidels in 1983 to the panned Down in the Groove in 1988. In addition, beginning with Infidels, Dylan's recordings would no longer be dominated by openly Christian lyrics, as they had been on his previous three albums. Of course, one need not look far to find religious themes in his work since, but these themes would no longer be so explicit, and certainly not so evangelistic. Naturally, there is much debate among Dylan fans over his current personal beliefs. Such debates are fueled by Dylan's own elusiveness on the subject over the past two decades. Virtually all would agree that he no longer records songs comparable in evangelistic fervor to those of his gospel period, such as "I Believe In You", "Saving Grace", or "Property Of Jesus". However, most would also admit that Christianity--or at least some form of monotheistic religiosity--is still a major theme in Dylan's work; for example, he has written and recorded songs such as "Death Is Not The End", "Ring Them Bells", and "Trying To Get To Heaven", the lyrics of which reveal religious concerns even at a cursory glance. Complicating this picture somewhat are reports in the mid-80s that Dylan had affiliated himself informally with the Chabad or Lubavitch branch of Hasidic Judaism. Although it is unclear to what extent he has been involved with this movement, he has appeared on fundraising telethons supporting the organization, and reports continue to be published indicating that he sometimes attends services at Chabad synagogues on major Jewish holidays. Bob has often said that many of his songs, particularly the ones that made him famous in the 1960s, were not to directly express what he believed, but rather to simply articulate someone else's beliefs for them; thus, his association with Hasidic Jews may be for that same reason. Bob Dylan's son, Jakob, has also stated that he was raised with both Jewish and Christian traditions. Leading one to believe that Bob Dylan considers himself a Jew for Jesus.

The Infidels recording sessions produced several notable outtakes, and some critics have questioned Dylan's judgment in leaving these off the album. Most well-regarded of these outtakes were "Blind Willie McTell", "Foot of Pride", "Someone's Got a Hold of My Heart" and "Lord Protect My Child", which were later released on the boxed set The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991. An earlier version of Infidels, prepared by producer/guitarist Mark Knopfler, contained different arrangements and song selections than what appeared on the final product.

In late 1985, Dylan married his longtime backup singer Carolyn Dennis (often professionally known as Carol Dennis). Their daughter, Desiree Gabrielle Dennis-Dylan, was born on January 31, 1986. The couple divorced in the early 1990s.

In 1987, Dylan starred in Richard Marquand's movie Hearts of Fire, in which he played a washed-up-rock-star-turned-chicken farmer called "Billy Parker", whose teenage lover (Fiona) leaves him for a jaded English synth-pop sensation (Rupert Everett). The film was a critical and commercial flop. In fact, when asked in a press conference if he had anything to do with writing the movie, Dylan chuckled "I couldn't have possibly written anything like that."

Dylan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Later that spring, he took part in the first Traveling Wilburys album, working with Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and his good friend George Harrison on lighthearted, well-selling fare. Despite Orbison's death, the other four Wilburys issued a sequel in 1990.

Dylan finished the decade on a critical high note with the Daniel Lanois-produced Oh Mercy (1989). Lanois's influence is audible throughout Oh Mercy. "Ring Them Bells" seems to call for Christians to maintain a visible presence in the world, perhaps adding fuel to the debate over Dylan's religious orientation, while the main character described in "Man in the Long Black Coat" might be an orthodox Jewish rabbi. The track "Most of the Time", a ruminative lost love composition, was later prominently featured in the film High Fidelity while "What Was It You Wanted?" was a love song that doubled as a dry comment on the expectations of fans.

Dylan made a number of music videos during this period, but only "Political World" found any regular airtime on MTV.


\ Dylan performs at a 1996 concert in Stockholm.
Dylan performs at a 1996 concert in Stockholm.

Dylan's 1990s began with Under the Red Sky (1990), an odd about-face from the serious Oh Mercy. The album was dedicated to "Gabby Goo Goo," and contained several apparently simple songs, including "Under the Red Sky" and "Wiggle Wiggle." The "Gabby Goo Goo" dedication was later explained as a nickname for Dylan's four-year-old daughter. However, the story that the album's songs were written for her entertainment is plainly apocryphal. Sidemen on the album included George Harrison, Slash from Guns N' Roses, David Crosby, Bruce Hornsby, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Elton John.

