Bob Dylan – circa 1962
´This wheel’s on fire / Rolling down the road / Best notify my next of kin / This wheel shall explode!” – ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ (Bob Dylan, Rick Danko)
A Triumph motorcycle travels along Streibel Road on the outskirts of Woodstock, New York. Something goes wrong and the rider is thrown from his bike. It is 29 July 1966. The motorcycle rider is U.S. singer-songwriter and folk rock icon Bob Dylan. He is an enigmatic figure. Dylan’s legend often overshadows the actual events of his life. Although the motorcycle accident is a turning point in his career, the details are muddied by rumours and disinformation. Dylan says, “I had been in a motorcycle accident and I’d been hurt, but I recovered.” He adds, “Truth was that I wanted to get out of the rat race.”
Bob Dylan ‘enjoys telling journalists that he was an orphan and had been travelling with a carnival since he was 13.’
Bob Dylan is born Robert Allen Zimmerman on 24 May 1941 in St Mary’s Hospital in Duluth (pronounced duh-LOOTH), Minnesota, U.S.A. Dylan claims Duluth is a place with no interstate highways, just country roads. He is the son of Abram ‘Abe’ Zimmerman and Beatrice ‘Beatty’ – pronounced bee-TEE – Zimmerman (nee Stone). Abe and Beatty married on 10 June 1934; Abe was 22 and Beatty had turned 19 three days before the wedding. Abe worked for Standard Oil. Bob is their first child but they go on to have a second son, David (born in February 1946). Around the same time David Zimmerman is born, Abe Zimmerman contracts polio. This debilitating illness sidelines Abe for quite a while and, during this lengthy recovery period, Abe loses his job at Standard Oil.
In 1948 the Zimmerman family moves to Hibbing, Minnesota. Hibbing is characterised as ‘a dying town’ on the Midwestern iron range and is ‘often the coldest place in the U.S.’ Beatty Zimmerman’s family run a clothing store in Hibbing, so she is effectively returning home. Abe Zimmerman has relations in Hibbing too and finds new employment at the family-owned furniture and electrical business.
The Zimmerman family is one of the few Jewish families in the community of Hibbing. Although young Bobby and David are raised in the Jewish faith, their parents are not strict Orthodox Jews. Bobby celebrates his bar mitzvah, a Jewish coming of age ceremony, on 22 May 1954, just before his 13th birthday.
Bobby Zimmerman – the future Bob Dylan – grows up listening to music on late night radio programs. His influences include country music singer Hank Williams, blues singer Muddy Waters, folk singer Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly (a.k.a. Huddie Ledbetter), an artist who mixes elements of country, blues and folk. When he is 10 years old, Bobby gets some piano lessons and, as a teenager, his father teaches him to play electric guitar. It seems these lessons cover only the most rudimentary information because Dylan is also said to have taught himself to play piano and guitar. When rock ‘n’ roll comes along in the mid-1950s, the teenaged Bobby Zimmerman’s tastes expand to include the music of Elvis Presley and Little Richard.
Bobby Zimmerman attends Hibbing High School. He gets his ‘first serious girlfriend’ when he is 14. Her name is Echo Star Helstrom and she and Bobby are sweethearts through most of their high school days, though the relationship does not extend beyond graduation. Aside from his schoolwork, Bobby is sent around by his father to collect debts owing to the family furniture store. Bobby gets his first motorcycle – a Harley – while in his teens. His classmates see Bobby as a ‘greaser’ because of his long sideburns, leather jacket and motorcycle but he gets good grades and participates in school activities.
Bobby Zimmerman (Bob Dylan) maintains his interest in music through his teens. This leads him to join forces with like-minded kids he meets at school or summer camp and form such groups as The Jokers and The Shadow Blasters. Bobby’s first ‘proper’ band is The Golden Chords, an outfit he puts together when he is 16. After this group comes The Satin Stones, Elston Gunn And The Rock Boppers (Bobby is ‘Elston’) and The Rockets. In addition to guitar and piano, Bobby is also playing harmonica by this time. His ‘restless spirit’ leads him to run away from home seven times between the ages of 10 and 18. On one of these unauthorised excursions, in 1959 young Bobby talks his way into playing piano in a band backing pop star Bobby Vee…even if the young musician only holds the job for a few nights. On 3 June 1959 Bobby Zimmerman graduates from Hibbing High School.
In September 1959 Bob Zimmerman moves to Minneapolis (the State capital of Minnesota) where he attends the University of Minnesota. He is a ‘serious student.’ Reportedly, he romances five different girls at once while at college, but the most ardent of his college loves appears to be Bonnie Beecher.
At college, Bob Zimmerman trades his electric guitar for an acoustic guitar and switches from rock ‘n’ roll to folk music. “The thing about rock ‘n’ roll is that for me anyway it wasn’t enough,” says Bob. “I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing.” On a more mercenary note, he confesses, “I became interested in folk music because I had to make it (i.e. become successful) somehow.” Bob plays at The Ten O’Clock Scholar, a local coffeehouse. The aspiring musician performs as Bob Dillon, naming himself after the character of Marshal Matt Dillon from the television western ‘Gunsmoke’ (1955-1975). After coming across some poems by the Welsh writer Dylan Thomas, young Mr Zimmerman alters the spelling of his stagename to Bob Dylan. Under this sobriquet, he plays at folk music coffeehouses in nearby Dinkytown and ‘invents [a] past as [a] runaway with Okie roots’ (i.e. claiming to come from Oklahoma).
Bob Dylan drops out of college in May 1960. In the summer of 1960, Dylan goes to Denver, Colorado. He meets blues musician Jesse Fuller. Copying from his new acquaintance, Dylan begins wearing a harmonica rack around his neck so he can simultaneously play his acoustic guitar with his hands while also blowing on the harmonica for accompaniment. Dylan returns to Minneapolis in autumn 1960. In September 1960 he reads ‘Bound for Glory’ (1943), the autobiographical novel by folk musician Woody Guthrie.
With ‘blessing and fare’ from his parents, Bob Dylan relocates to New York City in January 1961. His purpose is twofold: (1) to play on the New York folk music circuit and (2) to meet ‘his musical idol,’ Woody Guthrie. In 1954 Woody Guthrie was hospitalised with Huntingdon’s Disease, an inherited disorder that results in the death of brain cells. By 1961, when Dylan arrives in New York, Guthrie is seriously ill and a patient of Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital. “I said to myself I was going to be Guthrie’s greatest disciple,” says Dylan.
The night he arrives in New York City in January 1961, Bob Dylan performs a couple of songs at Café Wha? in Greenwich Village. “My favourite singer in the place was Karen Dalton,” reports Dylan. A singer and guitarist of Cherokee descent, Karen Dalton immediately catches Dylan’s eye. It is unknown if they ever became romantically involved. (Karen Dalton dies in 1993 as a result of AIDS.)
The next day in January 1961 Bob Dylan journeys to Woody Guthrie’s home. Dylan’s idol is still in hospital. The baffled babysitter contacts her employer, Mrs Marjorie Guthrie, at work for instructions on what to do with the unexpected visitor. By the time the babysitter is told to turn away Dylan and advise him to come back when she (Mrs Guthrie) is home, Dylan has already entered the house and taught Woody’s 13 year old son Arlo (a future folk rock singer) a new way to play harmonica. A few days later, Guthrie Senior is allowed home for a weekend and that kid from Minnesota is one of the visitors who pay his respects to the ill man. On the way back to his New York abode, Dylan composes ‘Song To Woody’.
In February 1961 Bob Dylan plays in various clubs around Greenwich Village. He befriends such folk singers as Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Dave Van Ronk and gathers songs from around the folk music community. On 11 April 1961 Dylan plays a show at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village, opening for bluesman John Lee Hooker. Bob Dylan makes his recording debut on 24 April 1961, playing harmonica on the title track of ‘Midnight Special’ (1961), an album by calypso singer Harry Belafonte. Dylan is supposed to play on sessions for the whole album, but quits prematurely after appearing on just one song. The guest musician is paid the princely sum of fifty dollars. In June 1961 Roy Silver becomes Bob Dylan’s manager.
Bob Dylan is one of a number of folk singers who performs at the Riverside Church Folk Concert in New York City in July 1961. This is a significant event because it is here that Dylan first meets Susan ‘Suze’ Elizabeth Rotolo (20 November 1943-25 February 2011). The first name Suze is pronounced the same way as such more familiar variants as Susie or Suzy. Actually, Dylan first takes an interest in Suze’s elder sister, Carla Rotolo (5 March 1941-25 August 2014), and Carla introduces him to Suze. Dylan says of Suze, “She was the most erotic thing I’d ever seen.” The Rotolo sisters are both artists (i.e. painters) who have taken an interest in the folk music scene. Their parents were members of the American Communist Party. Folk music often has a left-wing political sensibility. Suze Rotolo becomes Bob Dylan’s girlfriend and she influences his own politics. “Suze was into this equality-freedom thing long before I was,” he admits. “I checked out the songs with her.”
Bob Dylan begins a two week engagement at Gerde’s Folk City as the opening act for The Greenbriar Boys. On 29 September 1961, Robert Shelton catches the show and writes a positive review of Dylan’s set for ‘The New York Times.’ This article comes to the attention of John Hammond Senior, an artists & repertoire man at Columbia Records. Hammond has a track record for discovering or developing talent. His past credits include blues singer Bessie Smith, bandleader Count Basie, jazz singer Billie Holiday, folk singer Pete Seeger and soul singer Aretha Franklin. Hammond had met Dylan at a rehearsal session for a Carolyn Hester recording on 14 September 1961. On 30 September 1961 Dylan plays harmonica on three tracks for this disc. The recording session is produced by John Hammond. Up to this point, Bob Dylan has been unable to secure a recording contract of his own. He has been rejected by Vanguard, Elektra and Folkways. John Hammond is so impressed with Bob Dylan that he signs him to Columbia and schedules a recording session for October 1961.
Bob Dylan starts his recording career singing and playing folk music. In later years, his work will include elements of rock, country, blues and other genres, but he first records folk music. In the United Kingdom, folk music is – largely – traditional melodies passed down from the Middle Ages. It encompasses airs from the Welsh, Irish and Scots peoples. All these strains are also present in the U.S. version of folk music. However, America is a younger country, without hundreds of years of its own history to draw upon. In the U.S., folk music also borrows from the work songs and spirituals of slave labourers brought from Africa. More commonly, these African traits crystallise as, respectively, blues and gospel, but traces of them are also present in folk. At this point in music history, the first wave of rock stars (Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, etc.) are in decline and the second wave (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, etc.) are yet to arrive. Folk music partially fills the vacuum. The bearded, grubby beatniks are folk music fans but their loyalty is just as much to jazz music. Clean-cut, serious-minded college students are the main audience for folk music. The Kingston Trio’s biggest hit, ‘Tom Dooley’ (U.S. no. 1), sold to these kids in 1959. Bob Dylan’s idol, Woody Guthrie, championed the common man and the dispossessed in his dustbowl ballads in the 1930s and 1940s. Folk music often has a distinctly leftist political agenda, particularly in the U.S. where it is the domain of liberal attitudes beloved by the better-educated college students. The terms ‘folk musician’ and ‘protest singer’ are virtually interchangeable.
Bob Dylan writes most of the songs he records. He lays down some cover versions and co-writes some pieces but a significant part of his legend rests on his songwriting skills. From this point on, all songs recorded by Bob Dylan that are cited here are written by Dylan unless otherwise stated. Perhaps because of his grounding in folk, Dylan is unusually literate as a songwriter. “I consider myself a poet first and a musician second,” he says. Without slighting his melodic ability, Dylan’s songs tend to emphasise the lyrics. Things that on paper may provoke head-scratching seem to make sense through the authority and belief of Dylan’s vocal delivery.
Bob Dylan’s voice is highly distinctive. It is a flat, nasal drawl that sounds permanently stuck in a sneer. “Nothing can affect my voice, it’s so bad,” quips Dylan. “My range is limited.” What does not appear limited is his reservoir of anger. In the early stage of his career, this adds righteous indignation to his folk music protest songs. However, it goes on to serve him equally well in withering put downs of a more personal nature.
As a musician, Bob Dylan is competent rather than exceptional. He plays guitar with force and purpose and blows lustily on the harmonica, but he is not a virtuoso. In later years, when Dylan sometimes plays piano instead of guitar, the results are similarly serviceable rather than impressive. It seems that Dylan’s energies are directed towards becoming a masterful songwriter as opposed to a remarkable musician. His musical skills exist to serve the needs of his compositions.
On 4 November 1961, Bob Dylan makes his concert hall debut at the Carnegie Chapter Hall in New York City. Fifty people, most of them friends of Dylan, pay two dollars each to attend. After expenses, Dylan takes home twenty dollars for the night.
The recording sessions for Bob Dylan’s first album are conducted in three afternoons, 20 November 1961 to 22 November 1961.
In January 1962 a deal is struck with Duchess Music for the publishing rights to Bob Dylan’s songs.
In January 1962, Bob Dylan moves into an apartment on West 4th Street in Greenwich Village, New York. He shares this residence with his girlfriend Suze Rotolo for the next six months.
The debut album, ‘Bob Dylan’ (1962), is released on 19 March. Like almost all of Dylan’s recordings, this disc is released by Columbia Records. ‘Bob Dylan’ is produced by John Hammond, Senior. Hammond later jokes that the recording sessions cost four hundred and two dollars. Although not accurate, this correctly conveys that the recording budget was very low. The only sounds on this disc are Bob Dylan’s voice, his acoustic guitar and his harmonica; there are no other instruments or musicians on the album. The liner notes by Stacey Williams point out that Dylan’s guitar is given a bottleneck fret on one track with the lipstick holder of his girlfriend Suze Rotolo (though Suze later denies this tale). ‘Bob Dylan’ contains only two original compositions: ‘Talkin’ New York’ – about his fruitless pre-Columbia attempts to get a recording contract – and ‘Song To Woody’. The latter is a tribute to his musical idol which was written after their first meeting: “Hey, hey, Woody Guthrie / I wrote you a song / ‘Bout a funny old world that’s a-comin’ along / Seems it’s sick and it’s hungry / It’s tired and it’s torn / It looks la-ahk it’s a-dyin’ / And it’s hardly bin born.” Over an appealingly simple strum, Dylan acknowledges, “Hey, hey, Woody Guthrie / But I know that you know / All the things that I’m a-sayin’ and many times more.” The rest of the contents of ‘Bob Dylan’ consist of the singer’s interpretations of traditional folk and blues tunes. The most notable of these may be ‘Baby Let Me Follow You Down’ and ‘House Of The Rising Sun’, both of which will be re-interpreted in 1964 with electric instruments by British rock band The Animals (retitling the former ‘Baby Let Me Take You Home’). ‘Bob Dylan’ ‘receives little notice and both Hammond and Dylan are soon dismissive of the first album’s results.’ Some even see the producer’s signing of Dylan as an error and refer to him as ‘Hammond’s folly.’ Dylan is just ‘one of many folk singers.’
Columbia Records tapes Bob Dylan’s show at New York’s Town Hall on 12 April 1962. Although it won’t be released until 1971, the lovely and delicate ‘Tomorrow Is A Long Time’ comes from this show. It is reputedly a love song for Suze Rotolo, Dylan’s girlfriend.
On 13 July 1962, Bob Dylan is convinced by a fellow named Albert Grossman to change his song-publishing to Witmark Music (a division of Warner Bros.). In the process Grossman gains himself a percentage of the results.
On 29 July 1962 Bob Dylan makes his radio broadcast debut. He performs as part of a ‘Hootenanny Special’ on folk music on New York City’s WRVR-FM.
It is also in July 1962 that Bob Dylan’s girlfriend Suze Rotolo travels to Italy to study art. She has been living with Dylan for the last six months. However, Suze’s mother is not so fond of her daughter’s partner and urges Suze to take some time out to further her art education. Suze Rotolo’s absence from the U.S.A. is extended a few times so both Suze and Bob wonder if they will be reunited.
