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Bob Dylan Biography

Updated on June 24, 2013

Early Years

Bob Dylan is known for songs such as "Blowin in the Wind" and "Like a Rolling Stone." He is also known as one of the most influential persons of the twentieth century, and he has been compared to a Mozart, Shakespeare or Picasso.

Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota on May 24, 1941. He spent his early years growing up in Hibbing, Minnesota listening to Blues, Classical, Country, and Rock and Roll music. Dylan formed his first band while in High School called the Golden Chords.

Following High school, Dylan moved to Minneapolis to presue studies at the University of Minnesota. Because of his earlier interest in Rock and Roll, he developed an interest in American Folk music. Consequently, he became involved in the local folk music scene introducing himself as Bob Dylan. In 1961 Dylan decided to quit school and move to New York city, hoping to perform and meet his idol Woody Guthrie. For the next few years, Dylan played at various clubs there in Greenwich Village. In September 1961 he received a positive review in the New York Times following a performance at a local music venue. Later that same month Dylan played harmonica on Carolyn Hester's third album. This performance brought him to the attention of John Hammond a producer working for Columbia records. Hammond liked what he heard and Bob Dylan was signed with Columbia records in October 1961.

Professional Career 1960's

His first album released was called "Bob Dylan." At the time Bob's voice and songwriting skills were still raw. His performances, consisted of folk, blues and gospel material with a few of his own songs. The album sold only five thousand copies. Because of the disappointing number of albums sold, there was talk of dropping Dylan from the Columbia label. Hammond defended Dylan vigorously and Dylan's friend Johnny Cash became a powerful ally too. When his next album "The Freewheeling Bob Dylan" was released in 1963, this marked Bob Dylan's emergence as one of the original and poetic voices heard in the history of American music. It was at this time he begun to make a name for himself as a singer/songwriter.

Early on the rough edges of Dylan's voice was unsettling to some of his listeners, while others found it an attractive. Many of Dylan's early songs first reached the public through the performances of other singers such as Joan Baez. She was his advocate, and was influential in helping to bring Dylan to international attention by recording some of his early songs, and by inviting him on stage during her concerts. In addition there were other groups singing his songs including The Birds, The Hollies, and The Association.

By the time 1963 arrived, Dylan was becoming more involved in the Civil Rights movement. He and Baez sang at various rallies and performed at the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous "I Have a Dream Speech". Bob Dylan's next album "The Times They Are A-Changin" indicated a more sophisticated, and politically savvy Dylan. This album also established Bob Dylan as the definitive singer/songwriter of the 1960's protest movement.

By 1964 Dylan was performing more than 200 concerts a year. However since the end of 1963, he was growing weary of his role as a singer/songwriter of the protest movement. In 1964 Dylan recorded "Another Side of Bob Dylan." This album was a personal introspective selection of songs that was much less politically charged. During the next few years, he went though a period of rapid change that left his fans and critics speculating where he would go next. "Bringing It All Back Home" released in March of 1965 was no different; this album reflected the influences of The Byrds, The Beatles, and the rock music of earlier years. Like the album before this one, the music was a departure from the norm. Even with the music provided by a full electric band, the music was still Dylan.

Later in November of 1965, Dylan secretly married his sweetheart Sara Lowndes. In July 1966 Dylan spent a year recovering from near fatal injuries received in a motorcycle accident. Following his time in seclusion, he released two albums. The first was "John Wesley Harding" released in 1968, which included the song "All Along The Watchtower" a song that would later be a hit for Jimi Hendrix, and the second was "Nashville Skyline" released in 1969.

1970's

Early in the 1970's he appeared in the 1972 movie Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Although the film failed at the box office, the soundtrack was a hit. In 1973 when his contract with Columbia expired, he signed with Asylum Records.

Bob Dylan then went on his fist big tour since his motorcycle accident with The Band. This January 1974 tour produced a double album "Before the Flood." Soon after the tour Dylan and his wife announced their marriage difficulties; as a result Dylan quickly recorded the album "Blood on the Tracks" but delayed releasing it till 1975. When it was released it received mixed reviews. However, as time passed this collection would be regarded as one of his best albums. During the summer of 1975, Dylan wrote a ballard in an attempt to champion the cause of imprisoned boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. The song was over eight minutes long, but it made it to number thirty-three on the US Billboard charts. Dylan also performed this song at the Rolling Thunder Revue. This revue took place in late 1975 and early 1976. The album "Desire" was encompassed at the Rolling Thunder Revue. Also, the revue provided the back drop for Dylan's film Renaldo and Clara. Around this same timeDylan appeared in The Band's farewell concert; he shared the stage with musicians such as Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, and Neil Young.