The next few years saw Dylan returning to his folk roots with two albums covering old folk and blues numbers: Good As I Been to You (1992) and World Gone Wrong (1993), featuring nuanced interpretations and ragged but highly original acoustic guitar work. His 1995 concert on MTV Unplugged, and the album culled from it, marked Dylan's only newly recorded output during the mid-1990s. Essentially a greatest hits collection, it also included "John Brown," an unreleased 1963 song detailing the ravages of both war and jingoism.

With a sheaf of songs reportedly written while snowed-in on his Minnesota ranch, Dylan returned to the recording studio with Lanois in January 1997. Late that spring, before the album's release, Dylan was hospitalized with a life-threatening heart infection, pericarditis, brought on by histoplasmosis. His scheduled European tour was cancelled, but Dylan made a speedy recovery and left the hospital saying, "I really thought I'd be seeing Elvis soon." He was back on the road by midsummer, and in early fall performed before Pope John Paul II at the World Eucharistic Conference in Bologna, Italy.

September saw the release of the new Lanois-produced album, Dylan's first collection of original songs in seven years. Time Out of Mind, with its bitter assessment of love and morbid ruminations, was highly acclaimed and achieved an unforeseen popularity among young listeners, particularly the song "Love Sick." This collection of complex songs won him his first solo Album of the Year Grammy Award (he was one of numerous performers on The Concert for Bangladesh, the 1972 winner). The ballad "Make You Feel My Love," covered by both Garth Brooks and Billy Joel, generated more royalties than any song he had written since the 1960s.

2000 and beyond

In 2001, his song "Things Have Changed", penned for the film Wonder Boys, won a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song and an Academy Award for Best Song. For reasons unannounced, the Oscar (by some reports a facsimile) tours with him, presiding over shows perched atop an amplifier.

"Love and Theft", an album that explores diverse styles of American music and revisits Dylan's own creative roots, was released on September 11, 2001. Dylan produced the album himself under the pseudonym Jack Frost, and its distinctive sound owes much to the accompanists. Tony Garnier, bassist and bandleader, had played with Dylan for 12 years, longer than any other musician. Larry Campbell, one of the most accomplished American guitarists of the last two decades, played on the road with Dylan from 1997 through 2004. Guitarist Charlie Sexton and drummer David Kemper had also toured with Dylan for years. Keyboard player Augie Meyers, the only musician not part of Dylan's touring band, had also played on Time Out of Mind. The album was critically well-received, nominated for several Grammy awards, and sold strongly.

"Love and Theft" was controversial due to some similarities between the lyrics of the song "Floater" to Japanese writer Junichi Saga's book Confessions of a Yakuza. It is unclear if Dylan intentionally lifted any material. Dylan's publicist had no comment.

2003 saw the release of the film Masked & Anonymous, a creative collaboration with television producer Larry Charles, featured many well-known actors. Dylan and Charles cowrote the film under the pseudonyms Rene Fontaine and Sergei Petrov. As difficult to decipher as some of his songs, Masked & Anonymous was panned by most major critics and had a limited run in theaters.

In 2005 preproduction began on a film entitled I'm Not There: Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan. The movie makes use of seven characters to represent the different aspects of Dylan's life. The movie is to be directed by Todd Haynes, and the cast currently includes Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale and Richard Gere.

Martin Scorsese's film biography No Direction Home was shown on September 26 and September 27, 2005 on BBC Two in the United Kingdom and PBS in the United States. A DVD of this film was released on September 20, with an accompanying soundtrack released on August 20, 2005. The documentary received a Peabody Award in April 2006.

Dylan himself returned to recording studio at some point in 2005. He recorded at least one song, entitled "Tell Ol' Bill" for the motion picture North Country. The song is an original composition, not the similarly titled traditional folk song.