It is probably around this time that Bob Dylan becomes involved with African-American singer Mavis Staples (born on 10 July 1939) who performs rhythm and blues and gospel songs with The Staple Singers. In this act, Mavis is joined by her sisters Cleo and Yvonne and the father of the three girls, Pop Staples. Bob Dylan and Mavis Staples met on a television show ‘in the early 1960s.’ They ‘court awhile’ and ‘smooch.’ In 1962 Dylan asks Pop Staples for Mavis’ hand in marriage, but Mavis declines the proposal because she feels she is still too young (Mavis is 23, Bob is only 21). If it seems odd that Bob Dylan would be so serious about Mavis Staples when he is still nominally Suze Rotolo’s boyfriend, perhaps Suze’s indefinite absence from his life causes him to consider other options. Dylan’s brief romance with Mavis Staples establishes that he has no qualms about an interracial relationship and, in subsequent years, he will squire other black female singers.
In August 1962 Robert Allen Zimmerman legally changes his name to Bob Dylan, his performing alias.
On 20 August 1962, Albert Grossman becomes Bob Dylan’s new manager. Grossman buys out Roy Silver who has been acting as Dylan’s manager since June 1961. Albert Grossman is a somewhat controversial person. Dylan later says of Grossman, “He was kind of like a Colonel Tom Parker figure…You could smell him coming.” Colonel Tom Parker was the manager of 1950s rock star Elvis Presley. Grossman – like Parker – is a curious blend of paternalism and aggression. It is suggested that Grossman ‘encourages Dylan to become more reclusive and aloof, even paranoid.’ Rather than an engaging man-of-the-people in the style of Woody Guthrie, Dylan grows more mysterious and enigmatic.
The one-off single ‘Mixed Up Confusion’ backed with ‘Corrina Corrina’ is released by Bob Dylan on 14 December 1962. It fails to make any impact on the singles chart. Part of the reason for this may be that it is ‘withdrawn almost immediately’ at manager Albert Grossman’s insistence ‘because he wants to present Dylan as an acoustic folkie.’ The single is not an acoustic recording; it features a rather rough and rugged rock arrangement with Dylan backed by an electric band. In a sense, ‘Mixed-Up Confusion’ anticipates Dylan’s later rock music work, but it should be remembered that he was playing rock at high school before converting to folk music at college. Although ‘Mixed-Up Confusion’ is a Dylan original, the flipside – ‘Corrina Corrina’ – is a traditional song first recorded in 1928 as ‘Corrine Corrina’ by Bo Carter. It was later covered by 1950s rockers Bill Haley And The Comets.
Bob Dylan makes his first trip to the U.K. in December 1962-January 1963. He arrives in the U.K. on 17 December 1962. On 12 January 1963 Dylan records a radio play for the BBC in London, a work entitled ‘Madhouse on Castle Street’. The singer plays a hobo and performs two songs: ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ (which appears on his next album) and ‘Swan On The River’ (an original composition that goes unreleased). On leaving the U.K. Bob Dylan stops off in Italy, hoping to catch up with Suze Rotolo, his errant girlfriend. However, Suze has already left Italy. When Dylan makes it back to the U.S.A. on 16 January 1963, he and Suze move in together again.
On 12 April 1963 Bob Dylan plays his ‘first major solo concert.’ The venue is the Town Hall in New York City.
On 12 May 1963 Bob Dylan is scheduled to appear on the television variety program ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’. Dylan wants to perform ‘Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues’, a new song. The John Birch Society is a far-right political organisation in the U.S. When the Sullivan Show baulks at the song, Dylan walks out and does not appear in the broadcast.
On 17 May 1963 Bob Dylan is one of the performers at the first Monterey Folk Festival in Monterey, California. The three day festival includes such other folk music acts as Joan Baez and Peter, Paul And Mary.
‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ (1963) (US no. 22) is released on 27 May. Don Hunstein’s cover photo shows Dylan hunched up against the cold, trudging along at the corner of Jones Street and West 4th Street in the West Village in New York City, with honey-blonde Suze Rotolo clinging to his arm. The location of the cover shot is close to the apartment shared by Dylan and Rotolo. It is perhaps appropriate that Suze Rotolo appears on the cover image with Bob Dylan since this album displays a far greater social conscience at work and, as Dylan put it, “Suze was into this equality-freedom thing long before I was.” Bob Dylan’s second album is co-produced by John Hammond, Senior, and Tom Wilson – but they do not work together. Dylan started out working with Hammond (who produced Dylan’s debut album) and recorded a number of songs for an album provisionally titled ‘Bob Dylan’s Blues’. However, Dylan’s new manager Albert Grossman is ‘hostile’ to Hammond and steers his charge instead towards Tom Wilson, a young black man. The album that is released has some material from the session produced by Hammond and some material from new sessions produced by Wilson. For instance, ‘Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues’ – the song ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ would not broadcast – is one of the casualties from John Hammond’s sessions. Similarly, Hammond recorded ‘several tracks’ on which Dylan has a full backing band; all but one of these is axed due to Grossman’s wanting to preserve Dylan’s ‘acoustic folkie’ image. That exception is ‘Corrina Corrina’ – the B side to the ‘Mixed-Up Confusion’ single from December 1962 – though it is a different take that winds up on ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’. (‘Mixed-Up Confusion’ is not on the album.) The debut album, ‘Bob Dylan’, was made up of cover versions with only two originals. ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ reverses the formula; it consists of all original songs with only two cover versions. One of these covers is ‘Corrina Corrina’; the other is ‘Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance’, Dylan’s adaptation of a 1928 Henry Thomas recording. Chief amongst the Bob Dylan compositions on this disc is his greatest song, ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’. It is released as a single in August 1963 but makes no impact on the charts. It is astonishing to hear a 22 year old (as Dylan is at the time) deliver such sagacious lines as these in ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’: “How many roads must a man walk down / Before you call him a man? / How many seas must a white dove sail / Before she sleeps in the sand? / Yes and how many times must the cannonballs fly / Before they are forever banned? / The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.” In short, there are no simple solutions to such philosophical quandaries. ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ is Dylan’s best because it matches a thoughtful lyric with a very basic acoustic melody and gains power from its sparse and simple presentation. The same could be said for many Dylan classics but ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ is the founding template. It is an ‘understated, elegant call to arms’ that becomes an anthem for the civil rights movement seeking equality for African-Americans with whites. “I wrote that in ten minutes,” shrugs Dylan. ‘Blowin’ In the Wind’ apparently owes a debt to ‘No More Auction Block’, a traditional slave song. Dylan first performed a two-verse early edition ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ at Gerde’s Folk City on 16 April 1962. In June of the same year, he told a reporter, “Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is…I still say it’s in the wind…and then it flies away.” ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ borrows its structure from the folk ballad ‘Lord Randall’. Dylan’s song asks, “Oh, where have you been my blue-eyed son / And where have you been, my darling young one?” With each subsequent verse, the question alters, changing from “What did you see?” to “What did you hear?”, “Who did you meet?” and “What will you do now?” Playing both the questioner and the respondent, Dylan’s replies are filled with vibrant images. For instance, he sees “a black branch with blood that kept dripping”, hears “the song of a poet who died in the gutter”, meets “a young woman whose body was burning” and will now “know my song well before I start singing.” At the end of each verse, he prophesies a Biblical torrent, ‘a hard rain’, which will wash it all away. Dylan punctures one popular theory when he tells an interviewer, “No, it’s not atomic rain, it’s just a hard rain.” Bob Dylan first performed this protest song at Carnegie Hall on 22 September 1962. ‘Masters Of War’ is a scathing attack on munitions manufacturers and war profiteers. “How much do I know to talk out of turn?” asks Dylan in this song, choking on his own fury. “You might say that I’m young / You might say I’m unlearned / But there’s one thing I know / Though I’m younger than you / That even Jesus would never forgive what you do.” It ends with perhaps Dylan’s most vitriolic spray: “And I hope that you die / And your death will come soon / I’ll follow your casket / On a pale afternoon / And I’ll watch as you’re lowered / Down to your deathbed / And I’ll stand at your graveside / ‘Till I’m sure that you’re dead.” ‘Oxford Town’ deploys a nimble acoustic strum akin to its brethren on this disc to tell the tale of James Meredith, the first black student to risk enrolment at the University of Mississippi. Such songs show Dylan’s ‘excellence as a commentator on contemporary social/political events,’ but there is still room here for more. ‘Girl From The North Country’ is credited as a Bob Dylan composition but it incorporates elements of a traditional folk song that will become more familiar to contemporary audiences when the same folk song is turned into Simon And Garfunkel’s 1968 hit ‘Scarborough Fair (Canticle)’ (US no. 11, AUS no. 5). The more original parts of the song give rise to the theory that ‘Girl From The North Country’ is an ode to Dylan’s college sweetheart Bonnie Beecher. Similar speculation posits that ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ was written about Suze Rotolo. Its mixed emotions are thought to align with Dylan’s uncertainty about their joint future during Suze’s prolonged sojourn to Italy. Every attempt at affectionate reassurance in the song is undercut by withering sarcasm. “I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind / You coulda done better / But I don’t mind / You just kinda wasted my precious time / But don’t think twice, it’s all right,” jeers Dylan. ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ is ‘a historic triumph’.
Although the commercial impact of ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ is modest, the album transforms Dylan’s standing amongst critics and folk music fans. Dylan is now seen as ‘a major artist.’ Writer Janet Maslin is said to be the first to describe Dylan as the ‘voice of his generation.’ Dylan grows increasingly uncomfortable with that tag as the years pass but, with typical perversity, Dylan himself says, “I’m speaking for all of us. I’m the spokesman for a generation.” This is the same musician who admits, “I’m inconsistent, even to myself.”
Bob Dylan appears at the Newport Folk Festival which opens at Newport, Rhode Island, on 29 July 1963. Other performers at the festival include Joan Baez, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Peter, Paul And Mary. Dylan joins with Peter, Paul And Mary to sing ‘Blowin’ In The Wind.’
On 17 August 1963 Peter, Paul And Mary’s cover version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ (US no. 2, UK no. 13) reaches its highest position on the U.S. charts. The trio’s interpretation is sweeter and slicker than Dylan’s take, but their recording serves to bring Dylan to a wider audience. Peter, Paul And Mary are also managed by Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman. Peter, Paul And Mary also score in 1963 with a cover version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ (US no. 9). It is estimated that, over subsequent years, nearly three thousand artists record cover versions of Bob Dylan songs. Only a handful of these cover versions will be referred to here.
On 23 August 1963 Bob Dylan and Joan Baez perform together at a civil rights rally in Washington.
Joan Chandos Baez (born on 9 January 1941) becomes Bob Dylan’s lover in 1963. Her father is a Mexican physicist and her mother teaches English and Scottish drama. Both of her grandfathers were Ministers of religion. Joan Baez starts singing in church choirs. She learns to play guitar and gigs around Boston. Baez finds fame as a folk singer earlier than Bob Dylan. The 1959 Newport Folk Festival gives her ‘widespread critical acclaim.’ Her 1960 debut album reflects her heritage, mixing English, Scottish and Spanish folk ballads. Baez possesses a ‘pure soprano voice’ that ‘could shatter glass’ and has a ‘dark beauty to match.’ In a manner reminiscent of his relationship with Suze Rotolo, Bob Dylan is at first, more interested in Baez’s sister – though Mimi Baez is Joan’s younger sister, while Carla Rotolo is Suze’s older sister. Bob Dylan first meets Joan Baez in 1961 at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village, New York City. Possibly, Dylan takes a romantic interest in Joan when they both appear at the Monterey Folk Festival on 17 May 1963, but by the time of the Freedom March on Washington by the civil right movement on 28 August 1963, Dylan and Baez are becoming involved romantically. Like Peter, Paul And Mary, Joan Baez records cover versions of some Dylan songs, bringing his work to wider attention. Dylan’s relationship with Suze Rotolo continues in parallel at first with his relationship with Joan Baez. Perhaps Dylan still feels conflicted over Suze’s indefinite stay in Italy the previous year or perhaps his growing fame brings with it growing temptations.
Suze Rotolo falls pregnant to Bob Dylan in 1963, but she has an abortion. Suze moves into her sister’s apartment in August 1963.
‘Sometime in 1963’ Bob Dylan first meets musicians Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson. More will be said about them later.
Bob Dylan’s third album, ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’ (1964) (US no. 20), is released on 13 January. After sharing production credit on Dylan’s previous disc, this is the first of three consecutive Dylan albums produced by Tom Wilson. ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’ is the first Dylan album consisting completely of his own compositions. The title track, ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’, is one of Bob Dylan’s most famous pieces and ‘many feel that it captures the spirit of social and political upheaval that characterises the 1960s.’ In the lyrics, Dylan urges, “Come gather ‘round people, wherever you roam / And admit that the waters around you have grown / And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone / If your time to you is worth saving / Then you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone / For the times they are a-changin’.” Musically, it has an insistent acoustic strum underlying Dylan’s hectoring words – a description that fits virtually every song on the album. “This was definitely a song with a purpose,” Dylan says of ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’. “It was influenced of course by the Irish and Scottish ballads…I wanted to write a big song with short concise verses.” Thematically, the album functions almost like a newspaper, with accounts of murder on an impoverished farm (‘Ballad Of Hollis Brown’), the racist slaying of a black woman (‘The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll’) and tale of a destitute mining town (‘North Country Blues’). It also finds space for wry observations on the manipulation of the masses by those in power (‘With God On Our Side’ and ‘Only A Pawn In Their Game’). This is Bob Dylan at the height of his finger-pointin’ period. ‘One Too Many Mornings’ and ‘Boots Of Spanish Leather’ are both thought to be about Dylan’s girlfriend Suze Rotolo. Both songs display thorny conflicted emotions. ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’ is a ‘more politicised’ recording, though it is also noticed that this disc has a ‘lack of humour or musical diversity.’
Bob Dylan’s relationship with Suze Rotolo finally comes to an end in 1964. Suze’s 1963 abortion, Dylan’s affair with Joan Baez and the continuing hostility towards Dylan from members of Suze’s family all contribute to the two year romance concluding. Dylan is now free to devote himself to Joan Baez.
In February 1964 Bob Dylan and some of his buddies undertake a twenty day car trip across the U.S.A. This is not a concert tour; just an attempt to reconnect with ordinary life. Naturally, Dylan writes some songs during the journey. It is also during this time that Dylan really becomes aware of The Beatles, a new British band. He is astonished, as he listens to the car radio, by The Beatles’ domination of the airwaves and record charts. They are a rock band, not a folk group. In March 1964 Bob Dylan buys an electric guitar. In April 1964 he tries LSD, a notorious mind-expanding drug, for the first time.
On 3 April 1964 Bob Dylan makes it to the British popular record charts for the first time. Just as the U.S. embraces British group The Beatles, the U.K. finds U.S. singer Bob Dylan interesting. ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ (UK no. 1) charts in the U.K. in 1964 – and attains a higher position than it did in the U.S.
Perhaps spurred on by this new attention, Bob Dylan visits Europe in 1964. During this visit, he hooks up with a German model named Christa Paffgen. It is a short-term liaison rather than a long-term romance. In 1965 Christ Paffgen will arrive in the U.K. to try to become a recording artist as Nico (16 October 1938-18 July 1938). In 1966 she will relocate to the U.S. and, after coming into contact with the artist Andy Warhol, becomes vocalist for The Velvet Underground. ‘The Velvet Underground And Nico’ (1967) (US no. 171) will be her only album with this band before splitting for a solo career. Dylan will gift her with a song called ‘I’ll Keep It With Mine’ for her first solo album, ‘Chelsea Girl’ (1967) – though Judy Collins records the same song in 1965. ‘I’ll Keep It With Mine’ is a plaintive piano piece falling somewhere between carnival music and gospel. Nico will go on to record a series of solo albums. Her death, at age 49, follows a heart attack she will suffer while riding a bicycle on holidays in Ibiza, Spain. She will fall from the bike and sustain a fatal head injury in the process.
The Beatles’ success in the U.S.A. leads to a ‘British invasion’ of the U.S. pop charts. One of the U.K. acts that follow in the wake of The Beatles is The Animals. In July 1964 The Animals have a hit with an electric version of ‘The House Of The Rising Sun’ (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1), a traditional number from the ‘Bob Dylan’ album. For good measure, they had earlier recorded another tune from that album, ‘Baby Let Me Follow You Down’, as ‘Baby Let Me Take You Home’ (UK no. 21, US no. 102). Hearing these electric rock versions is food for thought for the acoustic folk minstrel Bob Dylan.
