Bob Dylan

Last updated 09/16/03

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Born Robert Allen Zimmerman, on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota. Driven by the influences of early rock stars like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard, the young Dylan formed his own bands, including the Golden Chords and Elston Gunn and His Rock Boppers. While attending the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, he began performing folk and country songs at local cafes, taking the name Bob Dylan after the late Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

In 1960, Dylan dropped out of college and moved to New York, where his idol, the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie, was hospitalized with a rare hereditary disease of the nervous system. Dylan visited with Guthrie regularly in his hospital room; he also became a regular in the folk clubs and coffeehouses of Greenwich Village, met a host of other musicians, and began writing songs at an astonishing pace, including "Song to Woody", a tribute to his ailing hero. In the fall of 1961, after one of his performances received a rave review in The New York Times, Dylan signed a recording contract with Columbia Records. Released early in 1962, Bob Dylan contained only two original songs, but showcased Dylans gravelly-voiced singing style in a number of traditional folk songs and covers of blues songs.

The 1963 release of The Freewheelin Bob Dylan marked Dylans emergence as one of the most original and poetic voices in the history of American popular music. The album included two of the most memorable 1960s folk songs, "Blowin in the Wind" and "A Hard Rains Gonna Fall". His next album, The Times They Are A Changin, firmly established Dylan as the definitive songwriter of the 60s protest movement, a reputation that only increased after he became involved with one of the movements established icons, Joan Baez, in 1963. While his romantic relationship with Baez lasted only two years, it benefited both immensely in terms of their music careers, as Dylan wrote some of Baez best-known material and Baez introduced him to thousands of fans in her concerts. By 1964, Dylan was playing 200 concerts annually, but had become tired of his role as 'the' folk singer-songwriter of the protest movement. Another Side of Bob Dylan, recorded in 1964, was a much more personal, introspective collection of songs, far less politically charged than Dylans previous efforts.

In 1965, Dylan scandalized many of his folkie fans by recording the half-acoustic, half-electric album Bringing It All Back Home, backed by a nine-piece band. On July 25, 1965, he was famously booed at the Newport Folk Festival when he performed electrically for the first time. The albums that followed, Highway 61 Revisited (1965) including the seminal rock song "Like a Rolling Stone" and the two record set Blonde on Blonde (1966) represented Dylan at his most innovative. With his unmistakable voice and unforgettable lyrics, Dylan brought the worlds of music and literature together as no one else had.

Over the course of the next three decades, Dylan continued to reinvent himself. Following a near-fatal motorcycle accident in July 1966, Dylan spent almost a year recovering in seclusion. His next two albums, John Wesley Harding (1968) including "All Along the Watchtower" later recorded by guitar great Jimi Hendrix and the countryish Nashville Skyline (1969) were far more mellow than his earlier works. Critics blasted the two-record set Self-Portrait (1970), and Tarantula, a long-awaited collection of writings Dylan published in 1971, also met with a poor reception. In 1973, Dylan appeared in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, a feature film directed by Sam Peckinpah. He also wrote the films soundtrack, which became a hit and included the now-classic song, "Knockin on Heavens Door".

In 1974, Dylan began his first full-scale tour since his accident, embarking on a sold-out nationwide tour with his longtime backup band, the Band. An album he recorded with the Band, Planet Waves, became his first No. 1 album ever. He followed these successes with the celebrated 1975 album Blood on the Tracks and Desire (1976), each of which hit No. 1 as well. Desire included the song "Hurricane", written by Dylan about the boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, then serving life in prison after being wrongly convicted of a triple murder in 1967. Dylan was one of many prominent public figures who helped popularize Carters cause, leading to a retrial in 1976, when he was again convicted.

After a painful split with his wife, Sara Lowndes, the song "Sara" on Desire was Dylans plaintive but unsuccessful attempt to win Lowndes back, Dylan again reinvented himself, declaring in 1979 that he was now a born-again Christian. The evangelical Slow Train Coming was a commercial hit and won Dylan his first Grammy Award, for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. The tour and albums that followed were less successful, however, and Dylans religious leanings soon became less overt in his music.
Beginning in the 1980s, Dylan began touring full time, sometimes with fellow legends Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and the Grateful Dead. His concerts were sometimes rambling and sloppy, and many fans began to suspect he was burning out in his middle-aged years. Notable albums during this period included Infidels (1983), the five-disc retrospective Biograph (1985), Knocked Out Loaded (1986), and Oh Mercy (1989), which became his best received album in years. He recorded two albums with the all-star band the Traveling Wilburys, also featuring George Harrison, the late Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne. In 1994, Dylan returned to his folk roots, winning the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album for World Gone Wrong.

In 1989, when Dylan was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Bruce Springsteen spoke at the ceremony, declaring that "Bob freed the mind the way Elvis freed the body.He invented a new way a pop singer could sound, broke through the limitations of what a recording artist could achieve, and changed the face of rock and roll forever." In 1997, Dylan became the first rock star ever to receive Kennedy Center Honors, considered the nation?ighest award for artistic excellence.

Dylans 1997 album, Time Out of Mind reestablished this one-time folk icon as one of the preeminent of rocks wise men, winning three Grammy Awards including Album of the Year. He continues his vigorous touring schedule, including a memorable performance in 1997 for Pope John Paul II in which he played "Knockin on Heaven's Door", and a 1999 tour with Paul Simon.

Dylan and Lowndes, who married in 1965 and divorced in 1977, had four children together: Jesse, Anna, Samuel, and Jakob. (Dylan also adopted Lowndes daughter, Maria, from a previous marriage).

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This site was last updated 09/16/03