In the late 1970's following his divorce from Sara Lownds, Dylan became a Christian and released two Christian albums. The first was "Slow Train Coming" released in 1979 and the second was "Saved" released in 1980. "Slow Train coming" earned him a Grammy Award for the song "Gotta Serve Somebody". The other album "Saved " was met with mixed reviews.

1980s and 1990s

With the arrival of the 1980s, Dylan continued his touring schedule. Sometimes he performed with groups such as The Grateful Dead and Tom Petty and the Heart breakers. During this decade he had albums such as "Infidels" released in 1983; "Knocked out loaded" released in 1986 and "Oh Mercy" released in 1989. Late in this decade he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and he recorded two albums with the super-group The Traveling Wilburys consisting of George Harrison, Tom Petty, the late Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne.

In 1990 he released "Under the Red Sky." The album was dedicated to his four-year-old daughter. The backup or sidemen on this album included Elton John, Slash (of Guns and Roses), George Harrison, David Crosby, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Despite the all-star talent, the reviews were bad and the sales were poor. Later in 1991, Dylan received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. For the next two albums Dylan returned to his roots with "Good as I Been to You" released in 1992 and "World Gone Wrong" released in 1993. In the later part of 1994 Dylan recorded two shows for MTV Unplugged. Late in 1997 while completing work on a new CD, Dylan was hospitalized with a serious heart infection. He had a speedy recovery, but while he was leaving the hospital he commented that he thought he would be seeing Elvis Presley soon.

Later in the fall of 1997, Dylan performed for Pope John Paul II in Bologna, Italy. When the performance was completed, the Pope treated the audience of 180,000 plus people to a sermon based on Dylan's popular hit song "Blowin in the Wind." Around this time in the same year "Time out of Mind" was released. This CD received good reviews and it was rated as one of the best collections in years.This CD earned Dylan his first solo "Album of the Year" Grammy. To wrap up 1997, United States President Bill Clinton awarded Bob Dylan with the Kennedy Center Honor. Clinton complimented him on his artistic ability and his impact on his generation. In 1999 at Madison Square Garden, Dylan shared the stage with Eric Clapton to sing Crossroads.

2000 and beyond

Going into the 2000's Dylan continued to tour regular and release new material. For his song "Things have Changed" featured in the 2001 movie Wonder Boys, Dylan won an Academy Award for best song in a motion picture. His next release was "Love and Theft" released in September 2001.The album received good reviews and it earned him nominations for several Grammy awards.Later In October 2004, Bob Dylan published the first part of his autobiography called, Chronicles: Volume One. The book was number two on the The New York Times best seller list in December 2004. In May of 2006 was the start of Dylan's career as a DJ for XM Satellite Radio. Dylan played selections from the 1930's to present including artists such as Blur, Prince, and L.L. Cool J and The Streets. Dylan broadcasted 100 shows with the final show in April 2009. During it's time, the radio show was given a thumbs up by fans and critics as a good radio show. In August 2006 Dylan released "Modern Times." This collection earned three Grammy awards and it won Best Contemporary Folk/American Album. During 2007, after the release of Modern Times, this collection was combined with "Time Out Of Mind" and "Love And Theft" to form the critically acclaimed "Dylan Trilogy." In April 2009 he released "Together Though Life." the album received overall positive reviews, although some critics call it a minor addition compared to some of his earlier works.

Over the course of the last few decades, Bob Dylan continues to reinvent himself and he shows no sign of slowing down. Initially he modeled his style based on Woody Guthrie and infused it with the music of Robert Johnson. Over time, he has added classical literature and poetry to the lyrics of Guthrie, Johnson and the folk music of the 1960's, essentially creating his own genre. Whatever musical direction he goes in next, he will always be Dylan.

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    • WE5 profile image

      WE5 7 years ago

      A great Hub about a great artist! Thanks for the read.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      Excellent hub about Dylan He is one of the greats.

    • FCEtier profile image

      Chip 7 years ago from Cold Mountain

      Long time Dylan fan here. Two of my favorites of his are, "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" and "Maggie's Farm".

      His Christmas album last year was a hoot!

    • justom profile image

      justom 7 years ago from 41042

      To me there's Bob and then everybody else. Several years ago I saw him do a version of the Stones "Brown Sugar" that would make Mick jealous. His shows through the years have always amazed me. Good hub. Peace!! Tom

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      He always was unique. Great Hub.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I recall reading in the biography by Robert Shelton "No Direction Home" that Dylan felt stuck in Hibbing because the radio only played polka music.As I recall he bought records of all sorts and was interested in classical music, as well as modern music. He was at the University of Minnesota about the time I was but I don't think I never met him. From what I gather he didn't really attend classes much. He lived in a rented room above a bookstore which was torn down for the expansion of Bridgeman's ice cream place..