At the Newport Folk Festival in July 1964 Bob Dylan meets Johnny Cash, the 1950s rock star who has turned to more country music-oriented fare.
‘Another Side Of Bob Dylan’ (1964) (US no. 43) is released on 8 August. This album is recorded in one twelve-hour session. It is the ‘work of a writer struggling against the confines of conventional songwriting and folk instrumentation.’ The songwriting is in a ‘more obviously personal style’ than Dylan’s earlier political broadsides. “I’ve never written a political song,” claims Dylan, adding to his store of contradictory statements. “Songs can’t save the world,” he adds. Perhaps the best song here is ‘It Ain’t Me, Babe’, a scornful love song with a you-can’t-fire-me-because-I-quit attitude. It is an example of this disc’s ‘self-pitying and cruel’ material. ‘All I Really Want To Do’ also seeks to confound the expectations of the female of the species. ‘Ballad In Plain D’ is obviously about the disintegration of Dylan’s relationship with Suze Rotolo. It rails against her mother and “her parasite sister,” but may be a bit petty. Although Dylan always had a capacity for florid imagery (e.g. ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’), that trait is magnified here on ‘Spanish Harlem Incident’ and, particularly, ‘Chimes Of Freedom’. ‘My Back Pages’ purposefully confuses its tenses and this is somehow considered to be a repudiation of Dylan’s protest phase. Many of the songs on this album become better known when they are covered by other artists. For instance, in 1965 Cher records ‘All I Really Want To Do’ (US no. 15, UK no. 9, AUS no. 68) and The Byrds tackle ‘All I Really Want To Do’ (US no. 40, UK no. 4), ‘Spanish Harlem Incident’, ‘Chimes Of Freedom’ and (in 1967) ‘My Back Pages’ (US no. 30). ‘Another Side Of Bob Dylan’ fails to make the U.S. top forty albums list so, commercially, it is a step back from Dylan’s last two albums. It is also ‘greeted by the American left-wing folk movement with disapproval.’
On 28 August 1964 Bob Dylan meets The Beatles during the British band’s U.S. tour. He introduces the quartet to marijuana.
In the latter half of 1964 Bob Dylan begins the transition from being a folk music songwriter to being a folk rock artist. He swaps the work shirt and jeans ‘common man’ look for Carnaby Street fashions, Beatle boots and dark glasses. He buys a Triumph T100 motorcycle.
Bob Dylan takes a shine to Francoise Hardy (born on 14 January 1944), a French singer-songwriter, model and fashion icon. On 13 January 1965 Dylan takes Hardy to his hotel room and tries to impress her with early drafts of a couple of his yet to be released songs, ‘I Want You’ and ‘Just Like A Woman’. Francoise Hardy is just not interested in Dylan romantically. Her rebuff doesn’t stop him giving her a mention in a poem on the back of his next album.
‘Bringing It All Back Home’ (1965) (US no. 6) is released on 22 March. The cover image is shot by Daniel Kramer through a fish-eye lens, curving the photo beyond the central circle. The woman in the red dress reclining in the background behind Bob Dylan is Sally Grossman, the wife of Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman. ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ is divided between an electric side and an acoustic side. In a typically brave (or arrogant) gesture, the electric side is first. After the purists have already been shocked, the more conciliatory acoustic side is side two. ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ (US no. 39) is Bob Dylan’s first U.S. top forty single in his own right. The song finds Dylan almost word drunk, warning, “Look out, kid / It’s somethin’ you did / God knows when / But you’re doin’ it again.” He proceeds to babble on, spilling out such utterances as “Must bust in early May / Orders from the D.A. [District Attorney]” and “Don’t follow leaders / Watch the parking meters,” before concluding “Don’t wear sandals / Can’t afford the scandals / The pump don’t work / ‘Cos the vandals took the handle.” One couplet from this song has a darker legacy. “You don’t need a weatherman / To know which way the wind blows” provides the name for The Weathermen (1969-1977), a violent radical leftist group also known as The Weather Underground. ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ – the seemingly disconnected title – is possibly inspired by ‘The Subterraneans’ (1958) by Jack Kerouac, a book about the beat poets and beatniks. This would also explain the focus on the counter culture in the rambling lyrics. Dylan recounts the song’s origins this way: “It’s from Chuck Berry, a bit of [Berry’s 1956 song] ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ and some of the scat songs of the 1940s.” The video for ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, showing Dylan flipping through cue cards with highlights from the lyrics without doing any singing, is filmed in an alley near The Savoy Hotel in London, England. ‘Maggie’s Farm’, recorded in one take, is ‘caustic and funny as hell.’ It is viewed as a ‘declaration of independence from the folk movement.’ The title is a pun on Silas McGee’s farm where Dylan performed ‘Only A Pawn In Their Game’ in a civil rights protest in 1963. ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’ is surprisingly warm-hearted. Moving on to the acoustic side, ‘It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)’ is ‘one of Dylan’s most ambitious compositions.’ Musically, it’s spare and pointed; spiritual kin to Dylan’s earlier protest songs. The lyrics contain some of Dylan’s most quoted sentiments: “That he not busy being born is busy dying”, “But even the President of the United States / Sometimes must stand naked” and “While money doesn’t talk, it swears.” The lyrics to ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ weave a hypnotic portrait: “Hey Mr Tambourine Man / Play a song for me / I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to / Hey Mr Tambourine Man / Play a song for me / In the jingle jangle morning, I’ll come followin’ you.” Dylan made an unsuccessful attempt to record ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ for his previous album, ‘Another Side Of Bob Dylan’. He wrote it during his February 1964 cross-country car trip. The title is inspired by a large tambourine (a percussion instrument) owned by guitarist Bruce Langhorne. This musician has worked with Dylan sporadically since ‘Corrina Corrina’. Langhorne plays the electric guitar counter melody to Dylan’s acoustic guitar on ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ and is the only other musician on the song. The album closes with ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ which is ‘arguably Dylan’s finest, most affectionate song of dismissal.’ (‘Farewell Angelina’ from the sessions for this album is given away to Dylan’s girlfriend, Joan Baez, and becomes the title track of her 1965 album.) ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ is a ‘pioneering album.’
During March-April 1965 The Byrds play a residency at Ciro’s Le Disc nightclub on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, California. The Byrds is a U.S. band of former folk musicians who have been converted to rock by the success of The Beatles. Bob Dylan puts in an appearance with The Byrds one night during this residency, blowing harmonica with the group.
The Byrds debut single, released on 12 April 1965, is a more glossy and professional cover version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ (US no. 1, UK no. 1). The Byrds follow this on 14 June 1965 with a cover of Dylan’s ‘All I Really Want To Do’ (US no. 40, UK no. 4). Over the course of their career, The Byrds record a number of Dylan’s songs. They also play a key role in launching a hybrid genre called folk rock that matches folk lyricism with rock music. Bob Dylan’s new interest in electric instruments means that his own new music falls under the definition of folk rock.
When Bob Dylan begins performing with an electric group, the sound is typified by a fondly ramshackle quality. It sounds very loose, almost haphazard. There is little room for any shows of instrumental prowess in this wayward carnival. Dylan’s lyrics are also changing. The folk idioms are largely phased out, as is semi-journalistic reportage. In their place are hallucinatory incantations whose poetry can be admired, but their actual meanings are often as subjective as the ink blot interpretations offered up to psychiatrists. Of course, these changes in style alienate some of Bob Dylan’s followers, but those who remain tend to attribute him with almost messianic powers as the spokesman of his generation.
Bob Dylan’s new music requires him to have a backing group. The musicians he finds are those with whom he will become most identified. Ronnie Hawkins, a rockabilly singer from Arkansas, headed to Canada in 1957. With the exception of his drummer, one by one the members of The Hawks (Hawkins’ backing group) drifted back to the U.S.A. and were replaced by Canadian musicians. The Hawks are: Robbie Robertson (guitar), Richard Manuel (piano, vocals), Garth Hudson (organ), Rick Danko (bass, vocals) and Levon Helm (drums, vocals). The Hawks parted ways with Ronnie Hawkins in 1963 and ventured to New York City. They release two singles in 1965 as, respectively, The Canadian Squires and Levon And The Hawks. In New York, these musicians meet an aspiring blues singer named John Hammond, Junior. This is the son of John Hammond, Senior, Bob Dylan’s first record producer. Through this family connection, The Hawks are introduced to Dylan who hires them to back him on his impending concert tour of the United Kingdom. For whatever reasons, drummer Levon Helm absents himself from this tour and Mickey Jones takes his place.
From 30 April 1965 to the end of May 1965 Bob Dylan (backed by The Hawks) undertakes a concert tour of Britain. A substantial part of each show is still performed by Dylan solo as an acoustic troubadour. Dylan is ‘received more as a pop star – a teen idol – than a writer of protest songs.’ The tour includes a two night engagement at London’s Royal Albert Hall beginning on 9 May 1965. Filmmaker D.A. (Donn Alan) Pennebaker accompanies the tour, but the resulting documentary will not be released until 1967.
Bob Dylan’s British tour raises his profile in that country and sends some of his old recordings into the U.K. charts where they achieve higher chart placings than they did in the U.S.A. when first released. The albums that benefit from this exposure are: ‘Bob Dylan’ (1962) (UK no. 13), ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’ (1964) (UK no. 4), ‘Another Side Of Bob Dylan’ (1964) (UK no. 8) and his most recent album, ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ (1965) (UK no. 1). Additionally, the singles ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’ (UK no. 9), ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ (UK no. 9) and ‘Maggie’s Farm’ (UK no. 22) reach the U.K. singles chart.
Bob Dylan’s relationship with Joan Baez ‘fizzles out’ during his 1965 U.K. tour. Baez accompanies Dylan on the tour (not as a performer, but as his consort), but D.A. Pennebaker’s subsequent documentary shows the uneasiness between the couple. Ultimately, she ‘walks out on him’ and their romantic relationship ends.
While in the U.K. Bob Dylan takes up with Dana Gillespie (born on 30 March 1949), a ‘busty 16 year old English pop singer’ – though this is only a short-term liaison.
Back in the U.S.A. Edith ‘Edie’ Sedgwick (20 April 1943-16 November 1971) enters Bob Dylan’s orbit. A blonde socialite, Edie Sedgwick first comes to notice when she becomes part of the loose troop of creative types that surround artist Andy Warhol. She appears in some of Warhol’s experimental films (e.g. ‘Kitchen’ (1965), ‘Horse’ (1965) and ‘Beauty #2’ (1965)). An affair with Dylan’s friend Bob Neuwirth brings her closer to the enigmatic folk rock singer. Allegedly, Edie Sedgwick has a crush on Bob Dylan. He later says, “I did know her, but I don’t recall any kind of relationship. If I did have one, I think I’d remember.” Edie Sedgwick will die in 1971 from an overdose of barbiturates at the age of 28.
On 15 June 1965, at Columbia Studio A in New York City, Bob Dylan records ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ (US no. 2, UK no. 4, AUS no. 7). It starts out as a piece of verse in June 1965 written after Dylan’s English tour. “It was ten pages long. It wasn’t called anything,” Dylan recalls. At first he has no intention of turning it into a song, but eventually he creates a melody for it and a version of the piece becomes a lengthy (6:13) song. At the time, it is virtually unknown for a pop single to run so long. Although others have had hits with Dylan compositions, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ is the first time the artist himself has a significant commercial success on the singles chart. In fact, it will remain Bob Dylan’s biggest hit for his career in the U.K. and ties with later singles for his biggest U.S. and Australian hit. “Once upon a time / You dressed so fine / Threw the bums a dime in your prime / Didn’t you?” sneers Dylan in the lyrics, before crowing, “Now you don’t talk so loud / Now you don’t act so proud / About having to be scrounging around / Scrounging around for your next meal / How does it feel? / How does it feel? / To be without a home / With no direction home / Like a complete unknown / Just like a rolling stone.” The song is alleged to be about Edie Sedgwick, the ex-socialite turned counter culture muse. She is thought to be the “Miss Lonely” referenced in this song. Electric guitars on ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ are played by both Bob Dylan and Mike Bloomfield (from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band). Another guitarist, Al Kooper, is also booked for the session. Finding himself surplus to requirements, Kooper talks his way into playing an organ, an instrument he’d never played before. Dylan likes the sound Kooper squeezes out of the Hammond organ in the studio so much its throaty trill is the most dominant sound on the song. ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ also marks the last time Tom Wilson will produce Dylan. “‘Rolling Stone’s the best song I ever wrote,” Bob Dylan later concludes.
On 25 July 1965 Bob Dylan once again appears at the Newport Folk Festival. Also on the bill is The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the first electric group to appear at the festival. Members of the group also back Bob Dylan. To the astonishment of most of the audience, Dylan plugs in an electric guitar. His set includes the first public performance of ‘Like A Rolling Stone’. Dylan is booed off the stage for daring to perform with an electric band. There are also sound problems and these contribute to the unrest in the crowd. Dylan is persuaded to return for an acoustic encore.
On 27 August 1965 Bob Dylan plays a gig at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens, New York. Once again, Dylan employs an electric backing group. On this occasion, the group includes two members of The Hawks: Robbie Robertson (guitar) and Levon Helm (drums) as well as Al Kooper (organ) and Harvey Brooks (bass). Although there are still some in the audience who heckle and boo, this time Dylan holds his ground and, generally, gets a better reception from the crowd.
‘Highway 61 Revisited’ (1965) (US no. 3, UK no. 4), released on 30 August, is Bob Dylan’s best individual album. The photograph of Bob Dylan on the album’s cover is taken by Daniel Kramer. The figure behind Dylan, dressed in an orange and white striped t-shirt and clutching a camera with his head out of the shot, is Dylan’s friend Bob Neuwirth. “Highway 61, the main thoroughfare of the country blues, begins about where I began,” explains Bob Dylan. To put it another way, Highway 61 is a major traffic thoroughfare in the U.S.A., a roadway that connects Dylan’s birthplace of Duluth with St Louis, Memphis, New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta area. All these places are home to influential rock, blues, jazz and country music. ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ includes the earlier Tom Wilson produced single ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, but the rest of the album is produced by Bob Johnston. The next five Dylan albums will also be produced by Johnston. Mike Bloomfield (guitar) and Al Kooper (organ) from the ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ session also play on the rest of ‘Highway 61 Revisited’. Where ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ was half electric and half acoustic, all but the final track on ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ is played by a full electric band. Aside from ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, the best known song on this disc is probably ‘Ballad Of A Thin Man’. Over piano and organ (Dylan plays keyboards sometimes from this point as an alternative to guitar), the counter culture experience is enshrined. Dylan mocks, “You know something is happening / But you don’t know what it is / Do you, Mr Jones?” As a psycho circus unfurls about the luckless square, Mr Jones is assailed by a “one-eyed midget” who “screams back, ‘You’re a cow / Give me some milk or else go home.’” The title track, ‘Highway 61 Revisited’, has a galloping rhythm, guest appearances in the lyrics by God and Abraham and a toy whistle that organist Al Kooper originally used whenever anyone in the studio started using drugs. ‘Tombstone Blues’ and ‘It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry’ favour blues idioms while ‘From A Buick 6’ and ‘Queen Jane Approximately’ are closer to a twisted form of pop. ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ is an expansive piano ballad. All the songs are liberally enhanced with oodles of ‘vomitific’ lyrics – to use Bob Dylan’s own term for the apparently improvised rambling wordplays. In customary confounding fashion, Dylan concludes his finest album – his first major foray into rock – with an acoustic guitar song, the epic (11:18) ‘Desolation Row’. On ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ Bob Dylan reinvents his career and folk rock in America. Ragged rock melodies collide with loquacious lyrics amid startling imagery and mind bending musical structures. ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ ‘is one of those albums that, quite simply, change everything.’
On 3 September 1965 Bob Dylan plays a concert at the Hollywood Bowl in California. He is backed by the same quartet as at his Queens concert a week earlier: Robbie Robertson (guitar), Al Kooper (organ), Harvey Brooks (bass) and Levon Helm (drums). The reception from the audience is ‘more favourable’ this time.