In February 2006, Dylan recorded tracks for a new album in New York City; it is expected to be released later in the year. He began another leg of his Never Ending Tour in Reno in April, with a European tour announced for the summer. May 3 was the premiere of Dylan's DJ career, hosting a weekly radio program, Theme Time, for XM Satellite Radio which airs at 10:00 AM Eastern Time on XM channel 40, "Deep Tracks" (DirecTV channel 840) along with several encore airings. The show airs from Studio B, which is available only to paying XM customers; DirecTV carries only the feed from Studio A, and thus DirecTV viewers cannot listen to the show.

Recent live performances

Dylan has played roughly 100 dates a year for the entirety of the 1990s and the 2000s, a heavier schedule than most performers who started out in the 1960s. The "Never Ending Tour" continues, anchored by longtime bassist Tony Garnier and filled out with talented musicians better known to their peers than to their audiences. To the dismay of some fans Dylan refuses to be a nostalgia act; his reworked arrangements, evolving bands and experimental vocal approaches keep the music unpredictable night after night.

Dylan, once known as a guitar player, has not been playing guitar in live performance since 2002 (with very rare exceptions). Instead he chooses to play on the keyboard, with increasingly frequent harmonica solos. Various rumors have circulated as to why Dylan gave up his guitar, none terribly reliable. According to David Gates, a Newsweek reporter who interviewed Dylan in 2004, "...it has to do with his guitar not giving him quite the fullness of sound he was wanting at the bottom... He's thought of hiring a keyboard player so he doesn't have to do it himself, but hasn't been able to figure out who."

Dylan chooses songs from throughout his 40-year career, seldom playing the same set twice.

Fan base

Bob Dylan's large and vocal fan base write books, essays, 'zines, etc. at a furious rate. They also maintain a massive Internet presence with daily Dylan news, a site which rigorously documents every song he has ever played in concert, and one where visitors bet on what songs he will play on upcoming tours. Within minutes of the end of concerts, set lists and reviews are posted by his loyal following.

The poet laureate of Britain, Andrew Motion, is a vocal supporter of Dylan's work, as are musicians Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, David Bowie, Roger Waters, Ian Hunter, Neil Young, and Mike Watt.

The Dylan pool, which was created in 2001 has been featured on CNN, CBC, BBC, and the Associated Press. To the Associated Press, "The pool reflects both the obsessive interest Dylan still draws 40 years into his career and the way this road warrior has structured his career." It allows interaction between fans while adding a level of competition through the unique online Bob Dylan fantasy game.

Chronicles Vol. 1

After a lengthy delay, October 2004 saw the publishing of Bob Dylan's autobiography, Chronicles, Vol. 1. He once again confounded expectations. Dylan wrote three chapters about the year between his arrival in New York City in 1961 and recording his first album. Dylan focused on the brief period before he was a household name, while virtually ignoring the mid-1960s when his fame was at its height. He also devoted chapters to two lesser-known albums, New Morning (1970) and Oh Mercy (1989), which contained insights into his collaborations with poet Archibald MacLeish and producer Daniel Lanois. In the New Morning chapter, Dylan expresses distaste for the "spokesman of a generation" label bestowed upon him, and evinces disgust with his more fanatical followers.

Another section features Dylan's account of a guitar-strumming style in mathematical detail that he claimed was the key to his renaissance in the 1990s. Despite the opacity of some passages, there is an overall clarity in voice that is generally missing in Dylan's other prose writings, and a noticeable generosity towards friends and lovers of his early years. At the end of the book, Dylan describes with great passion the moment when he listened to the Brecht/Weill song "Pirate Jenny", and the moment when he first heard Robert Johnson's recordings. In these passages, Dylan suggested the process which ignited his own song-writing.

Six weeks after its publication, Chronicles, Vol. 1 was #5 on the New York Times' Hardcover Non-Fiction best seller list and climbing. Simultaneously, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble reported the book as their #2 best seller among all categories. Chronicles Vol. 1 is the first of three planned volumes.


