Personalities | Bob Dylan | Sixties | Rock

Next to The Beatles, Bob Dylan was the most influential artist of his generation, writing and performing songs whose poetic, sometimes-abstract, often-philosophical lyrics of astute commentary and therapeutic introspection spoke to the masses during an era of social unrest, political upheaval and radical change.

While cross-pollinating folk and country with electric rock, Dylan elevated the role of the singer-songwriter and, in so doing, introduced an entirely new dimension to popular music.

From Zimmerman To Dylan

Born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota, on 24 May 1941, and raised from age seven in nearby Hibbing, the future icon learned to play guitar and harmonica as a child while influenced by radio broadcasts of country, blues and, during his mid-teens, rock’n’roll. This, in turn, led to his participation in several high-school rock bands, yet while studying art at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis a burgeoning interest in American folk music precipitated Zimmerman taking the name of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and, as Bob Dylan, performing on the local folk music circuit, as well as at other venues during brief trips to Denver and Chicago. (He would legally change his name in August 1962.)

Having quit college at the end of his freshman year to become a full-time musician, Dylan was returning from Chicago to Minneapolis in January 1961 when he decided to head for New York City. While performing in a number of Greenwich Village coffee houses, he also took the time to visit his music idol Woody Guthrie, the socially-conscious singer/composer of ‘This Land Is Your Land’ and numerous protest songs, who was in a New Jersey hospital dying from hereditary neurological disorder Huntington’s chorea. That April, Dylan opened for bluesman John Lee Hooker at Gerde’s Folk City, and on the strength of a growing Village buzz about the young artist, as well as a good review by New York Times critic Robert Shelton following a September gig at the same venue, A&R exec John Hammond signed Bob Dylan to Columbia Records and produced his eponymous first album.

That record, released in March 1962, reflected Dylan’s live repertoire, with just a couple of original compositions among an assortment of folk, blues and gospel standards. However, it was a totally different story by the time The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was released in May 1963, a cover of ‘Corrina, Corrina’ standing alone amid a dozen self-penned tracks, including some solid gold songs of love (‘Girl From The North Country’), lost love (‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’) and protest (‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ and ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’). Given the political climate of the times, the last two songs attracted the most attention, ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ conjuring brutal images of nuclear Armageddon while ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, with its heartfelt call for change, brought Dylan’s name to everyone’s attention when Peter, Paul and Mary’s version became an international chart-topper in the summer of 1963.

Broadened Appeal

Given Dylan’s idiosyncratic, nasal style...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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