‘Positively 4th Street’ (US no. 7, UK no. 8, AUS no. 35) is a stand-alone Bob Dylan single released on 7 September 1965. The track is produced by Bob Johnston and was recorded on 29 July 1965 during the sessions for ‘Highway 61 Revisited’. The song features a cheesy organ motif that is undercut by its venomous lyrics. ‘Positively 4th Street’ has been described as the ‘most vicious song ever to reach the hit parade.’ The target of Dylan’s outburst here is not thought to be any single individual, but rather the Greenwich Village folk music purists who disapproved of the switch to electric rock. There is a 4th Street in Greenwich Village, but there is also a 4th Street in Minneapolis that cuts through the University of Minnesota that Bob Dylan attended in 1959-1960.
On 15 September 1965 Bob Dylan begins rehearsal with The Hawks for a world tour that kicks off on 24 September 1965 and will continue for six months. For some live shows in February 1966 Sandy Konikoff will temporarily replace drummer Levon Helm.
On 22 November 1965 Bob Dylan marries Sara Lownds (born Shirley Marlin Noznisky on 28 October 1939 in Wilmington, Delaware). Sara worked as a Playboy bunny and a model. From 1959 to 1961/1962 she was married to photographer Hans Lownds. It was Hans Lownds who persuaded her to change her name from Shirley to Sara. (Note: Although the correct spelling of Sara’s surname is Lownds, too many older references spell the surname ‘Lowndes’ for them all to be in error. Perhaps Sara used ‘Lowndes’ in her professional modelling career?) Hans and Sara had a daughter together, Maria (born on 21 October 1961). Sara Lownds was friends with Sally Buchler, the woman who married Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman. It was through this connection that Sara met Bob. Bob Dylan marries Sara Lownds in a civil ceremony in Nassau County (Long Island), New York, with only a few close friends in attendance. Dylan does not publicly acknowledge his marriage until February 1966. Bob Dylan adopts Maria, Sara’s daughter from her first marriage. Bob and Sara go on to have four children of their own, three sons and a daughter: Jesse (born on 6 January 1966), Anna (born on 11 July 1967), Samuel (born on 30 July 1968) and Jakob (born on 9 December 1969).
On 21 December 1965 Bob Dylan releases the one-off single ‘Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?’ (US no. 58, UK no. 17, AUS no. 98), produced by Bob Johnston. Musically loose and throbbing, the song’s lyrical meaning is subject to interpretation. Maybe it has something to do with love or drugs or none of the above?
Bob Dylan’s world tour (backed by The Hawks) continues. On 13 April 1966 the entourage arrives in Sydney to begin the Australian leg of the tour. From there, Dylan and company go on to play in Scandinavia before making another visit to the United Kingdom in May 1966. A show in Sheffield is delayed by a bomb threat, a folk purist in the audience at shouts ‘Judas!’ at Bob Dylan in the Manchester concert and some fans in Edinburgh blow harmonicas in unison in an attempt to drown out Dylan’s singing. Each show on this tour is fairly evenly divided between an acoustic first half and an electric second half. Sometimes fans accept it all without any problems; sometimes elements in the audience still make known their displeasure with the rock songs. Arguably, the highlight of the tour is a return engagement at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 26 May 1966.
Part way through the six month world tour by Bob Dylan with The Hawks comes the release of Dylan’s new album, ‘Blonde On Blonde’ (1966) (US no. 9, UK no. 3, AUS no. 4), on 16 May. The album title is derived from ‘Brecht on Brecht’, a stage play based on the works that influenced the songwriting of German playwright Bertolt Brecht. “I don’t know who thought of that [album title]. I certainly didn’t,” says Dylan of ‘Blonde On Blonde’. This is a double album, the first studio double album by a major rock artist. The album title and Dylan’s name are absent from the front of the record sleeve; they are only shown on the spine. The front cover photo of Dylan is blurry – which gives rise to speculation that it might be some kind of comment on drug use. The truth is a bit more prosaic. When photographer Jerry Schatzberg took the photo of Dylan at 375 West Street in the extreme west of Greenwich Village, it was a very cold day and both Schatzberg and Dylan were shivering, so the photo came out blurred. Dylan liked the out-of-focus effect and Dylan chose that image for the album cover. The recording sessions started in New York but then relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, where the album’s producer Bob Johnston resides. The musicians used on ‘Blonde On Blonde’ are a mix of session men, Dylan’s backing group and other semi-familiar names. Contributing musicians for this disc include Robbie Robertson (guitar), Al Kooper (organ), Rick Danko (bass), Bobby Gregg (drums) and Kenny Buttrey (drums). Bob Dylan claims, “The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in the ‘Blonde On Blonde’ album. It’s that thin, that wild mercury sound. It’s metallic and bright gold, with whatever that conjures up.” On the opening track, a woozy trombone duels Dylan’s harmonica while the singer, taking the part of master of ceremonies, insists, “I would not feel so all alone / Everybody must get stoned!” Dylan titles this concoction ‘Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35’ (US no. 2, UK no. 7, AUS no. 17). It rivals ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ as Bob Dylan’s biggest U.S. hit. Apparently, a ‘rainy day woman’ is a marijuana cigarette and smoking a joint leaves a person ‘stoned’ so this is widely perceived to be ‘a drug song.’ However, Dylan proclaims, “I never have and never will write a drug song.” That statement might be filed under the same heading as Dylan’s line that, “I’ve never written a political song.” To be fair, the line about getting ‘stoned’ could also be given a Biblical interpretation. Sinners (i.e. Dylan) could be stoned physically – have rocks hurled at them – (i.e. targeted for abuse) for their transgressions (i.e. playing electric rock instead of acoustic folk). ‘One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)’ (US no. 119, UK no. 33) is a drawled pop song. The skipping rhythm of ‘I Want You’ (US no. 20, UK no. 16, AUS no. 22) barely conceals its raw lust. The world weary ‘Just Like A Woman’ (US no. 33, AUS no. 8) is a bittersweet love song with wheezing harmonica. It is thought to be about Edie Sedgwick. She is also identified as the inspiration for the lighter ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’ (US no. 81), a ‘sarcastic satire on materialism, fashion and faddism.’ Another woman from Dylan’s past, Joan Baez, is perhaps the subject of the delicate and subdued ‘Visions Of Johanna’. “Oh mama, can this really be the end?” asks Dylan on the light and propulsive rock song ‘Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.’ The piping organ pop of ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’ contains evidence that Dylan remains eminently quotable with the gloriously contradictory – yet somehow sensible – line, “To live outside the law, you must be honest.” With a double album to fill, Dylan’s hectic songwriting takes in a variety of musical genres: thudding blues (‘Pledging My Time’), a brash march (‘Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine’), an uneasy gin joint sway (‘Temporary Like Achilles’) and a tune that’s all loose wires with a lemon-sucking vocal (‘Obviously 5 Believers’). Closing the album is the mammoth (10:45) ‘Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’ which comprises the entire final side of the double album. This is an ode to Sara Lownds, Dylan’s new bride. Despite this knowledge, lines from the song like “My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums” remain unfathomable. ‘Blonde On Blonde’ is seen as the final part of a trilogy. ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ introduced Dylan to rock, ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ was the summit and ‘Blonde On Blonde’ – with its ‘manic brilliance’ – represents the final elaborate flowering of the process.
By this time, Bob Dylan is a millionaire but the ‘intensity [of his career is getting to be] too much to bear.’ He recalls, “I was on the road for almost five years. It wore me down. I was on drugs, a lot of things…just to keep going, you know?” The singer-songwriter was doing heroin. “I got very strung out for a while…I had about a twenty-five dollars-a-day habit and I kicked it,” states Dylan – though there is some doubt about when he gave up heroin.
On 29 July 1966, Bob Dylan has a motorcycle accident. Much of Dylan’s career is swathed in rumours and half-truths, but this pivotal event may be the murkiest episode of all. The incident takes place while Dylan is riding his Triumph T100 motorcycle along Striebel Road on the outskirts of Woodstock, New York. Nobody seems to know what causes the accident. Possible explanations that have been given include an oil slick on the road or the sun getting in the eyes of the biker. Equally unclear is the extent of the injuries Dylan suffers in the mishap. Dylan himself says only, “I’d been hurt.” Perhaps the most familiar tale is that he suffers a ‘broken neck.’ Variations on this are ‘cracking a vertebra and [incurring] some serious road rash’, ‘broken vertebrae in his neck, a concussion and lacerations to the face and scalp,’ and ‘contusion and cracked vertebrae.’ One version of the story has it that Bob Dylan is ‘rushed to Middletown Hospital’ while another version points out ‘no ambulance was called to the scene and Dylan was not hospitalised.’ Due to the ‘desultory way in which [the] information filters through’ to the general public, rumours and theories abound regarding what has befallen the folk rock idol. These possibilities include that Dylan (a) has died, (b) is a vegetable, (c) is in a coma, (d) will never perform again, (e) is disfigured, (f) has mild amnesia, (g) has lost his mind due to drug use, (h) has gone into rehab to kick drugs or (i) that he is dodging the draft (compulsory military service) for the war in Vietnam. Supposedly, it takes the injured Bob Dylan two weeks to convalesce and a further two months to shake off the effects of the accident. There is speculation that the accident never happened, that the entire thing is a fabrication. Dylan’s friend Richard Farina was killed in a motorcycle accident a few months earlier and this could have inspired the (alleged) hoax. Perhaps the most accurate observation is ‘that if Dylan had not had a motorcycle accident it would have been necessary to invent one’ because he could not maintain ‘the pace at which he was living.’ While maintaining the veracity of the motorcycle accident, Dylan cryptically adds, “Truth was that I wanted to get out of the rat race.”
Bob Dylan withdraws from the public eye. Although he plays the odd concert here and there, it is nearly eight years before he goes on tour again. By celebrity standards, Dylan ‘becomes a recluse.’ He ‘disappears into his home in Woodstock [in rural upstate New York] and raises his family with his wife, Sara.’ Dylan’s first child, his son Jesse, was born on 6 January 1966 and is followed by Anna (born on 11 July 1967). It is hard to fault Dylan for retreating into cosy domesticity following his already considerable creative achievements.
While Bob Dylan is out of the public eye, his legend is perpetuated in a number of different ways.
A novel, ‘Tarantula’, is penned by Bob Dylan in 1966. It is ‘unofficially circulated’ in that year but will not be officially published until 1971. More will be said about ‘Tarantula’ when that point is reached in this narrative.
A non-charting, non-album Bob Dylan single titled ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now’ is released by Columbia in January 1967. The song was written in 1964 and Dylan recorded it on 12 January 1965 in the sessions for ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ – though ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now’ was left off the album. A version of the song was put out by The Liverpool Five in July 1965 but it was soon outstripped by the more successful Manfred Mann spin on ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now’ (UK no. 2) in September 1965.
‘Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits’ (1967) (US no. 10, UK no. 6) – the first compilation album of Dylan’s works – is issued by Columbia on 27 March. This is the first album to include Dylan’s 1965 hit single ‘Positively 4th Street’.
D.A. Pennebaker’s ‘Don’t Look Back’ (1967), the documentary made during Bob Dylan’s 1965 U.K. tour, is released on 17 May. Dylan denounces the film and files a court injunction against it being shown any more.
While Bob Dylan makes himself at home in Woodstock, New York, his frequent backing group The Hawks set up shop just down the road in West Saugerties. They rent a large house that has been painted pink. The building is affectionately dubbed ‘Big Pink.’ On 10 June 1967 Bob Dylan and The Hawks set up in the basement of the house and begin working up two distinctly separate sets of tunes. One set will become the debut album for the group that will rename themselves from The Hawks to – simply – The Band. That disc is not released until 1968. The second set of tunes is earmarked for Bob Dylan. However this set has an even longer gestation: it is not released until 1975. ‘Who else would record a double album of stunningly inventive material, and then refuse to sanction its commercial release [for almost a decade]?’ However, ‘these crude recordings are widely bootlegged.’ The circulation of this trove of unreleased Dylan songs gives rise to a batch of cover versions. In 1968 The Brian Auger Trinity (featuring vocalist Julie Driscoll) releases ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ (UK no. 5) (co-written by Bob Dylan and bassist Rick Danko); in the same year, Manfred Mann score with their take on ‘The Mighty Quinn’ (UK no. 1, US no. 10); and The Byrds include versions of both ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ and ‘Nothing Was Delivered’ on their album ‘Sweetheart Of The Rodeo’ (1968).
On 3 September 1967 Bob Dylan’s one-time idol, folk singer Woody Guthrie, dies.
Bob Dylan finally breaks his silence with the release of ‘John Wesley Harding’ (1967) (US no. 2, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1) on 27 December. In the cover photo, Bob Dylan is flanked by Luxman and Purna Das, two South Asian musicians brought to Woodstock by Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman. The older gentleman standing behind Bob Dylan on the cover is Charlie Joy, a local stonemason and carpenter. During Dylan’s absence from rock music ‘the psychedelic movement produced increasingly elaborate, technically sophisticated recordings.’ Going against that flow, here Bob Dylan turns toward traditional and acoustic music. It is one of the albums that helps start the country rock hybrid. ‘John Wesley Harding’ is recorded ‘with a band, but the instrumentation is very sparse.’ Musicians appearing on this disc include Pete Drake (pedal steel guitar), Charlie McCoy (bass) and Kenny Buttrey (drums). The recording sessions for this album took place in autumn 1967 after the (unreleased as yet) sessions with The Band (a.k.a. The Hawks). Just as this set is more ‘musically restrained’ than ‘Blonde On Blonde’, Dylan is also cutting back on his more florid lyrics. “What I’m trying to do now is not use too many words,” says Dylan. ‘John Wesley Harding’ is named after a Texan outlaw, John Wesley Hardin (without a ‘g’ at the end). The title track typifies the album’s musical approach with its light, acoustic backing and country and folk music feel. “I was gonna write a ballad on…like maybe one of those old cowboys…you know, a real love ballad. But in the middle of the second verse, I got tired…So I just wrote a quick third verse,” mutters Dylan by way of explaining the song ‘John Wesley Harding’. Tunes such as the country croon ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’ show a change in Bob Dylan’s voice. The nasal whine gives way to a more mellow and tuneful husky sound for the next few years. The album’s highlight is the ominous ‘All Along The Watchtower’. The opaque lyrics leave the cause of the palpable sense of dread unspecified: “All along the watchtower / Princes kept their view / While all the women came and went / Barefoot servants too / Outside in the distance / A wildcat did growl / Two riders were approaching / And the wind begin to howl.” The song is covered by Jimi Hendrix on ‘Electric Ladyland’ (1968) bringing further attention to this piece. ‘John Wesley Harding’ is an ‘enigmatic’ album with a ‘dark religious tone.’
On 20 January 1968 a memorial concert for the later Woody Guthrie is put on at Carnegie Hall in New York. Bob Dylan is one of those who play on the occasion. Also appearing in this show are the likes of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Arlo Guthrie and – backing Dylan – The Band/The Hawks. If Dylan and the folk music community had been at odds in the mid-1960s, his inclusion in this tribute indicates a thaw in relations between all parties concerned. It is also Bob Dylan’s first public appearance since his motorcycle accident.
After the death of Woody Guthrie, a musical father-figure to Bob Dylan, comes the death of Dylan’s own father. In the first half of 1968, Abe Zimmerman dies of heart attack.
‘Music From Big Pink’ (1968) (US no. 30), the debut album by The Band (formerly The Hawks), is released on 1 July. Bob Dylan contributes the primitive and cryptic cover painting which – sort of – shows the group making music. Dylan is also credited as a songwriter on three tracks: he co-writes ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ with bassist Rick Danko (Danko sings The Band’s version); he co-writes ‘Tears Of Rage’ with pianist Richard Manuel (Manuel sings The Band’s version); and is sole composer of ‘I Shall Be Released’ (Manuel sings The Band’s version of this song too).