The current members of Bob Dylan's touring band:

  • Bob Dylan - vocals, keyboard, harmonica
  • Stu Kimball - rhythm guitar
  • Denny Freeman - lead guitar
  • Donny Herron - pedal steel guitar, lap steel guitar, electric mandolin, banjo, violin
  • Tony Garnier - bass guitar, standup bass
  • George Receli - drums
  • Tommy Morrongiello - occasional rhythm guitar, guitar tech

Known pseudonyms

  • Bob Dylan (since August 1962, his full legal name has been "Robert Dylan")
  • Elston Gunnn (the spelling is an eccentricity of his adolescence)
  • Bob Dillon (according to some biographers, an early spelling based on an affection for the character Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke)
  • Blind Boy Grunt (album credit)
  • Bob Landy (album credit)
  • Tedham Porterhouse (album credit)
  • Robert Milkwood Thomas
  • Lucky Wilbury (Traveling Wilburys)
  • Boo Wilbury (Traveling Wilburys)
  • Jack Frost (producer of "Love and Theft" and co-producer of Under the Red Sky and Time Out of Mind)
  • Sergei Petrov (co-writer of Masked & Anonymous)
  • Justin Case (occasionally used while on the road in the 80's/90's)
  • Elmer Johnson (Mississippi River Festival in Edwardsville, Il on 7/14/69; guest appearance with The Band)

Further reading

  • Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume 1. Simon and Schuster, October 5, 2004, hardcover, 208 pages. ISBN 0743228154
  • Michael J. Gilmour, "Tangled Up in the Bible: Bob Dylan and Scripture". Continuum, 2004, 160 pages. ISBN 0826416020
  • Michael Gray, Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan. Continuum International, 2000, paperback, 944 pages. ISBN 0826463827
  • David Hajdu, Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina, and Richard Farina Farrar Straus Giroux, 2001, 328 pages. ISBN 0374281998
  • Clinton Heylin, Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited. Perennial Currents, 2003, 800 pages. ISBN 006052569X
  • Clinton Heylin, Bob Dylan: A Life In Stolen Moments, Schirmer Books, 1986, 403 pages. ISBN 0825671566. Also known as Bob Dylan: Day By Day
  • John Hinchey. Like a Complete Unknown: The Poetry of Bob Dylan's Songs, 1961-1966. Stealing Home Press, 2002. 277 pages. ISBN 0972359206
  • Greil Marcus, The Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes, Picador, 2001. ISBN 0312420439 (also published as "Invisible Republic")
  • Greil Marcus, Like A Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads, PublicAffairs, 2005. ISBN 1586482548
  • Mike Marqusee, Chimes of Freedom : The Politics of Bob Dylan's Art The New Press, NY, 2003, 327 pages. ISBN 1-56584-825-X
  • Wilfrid Mellers, A Darker Shade Of Pale: A Backdrop To Bob Dylan Oxford University Press, 1985, 255 pages. ISBN 0-19-503622-0
  • Christopher Ricks, Dylan's Visions of Sin, Penguin/Viking, 2003, 517 pages. ISBN 067080133X
  • Tim Riley, Hard Rain: A Dylan Commentary, Vintage, 1992, 356 pages. ISBN 0-679-74527-0
  • Anthony Scaduto, Bob Dylan, Helter Skelter, 2001 reprint of 1972 original, 312 pages. ISBN 1900924234
  • Robert Shelton, No Direction Home, Da Capo Press, 2003 reprint of 1986 original, 576 pages. ISBN 0306812878
  • Sam Shepard, Rolling Thunder Logbook, Da Capo, 2004 reissue, 176 pages. ISBN 0306813718
  • Howard Sounes, Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, Grove Press, 2001, 527 pages. ISBN 0802116868
  • Anthony Varesi, "The Bob Dylan Albums", Guernica Editions, 2002, 264 pages. ISBN 1550711393
  • Carl Porter and Peter Vernezze (editors), "Bob Dylan and Philosophy" Open Court Books, 2005, 225 pages. ISBN 0-8126-9592-5

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It uses material from the Wikipedia article - Bob Dylan