Bob Dylan’s next album is ‘Nashville Skyline’ (1969) (US no. 3, UK no. 1, AUS no. 2), released on 9 April. As the name of the album suggests, this disc continues Dylan’s move towards country music. ‘I Threw It All Away’ (US no. 85, UK no. 30, AUS no. 64) is a mellow folk song of lost love. The album’s biggest commercial success is the singular ‘Lay Lady Lay’ (US no. 7, UK no. 5, AUS no. 20). Dylan brays, “Lay lady lay / Back across my big brass bed.” ‘Lyrically the song speaks of romantic and sexual anticipation.’ Peter Drake plays the pedal steel guitar on ‘Lay Lady Lay’, contributing the familiar ‘weeping’ sound associated with country music. Bob Dylan wrote ‘Lay Lady Lay’ for the soundtrack of the movie ‘Midnight Cowboy’ (1969) but failed to submit it in time so it wasn’t included in the film. ‘Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You’ (US no. 50, AUS no. 53) has an easy-going sway matched with a loving longing in the lyric. ‘Nashville Skyline’ also revisits ‘Girl From The North Country’, a song from ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ (1962). The new version recasts it as a duet that Dylan performs with rocker turned country star, Johnny Cash. Dylan takes the high harmony in contrast to Cash’s dark chocolate vocal. In May 1969, Bob Dylan appears on the first episode of Johnny Cash’s new television show. The pair duet on ‘Girl From The North Country’ and Dylan gives solo performances of ‘Living The Blues’ and ‘I Threw It All Away’.
On 14 July 1969 Bob Dylan is a surprise guest at a concert by his old comrades The Band at the Mississippi River Rock Festival in Edwardsville, Missouri. However the big event in rock music in the summer of 1969 is the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, a three day all-star concert in Bethel, New York, that starts on 15 August 1969. Since Bob Dylan actually lives in Woodstock with his family, he may seem like a natural choice for the gig. However, though overtures are made to Dylan to join the list of artists appearing, he declines. Dylan later says, “I didn’t want to be part of that thing…I feel they exploited the sh*t out of that…I just thought it was a lot of kids out and around wearing flowers in their hair and taking a lot of acid [i.e. LSD].” Instead, on 31 August 1969 Bob Dylan (backed by The Band) performs at the Isle of Wight Pop Festival in England. This show includes the first live performance of Dylan’s song ‘Lay Lady Lay’. The Isle of Wight Pop Festival is Bob Dylan’s first paid gig since his 1966 motorcycle crash.
In the summer of 1969 Bob Dylan is said to ‘split’ with his manager Albert Grossman. This may be an exaggeration but, in any case, Dylan has reached a point where he doesn’t really require much management.
‘In the early 1970s, critics charge that [Bob] Dylan’s output is varied and unpredictable.’
‘Self Portrait’ (1970) (US no. 4, UK no. 1, AUS no. 3) is released on 8 June. As the title foreshadows, the album cover features Bob Dylan’s own primitive painting of his likeness. ‘Self Portrait’ is a double album. It is ‘a hodgepodge of covers, live tracks, re-interpretations and new songs.’ It is baffling why Dylan would record a cover version of Simon And Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer’, a song that was a hit for the duo in 1969, just one year prior to Dylan laying down his version of the same Paul Simon song. Dylan’s own song ‘The Mighty Quinn’ – a hit for Manfred Mann in 1968 – appears on disc for the first time here as performed by its author. ‘All The Tired Horses’ is a simple, yet engaging, track. ‘Wig Wam’ (US no. 41, AUS no. 24) may be Bob Dylan’s weirdest single, a gentle instrumental with only a “La da da” vocal line. ‘Self Portrait’ receives ‘universally bad reviews’ and is described as ‘abysmal.’
On 12 August 1970 Bob Dylan appears at another memorial concert for Woody Guthrie. This one is held at the Hollywood Bowl in California. Also performing are Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie (Woody’s son) and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Once again, Bob Dylan plays at the Isle of Wight Pop Festival in England. The 1970 festival runs from 26-31 August. Others on the bill include Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez.
‘New Morning’ (1970) (US no. 7, UK no. 1, AUS no. 4) is released on 19 October, only a little over four months after ‘Self Portrait’. The highlight of this disc is the sweet love song ‘If Not For You’. It is released as a single, but fails to reach the charts. It is some testimony to the value of ‘If Not For You’ that it is covered by ex-Beatle George Harrison in November 1970, but it is Olivia Newton-John’s spring 1971 version of ‘If Not For You’ (AUS no. 7, UK no. 7, US no. 25) that finally becomes a hit single. ‘New Morning’ is ‘hailed as a comeback,’ but it is still ‘fatally flawed.’
Bob Dylan’s book ‘Tarantula’ is officially published in 1971 by Macmillan & Scribner. It is a ‘collection of narratives and poems written mostly between 1965 and 1966.’ ‘Tarantula’ has been circulated since 1966 but, until now, unofficially. Bob Dylan’s ‘stream-of-consciousness novel’ is ‘never completed to his satisfaction.’
On 10 January 1971 Bob Dylan appears on a public television documentary with country music banjo player Earl Scruggs. They perform ‘East Virginia Blues’ (a 1950s song by The Stanley Brothers?) and ‘Nashville Skyline Rag’ together. The latter song is also included in the album ‘Earl Scruggs – His Family And Friends’ (1972).
The motion picture ‘Little Fauss and Big Halsey’ (1971), released on 6 February, includes a song written by Bob Dylan on its soundtrack. However, Dylan does not perform the track. He gave away the wry ‘Wanted Man’ to Johnny Cash and it is Cash who sings it here.
On 3 June 1971 Bob Dylan releases the one-off single ‘Watching The River Flow’ (US no. 41, UK no. 24, AUS no. 63). A swinging ode to kickin’ back and taking it easy, the song has a strong piano undercurrent provided by flamboyant U.S. piano man Leon Russell. The song was recorded on 16 March 1971 and is produced by Leon Russell.
On 1 August 1971 ex-Beatle George Harrison puts on the Concert for Bangla Desh [sic] at New York’s Madison Square Garden. These charity shows are all-star affairs featuring Leon Russell, guitarist Eric Clapton and fellow ex-Beatle Ringo Starr. However the biggest treat is an unannounced (but previously rumoured) appearance by Bob Dylan who performs alongside Harrison.
On 12 November 1971 Bob Dylan issues another stand-alone single. ‘George Jackson’ (US no. 33) memorialises a leader of the black militant group the Black Panthers who was shot and killed by guards at San Quentin Prison on 21 August 1971 during an escape attempt. “Sometimes I think this whole world is one big prison yard / Some of us are prisoners, some of us are guards,” observes Dylan in the lyrics. ‘George Jackson’ is a temporary return to Dylan’s role of social commentator though it is also surprisingly tuneful. Bob Dylan also acts as producer for this single.
The compilation album ‘Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II’ (1971) (US no. 14, UK no. 12) is released on 17 November. This is a two record set. This album includes the earlier single ‘Watching The River Flow’. Also present are five previously unreleased songs. ‘Tomorrow Is A Long Time’ was recorded on 12 April 1962. ‘I Shall Be Released’ and ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ both date back to the 1967 sessions with The Band that were left unissued at the time. ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’ is a new 1971 song that sees Dylan looking forward to a better day: “Someday, everything’s gonna be smooth like a rhapsody.” Rounding out this quintet is ‘Down In The Flood’.
In 1971 Bob Dylan becomes identified with Rabbi Meir Kahane of the Jewish Defense League, but the singer downplays his involvement.
‘Eat the Document’ (1972) is a fifty-four minute film about the 1965 tour of the U.K. by Bob Dylan and The Band (or The Hawks as they were at the time). Much of the footage is borrowed from D.A. Pennebaker’s ‘Don’t Look Back’ (1967) – which, it may be recalled, Dylan filed a court injunction against – but this film is credited to Bob Dylan as director. Unfortunately, ‘the film is fragmentary and difficult for most of the audience to latch onto’. ‘Don’t Look Back’ is generally considered the better of the two films.
Bob Dylan makes his acting debut, playing a character appropriately named Alias, in the movie ‘Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’ (1973). Dylan also provides the soundtrack, ‘Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid’ (1973) (US no. 16, UK no. 29, AUS no. 28), issued on 13 July. This disc is produced by Gordon Carroll. It yields the moving, almost gospel music number ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ (US no. 12, UK no. 14, AUS no. 10). “Ma, put my guns down in the ground / I can’t shot them anymore / That long black cloud is comin’ down / I feel I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door,” sings Dylan. ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ becomes one of the most popular post-1960s Bob Dylan songs for cover versions. Perhaps the best known of these other interpretations is Eric Clapton’s 1975 reggae-inflected take on ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ (UK no. 38).
The soundtrack to ‘Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid’ (1973) is Bob Dylan’s last album for Columbia before he departs for David Geffen’s Asylum Records label. As a parting shot, Columbia issues ‘Dylan’ (1973) (US no. 17, AUS no. 33) on 16 November. All the contents are cover versions. This is explained by the album being assembled from outtakes from the similarly cover version-heavy ‘Self Portrait’ (1970). ‘A Fool Such As I’ (US no. 55, AUS no. 51) is released as a single. This was a country music hit for Hank Snow in 1953 and was famously covered by Elvis Presley in 1959. Dylan also covers Joni Mitchell’s 1970 hit ‘Big Yellow Taxi’. ‘Spanish Is The Loving Tongue’, another track on ‘Dylan’, appeared as the B side of Dylan’s 1971 single ‘Watching The River Flow’, albeit in a different recording than used on this disc. This piano based ballad has a complicated history. It is based on a poem by Charles Badger Clark called ‘A Border Affair’ (1907) and was first set to music by Billy Swan in 1925.
Bob Dylan’s move to Asylum gives rise to his first concert tour since his 1966 motorcycle accident. The six week tour involving thirty-nine shows starts on 3 January 1974 in Chicago and ends on 14 February 1974 in Los Angeles. The Band provides backing for Dylan as well as performing some of their own songs. Dylan plays some songs solo on acoustic guitar as well as playing electric guitar with The Band in support.
‘Planet Waves’ (1974) (US no. 1, UK no. 7, AUS no. 21), released on 17 January, is the album promoted by Bob Dylan’s tour with The Band. It becomes Dylan’s first U.S. no. 1 album. ‘Planet Waves’ is released on Asylum and is produced by Rob Fraboni. The rather eccentric drawing on the cover is by Bob Dylan. The best known track from ‘Planet Waves’ is probably ‘Forever Young’, an unsentimental benediction from Dylan to his children. ‘On A Night Like This’ (US no. 44, AUS no. 66) and ‘Something There Is About You’ (US no. 107), two songs from this album, make minor showings on the singles charts. ‘You Angel You’ also attracts some attention. The Band provides backing for Bob Dylan on ‘Planet Waves’.
‘Before The Flood’ (1974) (US no. 3, UK no. 8), released on 24 June, is Bob Dylan’s first live album. It is a double album drawn from his recent tour with The Band (who is co-credited on this album). Almost the entire album was recorded at shows in Los Angeles on 13-14 February 1974 (the exception is ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ which was recorded on 30 January 1974 in New York). Live versions of ‘Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)’ (US no. 66) and ‘It Ain’t Me, Babe’ are lifted as singles from this album – though the latter fails to chart.
British socialite Chris O’Dell is hired as tour manager for Bob Dylan in 1974 – and ends up sleeping with him. A liaison with Malka Marom follows. Perhaps the last straw though is when Dylan has an affair with Faridi McFree, the woman his wife Sara hired as a nanny for their children. After his 1974 tour with The Band, Bob Dylan is estranged from Sara.
On 10 August 1974 Bob Dylan returns to Columbia Records. On the surface ‘Planet Waves’ and ‘Before The Flood’ appeared to be very successful for Asylum. However, Dylan is ‘miffed that there had been millions of unfilled ticket requests for the 1974 tour [and label boss David] Geffen sold only seven hundred thousand copies of ‘Planet Waves’.’ Columbia subsequently reissues the two Dylan albums released by Asylum.
At the end of 1974 Bob Dylan is in a short-lived romantic relationship with Columbia Records employee Ellen Bernstein.
Possibly, in 1974 Bob Dylan begins a seventeen-year relationship with an African-American woman named Ruth Tyrangiel. The word ‘possibly’ is used because when she serves Dylan a ‘palimony’ suit in 1994 the matter is settled out of court. That’s not an admission from Dylan that the claim is valid – but it’s not a denial either. Ruth Tyrangiel is described as being Dylan’s ‘common law wife’ from 1974 to 1991 but, if this is correct, she is hardly the only woman in his life during that time.
‘Blood On The Tracks’ (1975) (US no. 1, UK no. 4, AUS no. 4) is Bob Dylan’s first album on his return to Columbia. The album is released on 17 January. ‘Blood On The Tracks’ is produced by Bob Dylan and ‘triumphantly reasserts his genius.’ The single, ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ (US no. 31), is more accessible than the average Dylan song. It steps lightly and features acoustic guitar. Although he denies the material is autobiographical, much of ‘Blood On The Tracks’ is framed by the disintegration of Dylan’s marriage to his wife, Sara. This is borne out in songs like ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’ and the conciliatory ‘If You See Her Say Hello’. The singer still has enough residual anger to lash out at the media with the scathing ‘Idiot Wind’. ‘Blood On The Tracks’ is assembled from two different sessions. Some tracks are laid down in New York with members of the bluegrass band called Deliverance. At the suggestion of his brother David, Dylan recuts some songs in Minneapolis with local musicians.
‘The Basement Tapes’ (1975) (US no. 7, UK no. 8, AUS no. 13), released on 26 June, finally gives an official release to the material Bob Dylan worked through with The Band in 1967 during the convalescence from his road accident. Some of the songs here are, by now, familiar from cover versions recorded by other artists. This double album includes Bob Dylan’s own renditions of ‘Tears Of Rage’ (co-written by Dylan and The Band’s pianist Richard Manuel), ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ (co-written by Dylan and The Band’s bassist Rick Danko), ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ and ‘Nothing Was Delivered’. It is theorised that one track from ‘The Basement Tapes’, ‘Katie’s Been Gone’, is about Karen Dalton, the folk singer Bob Dylan met at Café Wha? back in 1961. Working against that idea is the fact that Dylan plays no role in writing the song; two members of The Band – Richard Manuel and guitarist Robbie Robertson – are the composers of ‘Katie’s Been Gone’. ‘The Basement Tapes’ is co-credited to Bob Dylan and The Band and they also share the production credit.
On 10 September 1975 a television special about John Hammond, Senior – the man who signed Bob Dylan to a recording contract and produced the singer’s first album – is taped in Chicago for NET (National Educational Television). Hammond’s many discoveries, along with artists who have benefited from Hammond’s influence, perform but the closing slot is reserved for Bob Dylan. This Dylan outing is significant because he is backed by three musicians who will work with Dylan on his next project. The musicians concerned are violinist Scarlet Rivera, bassist Rob Stoner and drummer Howie Wyeth.
Bob Dylan goes on a concert tour from 30 October 1975 to 25 May 1976 with The Rolling Thunder Revue. The name comes ‘when Dylan, waiting for inspiration, hears thunder roll across the sky one evening.’ The Rolling Thunder Revue is ‘loosely based on travelling medicine shows’ of bygone days. The cast of the revue varies a bit from place to place, but among those appearing with Bob Dylan are: his former flame, Joan Baez; singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell; folk singer Ramblin’ Jack Elliott; folk rock singer (and son of Woody) Arlo Guthrie; former David Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson; ex-Byrds leader Roger McGuinn; beat poet Allen Ginsberg; Dylan’s friend Bob Neuwirth; roots musician T-Bone Burnett; violinist Scarlet Rivera; bassist Rob Stoner; drummer Howie Wyeth; and backing vocalist Ronee Blakley. The Rolling Thunder Revue loads up in a series of buses and plays mainly small clubs and theatres, only announcing their gigs at the last minute. Some larger venues are thrown into the mix to ensure the whole carnival remains financially viable. A camera crew is also brought along to record footage from some concerts as well as ‘ludicrous improvised sketches.’ This will all be assembled into a film – but the movie is not released until 1978.
During the 1975-1976 Rolling Thunder Revue, Bob Dylan dates U.S. actress Sally Kirkland (born on 31 October 1941). She knows Dylan through her friend, Joan Baez. Although Bob and Sally part ways after 1976, she will re-enter his life a couple of more times in decades to come.
A new Bob Dylan album, ‘Desire’ (1976) (US no. 1, UK no. 3, AUS no. 1), is released on 5 January. This is about half way through the Rolling Thunder Revue tour. Some of the musicians from the tour play on this album. Violinist Scarlet Rivera lends a gypsy feel to the proceedings. The rhythm section of Rob Stoner (bass) and Howie Wyeth (drums) is one of the best to grace Dylan’s work. Producer Don DeVito oversees the recordings with great empathy. Most of the songs on ‘Desire’ are co-written by Bob Dylan and playwright Jacques Levy. Previously, Levy worked with Roger McGuinn on The Byrds’ 1971 song ‘Chestnut Mare’ (US no. 19). Dylan and Levy’s collaborations include the jewel of this album, a song called ‘Hurricane’ (US no. 33, UK no. 43, AUS no. 7). (It ties with ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ for the title of Dylan’s biggest Australian hit.) ‘Hurricane’ tells the story of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, a U.S. boxer imprisoned on a murder charge. The song alleges that this conviction was false and unjust. A triple murder took place in 1966 but Carter supposedly fell victim to ‘faulty evidence and questionable eyewitness testimony.’ Dylan had read Carter’s autobiography ‘The Sixteenth Round’ (1975) and visited the convict in Rahway State Prison in Woodbridge Township, New Jersey. In the lyrics, Dylan grinds his teeth on the racism faced by the African-American accused: “To the black folks he was just a crazy nigger / No one doubted that he pulled the trigger.” Now, Dylan points out, “Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell / An innocent man in a living hell.” Dylan and his backing musicians put across the song with energy and authority. ‘Hurricane’ is one of Dylan’s few protest songs of the 1970s. (Note: Rob Rothstein plays bass on ‘Hurricane’ and actress Ronee Blakley provides the backing vocals.) During the Rolling Thunder Revue tour, Bob Dylan plays a couple of benefit concerts (8 December 1975 and 25 January 1976) to raise funds for Rubin Carter’s legal team. (Despite this, a 1976 appeal against Carter’s conviction is unsuccessful. It is not until 1985 that the verdict is finally overturned and Carter is freed.) The exotic ‘Mozambique’ (US no. 54) starts out as a game between co-songwriters Dylan and Levy as they try to find words rhyming with ‘ique’. One of the best songs from the sessions, the humorous Dylan solo composition ‘Rita May’, is exiled to the B side of a later single. The song is thought to be inspired by lesbian writer Rita Mae Brown. The grainy ‘One More Cup Of Coffee’ is another song written by Dylan alone. Country rock singer Emmylou Harris provides backing vocals on most of ‘Desire’ (except ‘Hurricane’) and she can be clearly heard on ‘One More Cup Of Coffee’. If Emmylou Harris sounds a bit behind the pace, it’s because she didn’t get a chance to rehearse since ‘in typical Dylan style, the recording was mostly bashed out in an all-night New York session, fuelled in part by tequila.’ The closing track on ‘Desire’ is ‘Sara’, a song for Dylan’s estranged wife, a “Scorpio sphinx in a calico dress / Sara, oh Sara / You must forgive me my unworthiness.” ‘Sara’ is written by Bob Dylan alone. Sara Lownds is present in the recording studio, listening to the song for the first time and it is that take that end up on the album. ‘Desire’ is one of the more underrated albums in Bob Dylan’s catalogue.
‘Hard Rain’ (1976) (US no. 17, UK no. 3), released on 13 September, is a live album with performances culled from The Rolling Thunder Revue tour. Specifically, it comes from shows on 16 May 1976 and 23 May 1976 at Fort Worth, Texas, and Fort Collins, Colorado. A live version of Dylan’s ‘Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again’ (US no. 110) is issued as a single. (The original studio recording of the song was on ‘Blonde On Blonde’ (1966).) ‘Rita May’, from the ‘Desire’ sessions is the B side to this single.
The Band, Bob Dylan’s frequent backing group, decides to go their separate ways. On 25 November 1976, they stage ‘The Last Waltz’ with a collection of famous guest-stars. Performing with The Band on this occasion is, amongst others, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Paul Butterfield and – of course – Bob Dylan. The whole event is filmed by director Martin Scorsese for the concert movie ‘The Last Waltz’ (1978). There is also an accompanying triple album soundtrack, ‘The Last Waltz’ (1978) (US no. 16). Bob Dylan performs five songs: ‘Baby, Let Me Follow You Down’ (a traditional folk blues from ‘Bob Dylan’), ‘Hazel’ and ‘Forever Young’ (both from ‘Planet Waves’), ‘I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Met)’ (from ‘Another Side Of Bob Dylan’) and ‘I Shall Be Released’ (from the 1967 workshops between Dylan and The Band, though Dylan’s version was unreleased until ‘Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II’).
On 1 March 1977 Bob Dylan’s estranged wife, Sara Lownds, files for divorce. The divorce becomes final on 29 June 1977. Sara retains custody of their children and possession of the family’s million-dollar home in Santa Monica, California.
‘Renaldo and Clara’ (1978), the film made during Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975-1976, is released on 1 February. It is a mix of concert footage and surrealistic fantasy sequences. Ronnie Hawkins, The Band’s first employer, plays Renaldo (Dylan) while Sara Lownds (now Dylan’s ex-wife) is cast as Clara. When first screened ‘Renaldo and Clara’ runs two hundred and thirty-two minutes (nearly four hours), but is cut down to one hundred and twelve minutes after an ‘initial poor reception.’ ‘Renaldo and Clara’ is ‘cryptic’ and ‘monumentally self-indulgent.’ It earns ‘poor reviews.’
‘Masterpieces’ (1978), released on 12 March, is a triple album collection of Bob Dylan’s best known songs and notable recordings. Although it is created only for the markets of Australia, New Zealand and Japan, it is one of the better assemblages of Dylan’s recording career.
From early in 1978 Bob Dylan embarks on a year-long world tour. This trek takes in Japan, the Far East, Europe and the U.S.A. The musicians who back Dylan during this time are described as ‘resembling a Las Vegas lounge band.’ Many of these players appear on the album Dylan releases part way through the tour.
‘Street Legal’ (1978) (US no. 11, UK no. 2, AUS no. 5) is issued on 15 June. It is produced by Don DeVito, the producer of Bob Dylan’s previous studio recording, ‘Desire’ (1976). ‘Street Legal’ is seen as a straight-forward rock album without any gypsy, folk or country trappings. The album’s most commercially successful moment is ‘Baby Stop Crying’ (UK no. 13, AUS no. 70) (a.k.a. ‘Baby Please Stop Crying’). This is a pseudo-ballad. The song’s gospel backing vocals and churchy organ are contradicted by strong electric guitars. Other songs from this set that attract some attention are ‘Is Your Love In Vain’ (UK no. 56) and ‘Changing Of The Guards’. ‘Street Legal’ is denounced as ‘incomprehensible.’
“I had a couple of bad years,” admits Bob Dylan. “I put a lot of money into the movie [‘Renaldo and Clara’], built a big house…and it costs a lot to get divorced in California.”
In the late 1970s Bob Dylan becomes romantically involved with U.S. actress Mary Alice Artes (born on 19 May 1948). She is said to influence Dylan’s conversion to evangelical Christianity in November 1978. He attends a three month discipleship course run by the Association of Vineyard Churches from January to March 1979. In 1980 Dylan presents Mary Alice Artes with an engagement ring but they never marry and the relationship seems to end shortly after that moment.
‘Bob Dylan At Budokan’ (1979) (US no. 13, UK no. 4) is released on 23 April. This is a double album of live material recorded on 28 February 1978 and 1 March 1978 at Nippon Budokan Hall in Tokyo, Japan. U.S. rock group Cheap Trick had great success with their live album ‘Cheap Trick At Budokan’ (1979) (US no. 4, UK no. 29, AUS no. 15) (recorded in April 1978 and released in February 1979). Dylan’s album is the most high profile work to attempt to follow in the path of that milestone. A live version of ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’ (AUS no. 98) is released as a single from ‘Bob Dylan At Budokan’. (‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’ originally appeared on the studio album ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ (1965).)
‘Slow Train Coming’ (1979) (US no. 3, UK no. 2, AUS no. 1) divides Bob Dylan’s fans like nothing else since he first switched from acoustic folk to electric rock. The album is released on 20 August. ‘Slow Train Coming’ is co-produced by Barry Beckett and Jerry Wexler. The pair had just worked with the British group Dire Straits on their album ‘Communique’ (1979) and so bring two members of Dire Straits – Mark Knopfler (guitar) and Pick Withers (drums) – to play on the recording sessions for ‘Slow Train Coming’. The music is a mix of blues, gospel and Christian influences but it is Dylan’s new Christian orientation in the lyrical attitudes of the songs that has the greatest impact. There isn’t a lot of loving brotherhood on show, but there is a fair bit of threatening fire and brimstone overtones. Perhaps the best example is the opening track and single, ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ (US no. 24, AUS no. 96). “It may be the devil / Or it may be The Lord / But you gotta serve somebody,” insists Dylan. At least the (naturally) Dire Straits-influenced blues groove of the song carries it and Dylan displays a rare bit of winking humour in the line “You can call me Bobby / Or you may call me Zimmy.” ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ is Dylan’s last U.S. top forty hit single. ‘Slow Train’, ‘Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking’, ‘Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others)’ and ‘When You Gonna Wake Up’ are all muscular pieces with intimations of an ominous future awaiting non-believers. ‘Man Gave Names To All The Animals’ is a goofy Sunday School rhyme. ‘Precious Angel’ is reputedly for Mary Alice Artes, Dylan’s lover who brought him over to Christianity. The album closes with the spare, piano gospel of ‘When He Returns’. Dylan’s tour in support of this set is completely made-up of born-again Christian fare. At the opening gig on 1 November 1979 at San Francisco’s Warfield Theater, Bob Dylan is booed by the audience.
Bob Dylan gamely persists with his new Christian approach on ‘Saved’ (1980) (US no. 24, UK no. 3, AUS no. 18), released on 20 June. Producers Barry Beckett and Jerry Wexler return but without the musicians from Dire Straits. ‘Solid Rock’ and the title track, ‘Saved’, are issued as singles, but neither of them makes it to the pop charts. The album receives ‘poor reviews.’
One of the backing vocalists on ‘Saved’ is African-American singer Clydie King (born on 21 August 1943). She also provides backing vocals on the next two albums. It is claimed that Clydie King has an ‘unacknowledged marriage’ to Bob Dylan and that he is the father of two of her children. (Reputedly, another unofficial child of Dylan’s is born to singer Carol Woods.) Bob Dylan and Clydie King reportedly split up in 1983.
‘Shot Of Love’ (1981) (US no. 33, UK no. 6, AUS no. 22) completes Bob Dylan’s trilogy of religious albums. This disc is released on 12 August. Production duties for ‘Shot Of Love’ are divided between Chuck Plotkin, Bob Dylan and Bumps Blackwell. By this time, Dylan is mixing some secular material amongst the religious content. ‘Shot Of Love’ and “Heart Of Mine’ from this album are released as singles but, as with the singles from ‘Saved’, they don’t register on the pop singles chart. Aside from those songs, ‘Every Grain Of Sand’ from this set also garners some positive notice. There is a view that since ‘Slow Train Coming’, Dylan has been ‘getting less and less strident and less and less interesting.’ The tour to promote ‘Shot Of Love’ commences on 16 October 1981. Unlike Dylan’s 1979 U.S. tour, the songs he plays mix the religious content with tunes that date back prior to his conversion to Christianity.
‘Infidels’ (1983) (US no. 20, UK no. 9, AUS no. 6) is released on 27 October. Dire Straits’ guitarist Mark Knopfler (who played on ‘Slow Train Coming’) returns, but this time in the capacity of producer of this album. An ‘infidel’ is a non-believer, a person without religious faith. After the last three Bob Dylan albums, a title like that may cause audiences to fear another religious broadside. Actually, the opposite is true. There is no direct religious content here. The touching ‘Sweetheart Like You’ (US no. 55, AUS no. 74) returns Dylan to the singles chart –albeit at a very low level. ‘Jokerman’ finds Dylan in more loquacious form than he has displayed for some time. ‘Infidels’ includes a bunch of songs with some political content: ‘Neighborhood Bully’, ‘License To Kill’, ‘Man Of Peace’ and ‘Union Sundown’ (UK no. 90). ‘I And I’ is a term for man and God – but it is borrowed from Jamaican Rastafarianism rather than Christianity. Musically, ‘Infidels’ is considered heartland rock, a kind of common people, meat-and-potatoes, conservative brand of rock. The album closes with Dylan’s plea ‘Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight’ as he struggles with his own fame and how it causes others to view him. ‘Infidels’ is ‘well regarded’ and gets ‘favourable reviews.’ Despite this, Dylan states, “Lots of songs on [‘Infidels’] got away from me.”
By 1984 Bob Dylan distances himself from the ‘born-again’ tag of Christianity. His Jewish heritage seems to reassert itself a bit because in the ‘early 1980s’ he studies with Lubavitch Hasidim.
In 1984 Bob Dylan tours with his ex-girlfriend, Joan Baez.
When Bob Dylan goes on a concert tour in France in June 1984, he has a romance with a female French painter named Claude-Angèle Boni.
‘Real Live’ (1984) (US no. 115, UK no. 54), released on 29 November, is an album of concert recordings. These come from Bob Dylan’s 1984 European tour. The tracks were recorded from 5 July 1984 to 8 July 1984 with most of them coming from the show at London’s Wembley Stadium on 7 July 1984.
On 9 December 1984 at the bar mitzvah for Jakob, the youngest son of Bob Dylan and Sara Lownds, Bob Dylan meets Carole Childs, an executive at Geffen Records (the new label formed by former Asylum Records boss David Geffen). Bob Dylan and Carole Childs have a short-lived romantic relationship.
The single ‘We Are The World’ (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1) by USA For Africa is released on 7 May 1985. This project is inspired by the U.K. single ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ (UK no. 1, US no. 13, AUS no. 1) from late in 1984. Both recordings aim to raise funds to combat famine in Ethiopia. Both recordings feature an all-star cast of rock and pop stars. Bob Dylan is one of the voices on the USA For Africa single. (Dylan is not involved in writing either of these charity singles.)
‘Empire Burlesque’ (1985) (US no. 33, UK no. 11, AUS no. 7) is the title of the Bob Dylan album released on 8 June. This disc is produced by Bob Dylan. If there is a difference between ‘Empire Burlesque’ and its predecessor ‘Infidels’, it is that this new album aspires towards a more self-consciously modern sound. ‘Empire Burlesque’ is an ‘odd mix of dance tracks and rock ‘n’ roll.’ The single from this set is ‘Tight Connection To My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love)’ (US no. 103, AUS no. 65). ‘Emotionally Yours’ is also lifted as a single but it fails to make the charts. It is worth noting that, on some tracks of ‘Empire Burlesque’, Bob Dylan is backed by members of U.S. rock band Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers. This foreshadows further connections between the two acts. Both of the albums ‘Infidels’ and ‘Empire Burlesque’ are thought to be ‘uneven’ efforts from Dylan.
Live Aid is a concert to raise money to combat famine in Ethiopia. It is an outgrowth of the earlier charity singles ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ and ‘We Are The World’. A Live Aid concert is held in both the U.K. and the U.S.A. on 13 July 1985. (Similar fund-raisers are held in other countries at the same time for the same purpose e.g. Oz for Africa in Australia). Bob Dylan plays a set at the Live Aid concert at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. He is backed by Rolling Stones guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood. (The Rolling Stones are a bit at odds at this point in history. Their vocalist Mick Jagger performs with Tina Turner instead.) The three acoustic songs performed by Dylan (with Richards and Wood) on this occasion all date back to 1964 or earlier: ‘The Ballad Of Hollis Brown’, ‘When The Ship Comes In’ and ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’. Bob Dylan remarks, “I hope that some of the money…and use it to pay the mortgages on some of the farms…here…” Dylan is ‘widely criticised’ since this hardly seems in the spirit of the occasion. However, it does help spur country singer Willie Nelson to initiate the annual Farm Aid benefit concerts starting on 22 September 1985.
‘Biograph’ (1985) (US no. 33), released on 7 November, is a five LP (or three CD) box set retrospective of Bob Dylan’s musical career. It attracts ‘great acclaim’. ‘Biograph’ is the first U.S. compilation to include the 1965 single ‘Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window’ (though it is on the [non-U.S.] ‘Masterpieces’).
Bob Dylan’s long-serving manager Albert Grossman dies as a result of a heart attack on 25 January 1986. Grossman was 59 years old.
From 5 February 1986 to 6 August 1986 Bob Dylan embarks on the True Confessions tour with Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers. Stevie Nicks (from Fleetwood Mac) is also a frequent guest on stage during these shows. Fifteen shows take place in Australia and Oceania, four in Asia and the final forty-one gigs are in North America. Petty and company do a short set of their own, then act as backing for Dylan. The tour is ‘successful and acclaimed.’ While in Australia, a single is recorded in Sydney on 9-10 February 1986. ‘Band Of The Hand’ (UK no. 96) is produced by Tom Petty; The Heartbreakers provide musical accompaniment. The single is released on 21 April 1986 and comes from the soundtrack to the movie ‘Band of the Hand’ (1986).
On 4 June 1986 Bob Dylan marries his second wife, Carolyn Dennis (born on 12 April 1954). She is an African-American singer who performs as Carol Dennis. Before they wed, Bob and Carolyn had already become the parents of a daughter, Desiree Gabrielle Dennis (born on 31 January 1986). It is also alleged that Dylan fathers another child with Carolyn Dennis but, if that is correct, it is not publicly acknowledged. If Dylan really married Clydie King (1980-1983?), then Carolyn Dennis is actually his third wife. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Dylan’s marriage to Carolyn Dennis is that he manages to keep it secret for years.
‘Knocked Out Loaded’ (1986) (US no. 54, UK no. 35, AUS no. 27) is the Bob Dylan album released on 14 July, part way through the True Confessions tour with Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers and a bit over a month after Dylan’s secret marriage to Carolyn Dennis. The album’s lurid cover is based on the cover to the January 1939 issue of ‘Spicy Adventure Stories’. ‘Knocked Out Loaded’ is produced by Bob Dylan. The album is an odd assortment of material. It has two Bob Dylan originals, three cover versions and three songs co-written by Dylan with other authors. The non-charting single, ‘Got My Mind Made Up’, is co-written by Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. The Heartbreakers play on some of the songs on this disc. The lengthy (eleven minute) ‘Brownsville Girl’ is co-written with actor and playwright Sam Shepard. It is described as ‘odd, moving [and] cinematic.’ The other collaboration on this disc pairs Dylan with singer-songwriter Carole Bayer Sager. ‘Knocked Out Loaded’ is ‘received poorly.’ It is the first Bob Dylan album since ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ (1963) to fail to reach the top fifty in the U.S. album charts.
From 4 July 1987 to 26 July 1987 Bob Dylan goes on tour with fellow 1960s counter culture icons The Grateful Dead. Dylan uses them as a backing group in much the same way that he employed Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers.
Bob Dylan reunites with Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers for the Temple in Flames tour from 5 September 1987 to 17 October 1987. This thirty date jaunt starts out with two shows in Israel and ends with seven shows in England but most of the dates are in various European countries.
In autumn 1987 Bob Dylan meets Britta Lee Shain and she accompanies him on the European tour with Tom Petty. Britta Lee Shain is described as a real estate agent and also as a singer, songwriter and guitarist. She is romantically involved with Dylan during this period. Former love Sally Kirkland (c. 1975-1976) returns as Dylan’s lover in the ‘late 1980s.’ Bob Dylan is still married to Carolyn Dennis when he becomes involved with both these women but then his marriage is still something of a secret. Sally Kirkland will re-enter Dylan’s life yet again at a later date.
In the movie ‘Hearts of Fire’ (1987) Bob Dylan plays the part of a washed-up rock star. The (non-charting) single from the movie’s soundtrack is ‘The Usual’. ‘Hearts of Fire’ receives ‘poor reviews [and a] limited theatrical release.’ The movie is ‘later written off by Dylan himself.’
On 18 January 1988 Bob Dylan is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
‘Down In The Groove’ (1988) (US no. 61, UK no. 32, AUS no. 41) is the Bob Dylan album released on 31 May. Bob Dylan produces most of the album, though Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler produces one track (‘Death Is Not The End’). ‘Down In The Groove’ has only two songs written by Bob Dylan alone (‘Death Is Not The End’ and ‘Had A Dream About You, Baby’). Two songs, including the non-charting single ‘Silvio’, are co-written by Dylan and the long-time lyricist for The Grateful Dead, Robert Hunter. However, ‘Down In The Groove’ is ‘an album largely comprised of covers’ e.g. Dylan’s take on Wilbert Harrison’s 1962 song ‘Let’s Stick Together’. Backing vocalist (and former lover – maybe even wife?) Clydie King contributes to this album. ‘Down In The Groove’ is dismissed as ‘another slapped-together trifle.’
On 7 June 1988 Bob Dylan begins ‘The Never Ending Tour.’ This ‘constant stream of shows’ runs for the next twenty years. The first few months are said to be ‘exciting’ but the idea soon arises that ‘Dylan is touring compulsively because he has no idea what else to do.’
The Traveling Wilburys is a light-hearted supergroup reuniting Bob Dylan with both ex-Beatle George Harrison and Tom Petty and adding Jeff Lynne (from The Electric Light Orchestra) and Roy Orbison, the legendary rock star of the 1950s and 1960s. To defuse any ego-bruising, the five musicians pose as five brothers. Dylan is ‘Lucky Wilbury.’ The Traveling Wilburys’ debut album, ‘Volume One’ (1988) (US no. 13, UK no. 16, AUS no. 1), is released on 18 October. This spawns the singles ‘Handle Me With Care’ (US no. 45, UK no. 21, AUS no. 3) and ‘End Of The Line’ (US no. 63, AUS no. 11). Vocals and songwriting are shared amongst the five ‘brothers.’ Although ‘Lucky’ is certainly an active participant, if any of them can be said to be the dominant force in the group, it is probably George Harrison. Generally, the songs are cheerful sing-alongs. (Roy Orbison dies later the same year on 6 December 1988.)
‘Dylan And The Dead’ (1989) (US no. 37, UK no. 38), issued on 6 February, is a live album souvenir of Bob Dylan’s tour with The Grateful Dead. The recordings come from July 1987 U.S. concert dates mounted by the combined artistes. All the tracks on the disc are Bob Dylan songs with The Grateful Dead acting only as back-up for Dylan. A live version of ‘Slow Train’ (a 1979 Dylan song) is plucked from this disc as the (non-charting) single. ‘Dylan And The Dead’ is curtly assessed as ‘a disaster.’
‘Oh Mercy’ (1989) (US no. 30, UK no. 6, AUS no. 26), released on 18 September, is Bob Dylan’s best album in years. The vibrant colours on the stylised album cover are the work of an artist known as ‘Trotsky.’ Dylan found the painting on the wall of a Chinese restaurant in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood and secured the rights to use it for this album cover. ‘Oh Mercy’ is produced by Daniel Lanois, a man perhaps best known for his work with the Irish rock band U2. Lanois ‘apparently forces Dylan to work on his writing again.’ The single from ‘Oh Mercy’, ‘Everything Is Broken’ (UK no. 98), is witty and almost funky. ‘Ring Them Bells’ is soulful. ‘Oh Mercy’ is ‘a first-rate Dylan album.’
‘Under A Red Sky’ (1990) (US no. 38, UK no. 13, AUS no. 39), released on 27 October, reverses the upswing in Bob Dylan’s creativity. The album is co-produced by Jack Frost (a pseudonym for Bob Dylan that the singer will use on a number of subsequent releases), Don Was and David Was (the duo known as Was Not Was). ‘Under A Red Sky’ is dedicated to ‘Gabby Goo Goo,’ a nickname for Dylan’s daughter by Carolyn Dennis, Desiree Gabrielle (now 4 years old). ‘Unbelievable’ (UK no. 93) is the single from this album. ‘Under A Red Sky’ receives ‘bad reviews and sells poorly.’ It is described as ‘thoroughly inconsequential [and a] silly album of doggerel.’
The Traveling Wilburys return for a second (and final) album which they contrarily title ‘Volume Three’ (1990) (US no. 11, UK no. 14, AUS no. 14). This disc is released on 29 October. The four surviving Wilbury ‘brothers’ carry on without the late Roy Orbison and do not replace him. The members of the group all pick new names. Lucky Wilbury (Bob Dylan) becomes Boo Wilbury for this album. Two singles are released from ‘Volume Three’: ‘She’s My Baby’ (UK no. 74, AUS no. 45) and (the non-charting) ‘Wilbury Twist’. The group’s sound is, generally, harder and heavier on this sequel than on their genial debut outing.
In 1991 Bob Dylan receives a lifetime achievement award at the Grammy Awards for recorded music. Dylan plays his 1963 song ‘Masters Of War’ on the occasion and uses the Grammy ceremony to protest against the (then current) Gulf War against Saddam Hussein.
‘The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3’ (1991) (US no. 49, UK no. 32) is a three CD box set of previously unreleased studio outtakes and rarities from Bob Dylan’s career.
In October 1992 Bob Dylan’s six-year marriage to Carolyn Dennis ends in divorce.
‘Good As I Been To You’ (1992) (US no. 51, UK no. 18), released on 27 October, sees Bob Dylan return to traditional folk and blues songs without any new original compositions. The album is produced by Debbie Gold.
‘The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration’ (1993) (US no. 40), issued on 24 August, is a live album. The recordings come from a show at Madison Square Garden in New York City on 16 August 1992. This show commemorates Bob Dylan’s thirtieth anniversary as a recording artist. Appearing with Dylan on the night (and on this album) are familiar co-workers such as members of The Band, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, George Harrison and Roger McGuinn (of The Byrds) along with famous friends like Chrissie Hynde (of The Pretenders), Lou Reed and Stevie Wonder.
‘World Gone Wrong’ (1993) (US no. 70, UK no. 35), released on 26 October, is another Bob Dylan album devoted entirely to traditional folk and blues songs. Dylan produces this set himself.
Bob Dylan gives up alcohol in 1994.
‘Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume 3’ (1994) (US no. 126, UK no. 150) is issued on 15 November. This album is put together from songs Dylan recorded in the period 1973 to 1991. ‘Dignity’ (UK no. 33), a song salvaged from the recording sessions for ‘Oh Mercy’ (1991), is added here and is released as a single. It is a spare, piano-based number with a hard-bitten vocal from Dylan.
‘MTV Unplugged’ (1995) (US no. 23, UK no. 10) is released on 25 April. MTV is a cable television network specialising in music videos. They commission a series of ‘unplugged’ (i.e. acoustic) shows from major rock acts. Normally, this gives such artists an opportunity to strip back their biggest hits and reinvent them as acoustic tunes. Bob Dylan, of course, took his career in the opposite direction from acoustic to electric in the mid-1960s. Bob Dylan’s ‘unplugged’ gig is recorded at Sony Music Studios, New York City, on 17-18 November 1994. The same song used as a single from the previous year’s ‘Greatest Hits’ set is the single from ‘MTV Unplugged’. ‘Dignity (Live)’ (UK no. 33) is, in typically confounding style, given a more fulsome arrangement with a remorseless pace and biting guitars.
The well-received ‘Bootleg Series’ from 1991 turns into a rolling sequence of compilations plumbing the back catalogue of Bob Dylan for the benefit of his most devoted fans. ‘The Bootleg Series Volume 4 Bob Dylan Live 1966, “The Royal Albert Hall” Concert’ (1996) (US no. 31, UK no. 19), a two CD set, is released on 13 October.
On 27 May 1997 Bob Dylan is admitted to hospital on the eve of a planned European concert tour. It is discovered that he has histoplasmosis (a life-threatening infection of the heart sac). Dylan recovers, but it is a troubling experience.
On 28 September 1997 Bob Dylan tells a reporter that he subscribes to no organised religion.
Bob Dylan undergoes something of a late career renaissance with ‘Time Out Of Mind’ (1997) (US no. 10, UK no. 10, AUS no. 24), released on 30 September. The album is produced by Daniel Lanois (‘in association with Jack Frost Productions’ i.e. Bob Dylan). Dylan sings of ‘isolation and distance’ in a ‘ravaged weary voice.’ ‘Love Sick’ (UK no. 64) sounds like a haunted cowboy song, enhanced by strong guitars. ‘Not Dark Yet’ has folk rock instrumentation. “It’s not dark yet / But it’s getting there,” sings Dylan in this acknowledgement of ageing and day’s ending. It’s soothing, if not reassuring. ‘To Make You Feel My Love’ is a burgundy-rich ballad. ‘Time Out Of Mind’ is Bob Dylan’s first new album of original material in seven years. It ‘sparks a revival of interest in Dylan.’
In the late 1990s Bob Dylan is romantically linked with actress Sally Kirkland for the third (and final) time. They were previously involved in 1975-1976 and the late 1980s. Also in the late 1990s Bob Dylan is said to romance Susan Ross. She is a legal assistant.
From 11 June 1999 to 18 September 1999 Bob Dylan goes on a concert tour with fellow 1960s folk rock artist Paul Simon (formerly of Simon And Garfunkel).
Bob Dylan’s mother, Beatrice ‘Beatty’ Zimmerman (nee Stone), passes away in January 2000. She was 84 years old at the time of her death.
The two disc compilation album ‘The Essential Bob Dylan’ (2000) (US no. 67, UK no. 9, AUS no. 36) is released on 31 October.
Bob Dylan provides a song called ‘Things Have Changed’ (UK no. 58) for the soundtrack of the movie ‘Wonder Boys’ (2000). “I used to care, but things have changed,” growls Dylan in the lyrics. The song features teasing semi-acoustic guitars and resolute drums. The overall effect is intimate, yet forceful. In March 2001, ‘Things Have Changed’ wins an Oscar at the Motion Picture Academy Awards as the best song from the movies from the preceding year.
‘Love And Theft’ (2001) (US no. 5, UK no. 3, AUS no. 6), released on 11 September, maintains the new momentum imparted by its predecessor ‘Time Out Of Mind’. ‘Love And Theft’ is produced by Jack Frost (Bob Dylan) as are almost all subsequent Dylan albums. Musically, this is a wide-ranging effort, taking in rockabilly, Western swing, jazz, lounge ballads, jump blues and slow blues. Lyrically, ‘blood, desperation and wicked gallows humour are in the air.’ ‘Summer Days’ is said to sound like, ‘the exact moment when rhythm and blues morphed into rock ‘n’ roll.’
‘The Bootleg Series Volume 5 Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue’ (2002) (US no. 56, UK no. 69) – released on 26 November – is a two CD set that spotlights another key moment in Bob Dylan’s history.
Bob Dylan stars in the movie ‘Masked and Anonymous’ (2003), released on 24 July. Dylan plays the part of Jack Fate, an iconic rock legend who is bailed out of prison for a one-man benefit show. Dylan also co-writes the screenplay under the pseudonym of Sergei Petrov. The film ‘Masked and Anonymous’ co-stars the actors Jeff Bridges, John Goodman and Penelope Cruz.
The two CD set ‘The Bootleg Series Volume 6 Bob Dylan Live 1964 Concert At Philharmonic Hall’ (2004) (US no. 28, UK no. 33) is released on 30 March.
Bob Dylan’s autobiographical ‘Chronicles: Volume One’ (2004) is published on 5 October by Simon & Schuster. The book confounds some with its non-chronological sequence and the author spending pages on extremely minor incidents while glossy over what are usually thought to be significant turning points in his life.
Movie director Martin Scorsese, who directed The Band’s ‘The Last Waltz’ (1978) concert film, directs a two part television documentary on Bob Dylan, ‘No Direction Home’. This program is preceded by the two CD set ‘The Bootleg Series Volume 7 No Direction Home: The Soundtrack’ (2005) (US no. 6, UK no. 9) which is released on 30 August. The program itself airs on 26-27 September 2005 on PBS (in the U.S.A.) and BBC2 (in the U.K.). ‘No Direction Home’ perhaps devotes a bit too much time to the history of the folk music scene in general. By the end of its generous running time, it only takes Bob Dylan’s career as far as 1966.
Bob Dylan takes on a new career as a radio disc jockey. His ‘Theme Time Radio Hour’ is distributed by XM Satellite Radio and airs from 3 May 2006 to April 2009. The program features songs from various artists, songs whose titles or subjects can be linked together (e.g. songs about the weather). Dylan’s choices are predictably diverse but, less predictably, reveals an awareness of quite recent music as well as songs of yesteryear.
‘Modern Times’ (2006) (US no. 1, UK no. 3, AUS no. 1) is a new Bob Dylan album released on 29 August. ‘Someday Baby’ (US no. 120) is the single from ‘Modern Times’. ‘Time Out Of Mind’, ‘Love And Theft’ and ‘Modern Times’ are often viewed as a trilogy representing a highpoint in the latter part of Dylan’s career. Although ‘Modern Times’ seems to be regarded less favourably by critics than the other albums in the trilogy, it achieves a higher chart placing than its brethren – perhaps due to the anticipation the two earlier albums have engendered. ‘Modern Times’ is the first Bob Dylan album since ‘Desire’ (1976) to debut at no. 1 on the U.S. album chart.
‘Dylan’ (2007) (US no. 36, UK no. 10, AUS no. 25) is an anthology of Bob Dylan’s career. It is issued by Columbia on 2 October. Mark Ronson’s remix of ‘Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine’ (UK no. 51) is issued as a single. (The original version of this song was on ‘Blonde On Blonde’ (1966).) An expanded, deluxe three CD version of ‘Dylan’ (UK no. 93) is also released.
‘I’m Not There’ (2007), released on 21 November, is a motion picture directed by Todd Haynes. It is named after a previously unreleased 1967 Bob Dylan song. ‘I’m Not There’ takes an oblique approach to telling the story of Bob Dylan – or, perhaps more accurately, it depicts aspects of the legend. This is done by employing six different actors to play versions of the lead character (Bob Dylan or various aliases). The actors who take on this challenge are Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger and Ben Wishaw. Since this crew includes a woman (Cate Blanchett) and an adolescent African-American (Marcus Carl Franklin), it is an interpretation rather than an attempt at verisimilitude – but succeeds due to that very characteristic. It is a fitting strategy for someone who has been known to massage the truth into shapes that suit him better. The accompanying soundtrack album, ‘I’m Not There’ (2007), is – aside from Bob Dylan’s performance of the title track – fittingly made up of cover versions of Bob Dylan songs by such unlikely recording artists as Tom Verlaine (of Television), Willie Nelson, Sonic Youth, Eddie Vedder (of Pearl Jam), Cat Power and Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco).
‘The Bootleg Series Volume 8 Tell Tale Signs: Rare And Unreleased 1989-2006’ (2008) is a three CD collection of alternate takes and the like from the most recent phase of Bob Dylan’s career. However, unlike its predecessors, it makes no mark on the album charts. It may be that the Dylan fans willing to invest in this series are more interested in his earlier works. This set is issued on 7 October.
‘Together Through Life’ (2009) (US no. 23, UK no. 40) is a new Bob Dylan album released on 28 April. ‘Together Through Life’ consists mostly of songs co-written by Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead’s lyricist Robert Hunter. The material is classed as folk and blues.
‘Christmas In The Heart’ (2009) (US no. 23, UK no. 40), released on 13 October, is an unlikely seasonal offering of Bob Dylan’s renderings of traditional Christmas music. ‘Christmas In TheHeart’ includes such tunes as ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’ (originally recorded by Gene Autry in 1947) and ‘Must Be Santa’ (UK no. 41) (originally recorded by Mitch Miller in 1960). ‘Must Be Santa’ is Bob Dylan’s last single to chart (albeit only in the U.K.).
‘The Bootleg Series Volume 9 The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964’ (2010) (US no. 12, UK no. 18, AUS no. 36) is a two CD set released on 19 October. Witmark was the company that published Bob Dylan’s songs so this collection goes right back to the dawn of Dylan’s career.
‘In Concert – Brandeis University 1963’ (2011) (US no. 128), issued on 11 April, is a live album recorded in Waltham, Massachusetts, back on 10 May 1963.
‘Tempest’ (2012) (US no. 3, UK no. 3, AUS no. 8) is a new Bob Dylan album. It is released on 11 September. This disc of folk music oriented original songs is produced by Bob Dylan. The title track, ‘Tempest’, is about the famous moment in history in which the passenger ship ‘The Titanic’ sank. ‘Tempest’ also includes one song co-written by Bob Dylan and Robert Hunter.
‘The Bootleg Series Volume 10 Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)’ (2013) (US no. 21, UK no. 5, AUS no. 10) is a two CD set issued on 27 October.
Around this time, Bob Dylan begins to favour playing piano in live appearances rather than the guitar, the instrument with which he is more closely identified. Dylan shrugs off questions about this change by saying he has lots of good guitarists. It may be possible that the alteration makes performing a little easier for Bob Dylan since he is now over 70 years old.
The latest release in the ‘Bootleg Series’ introduces a change in format. ‘The Bootleg Series Volume 11 The Basement Tapes Complete’ (2014) (US no. 42, UK no. 17) is a six CD set released on 4 November. Released on the same date is a two CD version of ‘The Bootleg Series Volume 11 The Basement Tapes Raw’ (2014) (US no. 4, UK no. 17). This sort of split between a large collection and a –relatively – more modest collection becomes the norm.
‘Shadows In The Night’ (2015) (US no. 7, UK no. 1, AUS no. 8) comes out on 3 February. This surprising album finds Bob Dylan performing versions of songs that are best known for being previously recorded by U.S. singer Frank Sinatra. That means that here Dylan is on the unfamiliar ground of traditional pop and vocal jazz.
‘The Bootleg Series Volume 12 The Cutting Edge 1965-1966’ (2015) is a six CD set of Bob Dylan’s performances at the Newport Folk Festival. Released on the same day, 6 November, is a two CD version, ‘The Bootleg Series Volume 12 The Best Of The Cutting Edge’ (2015) (US no. 33, UK no. 12, AUS no. 26). Unlike its ‘big brother’, the two CD version reaches the album charts.
‘Fallen Angels’ (2016) (US no. 7, UK no. 5, AUS no. 11), released on 20 May, repeats the formula of Bob Dylan’s previous album, ‘Shadows In The Night’ (2015). All but one song on this set was previously recorded by Frank Sinatra.
On 13 October 2016 Bob Dylan is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He is the first songwriter or musician to receive this accolade.
Sony issues ‘The 1966 Live Recordings’ (2016) on 11 November. This is a massive thirty-six disc box set of Bob Dylan concert performances. Doing better on the charts is the more modest two CD set ‘The Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert (Live)’ (2016) (US no. 113, UK no. 60) which Sony releases on 2 December. The latter release is actually disc twenty-eight and twenty-nine from the thirty-six disc earlier box set.
‘Triplicate’ (2017) (US no. 37, UK no. 17, AUS no. 36), released on 31 March, is a companion album to Bob Dylan’s Frank Sinatra covers projects ‘Shadows In The Night’ (2015) and ‘Fallen Angels’ (2016). ‘Triplicate’ has a wider agenda since it features ‘covers of classic American songs’ rather than just Sinatra’s songbook. As the name suggests, ‘Triplicate’ is a three CD set divided into ‘’Till The Sun Goes Down’, ‘Devil Dolls’ and ‘Comin’ Home Late’.
‘The Bootleg Series Volume 13 Trouble No More 1979-1981’ (2017) is an eight CD overview of Bob Dylan’s Christian music period. Released on the same date, 3 November, is a two CD version ‘The Bootleg Series Volume 13 Trouble No More 1979-1981’ (2017) (US no. 49, UK no. 21, AUS no. 70).
On 29 July 1966 Bob Dylan broke his neck in a motorcycle accident, but made a complete recovery. At least, that seems to be the most accepted version of events. It was not the only point at which Bob Dylan allowed – or even abetted – disinformation to circle about him. Other instances included: his origins (‘an orphan who travelled with a carnival’ or ‘a runaway with roots in Oklahoma’); the themes of his songs (“I’ve never written a political song” and “I never have and I never will write a drug song”); and his delayed acknowledgement of his weddings (to Sarah Lownds and Carolyn Dennis). Where did this wilful obfuscation come from? Bob Dylan was described as ‘a very private person.’ “Being noticed can be a burden. Jesus got himself crucified because he got himself noticed. So I disappear a lot,” said Dylan.
The other significant aspect of the motorcycle crash was that it was ‘necessary.’ Bob Dylan’s career had been moving at – literally – breakneck speed and he needed to take time out. The six albums from ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ (1963) through ‘Blonde On Blonde’ (1966) secured his place in rock music history. If the rest of his output was patchy, there were still too many good recordings to easily ignore. ‘No one did more to liberate popular music from its perceived low cultural status’. ‘Dylan’s impact on pop music – and on American culture – was simply inestimable’.
- bobdylan.com as at 3 November 2017
- thoughtco.com – ‘Understanding the Impact of Bob Dylan’s Motorcycle Accident’ by Ben Corbett (28 September 2017)
- ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 6, 41, 46, 61, 64, 65, 69, 71, 76, 77, 78, 79, 87, 90, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 108, 116, 118, 130, 131, 134, 140, 147, 160, 161, 175, 178, 182, 183, 184, 189, 192, 216, 224, 225, 231, 246, 247, 249, 252, 262, 268, 281, 304, 331
- ‘Chronicles: Volume One’ by Bob Dylan (Simon & Schuster, 2004) p. 114 via 6 (below) [Bob Dylan], 264 via 6 (below) [Bob Dylan – Suze Rotolo]; via 17 (below) [Karen Dalton]; via 6 (below) [‘Highway 61 Revisited’ LP]
- ‘The Guardian’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Hey Mr Sexagenarian’ by Stephen Moss (24 May 2001) (reproduced on theguardian.com)
- wikipedia.org as at 26 October 2017
- ‘Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan’ by Howard Sounes (Grove Publishing, 2001) Chapter 1 and p. 314, 316, 367 via 6 (above) [Bob Dylan] and via nytimes.com
- ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll’, ‘The Beatles’ by Greil Marcus, ‘Bob Dylan’ by Alan Light, ‘The Band’ by Ed Ward (Plexus Publishing, 1992) p. 212, 299, 300, 301, 303, 304, 305, 306, 430
- Internet Movie Database – imdb.com – as at 3 November 2017
- folkfanlcb89.tripod.com – ‘Bob Dylan: ‘Girlfriends’ by ‘Leslie’ – as at 4 November 2017
- ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 16, 70, 81, 137, 163
- allmusic.com – ‘Bob Dylan’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine – as at 2 November 2001
- ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 46, 55, 62, 66, 67
- ‘Biograph’ – Sleeve notes by Bob Dylan (Columbia Records, 1986) via 6 (above) [‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’ LP]
- brainyquote.com as at 31 October 2017
- ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 15, 17, 18, 46, 47, 71, 72, 73, 100, 105, 169, 170, 214
- gibson.com – ‘5 Rainy Day Women: Bob Dylan’s Muses’ by Ellen Barnes (1 September 2011)
- ‘Bob Dylan: Behind the Shares Revisited’ by Clinton Heylin (2000) via 6 (above) [‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ LP]
- ‘Bob Dylan All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track’ by Phillipe Margolin, Jean-Michel Gueisdon (Hachette, 2015) via books.google.com.au [‘In My Time of Dyin’’ song; Suze Rotolo’s lipstick-holder as guitar fret, Stacey Williams album notes]
- ‘The Guardian’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Mavis Staples: I Often Think What Would Have Happened if I’d Married Dylan’ by Jude Rogers (12 February 2016) (reproduced on theguardian.com)
- ‘No Direction Home’ (U.S. television program, PBS Network) (26 September 2005) [Bob Dylan’s description of manager Albert Grossman] via 6 (above) [Bob Dylan]
- ‘Rock Stars’ by Timothy White (Columbus Books, 1984) p. 136
- ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’, ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 34, 36, 38, 41, 48, 55, 69, 73
- ‘Sing Out’ (U.S. music magazine) (June 1962) via 6 (above) [‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ song]
- Bob Dylan radio interview conducted by Studs Terkel (1963) via 6 (above) [‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ song]
- ‘The Daily Telegraph’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Kiss Me Hardy, said Dylan’ by Colin Randall (13 January 2005) (reproduced on telegraph.co.uk) [Francoise Hardy]
- ‘Los Angeles Times’ (Los Angeles, U.S.A., newspaper) – ‘Rock’s Enigmatic Poet Opens a Long-Private Door’ – Bob Dylan interview conducted by Robert Hilburn (4 April 2004) via 6 (above) [‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ song]
- ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 73, 78, 79
- ‘Don’t Look Back’ (1967), Bob Dylan documentary directed by D.A. Pennebaker
- ‘Rolling Stone’ (U.S. rock magazine) (1985 issue – not specified) via 17 (above) [Edie Sedgwick]
- ‘Saturday Evening Post’ (U.S. magazine) – ‘Well, What Have We Here?’ – Bob Dylan interview conducted by Jules Siegel (30 July 1966) via 6 (above) [‘Like A Rolling Stone’ song]
- ‘The Children’s Crusade’ (1966) by Ralph Gleason referenced in ‘Bob Dylan: A Retrospective’ (1972) by Craig McGregor via 6 (above) [‘Like A Rolling Stone’ song]
- ‘Rolling Stone’ (U.S. rock magazine) – ‘Interview: Bob Dylan’ by Jann S. Wenner (29 November 1969) via 6 (above) [‘Blonde On Blonde’ LP], via 6 (above) [Bob Dylan – re: drug use]
- ‘Playboy’ (U.S. magazine) – Bob Dylan interview (March 1978) via 6 (above) [‘Blonde On Blonde’ LP]
- ‘Melody Maker’ (U.K. rock newspaper) – ‘Bob Dylan on the Big Boo’ – no interviewer listed (4 June 1966) via 6 (above) [‘Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35’ song]
- BBC Radio 4 (U.K. radio network) – Bob Dylan interview conducted by Robert Shelton (1966) via 6 (above) [re: heroin]
- Unattributed 1968 Bob Dylan interview via 6 (above) [‘John Wesley Harding’ LP]
- Unattributed 1969 Bob Dylan interview – possibly the same as 33 (above)? – via 6 (above) [‘John Wesley Harding’ LP]
- whosdatedwho.com as at 31 October 2017
- ‘The Daily Telegraph’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Chris O’Dell, Super-Groupie to the Stars: My Life of Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll’ by Tom Leonard (14 January 2010) (reproduced on telegraph.co.uk)
- ‘The Sunday Independent’ (Irish newspaper) – ‘Bob Dylan and the Women he Loved’ – no author credited (11 May 2005) (reproduced via pressreader.com)
- closerweekly.com – ‘Sally Kirkland on Why She’s Still Single Today – “I was Obsessed with Bob Dylan”’ – by ‘Closer Staff’ (11 February 2016)
- ‘Masterpieces’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Columbia Records, 1976/1991 rerelease) p. 3
- ‘Sunday Mirror’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Bob Dylan’s Two Secret Wives and Five Children’ by David Gardner (22 March 1998) (reproduced on expectingrain.com, posted by ‘Long Johnny’ (28 July 2008))
- bob-dylan-ldo49.blogspot.com as at 23 November 2017 [when Bob Dylan met Claude-Angèle Boni]
- brittaleeshainbooksandmusic.com as at 23 November 2017 [Britta Lee Shain]
- ‘Chicago Tribune’ (Chicago, U.S.A., newspaper) – ‘Bob Dylan’s Mother Dead at Age 84, Newspaper Reports’ – no author credited (27 January 2000) (reproduced on chicagotribune.com)
- ‘New York Times’ (New York, U.S.A., newspaper) – ‘A Wiser Voice Blowin’ in the Autumn Wind’ – Bob Dylan interview conducted by Jon Pareles (28 November 1997) via 6 (above) [Bob Dylan – religion]
Song lyrics copyright Warner Bros Inc. with the exceptions of: ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ (Dwarf Music); ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’ (Big Sky Music); and ‘Not Dark Yet’ and ‘Things Have Changed’ (both Special Rider Music)
Last revised 6 December 2017