      There was a coffeehouse called the ten o'clock scholar there which he and other performed.

    • katiem2 profile image

      katiem2 7 years ago from I'm outta here

      Great bit on Bob Dylan, I knew very little about him and found this to be a great read. Thanks :)

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 7 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Thanks for the bio. Bob Dylan is an interesting guy.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @WE5 - Glad you like it, and thanks for your feedback :)

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Pamela99 - Yes he is. As usual, thanks for your comments :)

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
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      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @FCEtier - I know what you mean I like Maggie's farm and Mr Tambourine Man (and many others too) myself. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
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      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @justom - Nice to hear from you and your son again. Thanks for reading my article and leaving feedback :)

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
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      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @suziecat7 - Thanks for reading my article, and it is nice to hear from you again :)

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
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      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @dahoglund - Interesting facts you added to this article. Didn't know you attended school the same time Dylan was there. Based on what I read about his lack of interest in educational pursuits, I am not surprised you never saw him around campus. As far as his early musical interest, I am sure he listened to anything he could get his hands on long as it wasn't polka. I recall reading that he wanted out of Hibbing anyway he could. Thanks for your comments, It is always nice to hear from you :)

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
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      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @katiem2 - I am glad you found this article educational. and it is nice to hear from you again :)

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
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      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Sandyspider - Yes he is a unique creative man. Thanks for your comments :)

    • John B Badd profile image

      John B Badd 7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      Classic

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 7 years ago

      Right on Coolmon! I'm glad he quit highschool! His brainwashing may have been incomplete! God bless Coolmon! Outrageous videos!

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
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      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @John B Badd - Thanks for stopping by :)

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
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      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Micky Dee - Glad you enjoyed this article, and as always it is nice to hear from you :)

    • profile image

      Sett 7 years ago

      okay article, but practically no mention of his best, the electric trilogy.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
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      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Sett - Thanks for your opinion

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      Man that Dylan-Clapton vid at the end is a total gas! Thanks for sharing.

      And a great article too!

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
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      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @tonymac04 - Yes Dylan and Clapton are impressive together; it is nice to hear from you again :)

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 7 years ago from England

      Hi, I only discovered him recently as I was a bit young back then, but I think he is great, thanks for this, cheers nell

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
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      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Nell Rose - He is a talented man. Thanks for your comments :)

    • andromida profile image

      syras mamun 6 years ago

      Though I love Bob Dylan songs, but I knew nothing about his life.Very interesting detailed hub abt Bob.Thanks coolmon :)

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
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      Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @andromida - I am glad you like it :)

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 6 years ago

      Dylan is one of my favorites - thanks for this hub.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
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      Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @billyaustindillon - Thanks for your comments, and it is nice to hear from you :)

    • profile image

      Medkh9 6 years ago

      dYLAN HAS ALWAYS BEEN MY BEST ARTIST , THANKS FOR THE HUB

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
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      Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Medkh9 - Glad you enjoyed the article, and thanks for stopping by :)

    • RunAbstract profile image

      RunAbstract 6 years ago from USA

      Bob Dylan has been a HUGE influence in my personal life. (I even referred to him in a poem I wrote). I have loved his music for years. Your article is well written with great facts! Thanks

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
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      Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @RunAbstract - He has been a huge influence on music period. I would love to read the poem you wrote referring to Dylan. Thanks for your comments :)

    • boxxies profile image

      boxxies 6 years ago

      Hello Coolmon,

      I learned a lot from this article.

      Marie

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
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      Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @boxxies - I am glad you found this article useful, thanks.

    • Petra Vlah profile image

      Petra Vlah 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thank you for this hub with great information about Dylan’s life and career. I believe he is one of the greatest lyrics writers, but I never thought he had a great voice. I saw him in concert in Maryland a few years ago and I was very disappointed (like many others I should say).

      Dylan never interacted with the audience, never honored any of the requests, just kept on singing looking totally absent and bored. It seemed painful for him to be performing and it was painful for me as well to get to the end of the concert.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
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      Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Petra Vlah - I know what you mean, I never thought he had the most beautiful voice, but there is something in his voice that makes me want to listen to him sing. Sorry to hear you didn't enjoy the concert. I hope it was the exception and not the norm for him now.

    • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

      Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

      What a treat!!! The brilliance of Clapton on guitar with my all time favourite artist. Bob.

      You did a an excellent job of cramming bobs´life into a hub. Rounded out perfectly. Well done. Thank you very much.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Dim Flaxenwick - I am glad you enjoyed reading this article :)

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 6 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Nice job! Dylan is a great poet, philosopher and musician.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Ralph Deeds - Thanks for your comments and it is nice to hear from you again :)

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 6 years ago

      It all good for multiple visits. God bless Coolmon!

    • RunAbstract profile image

      RunAbstract 6 years ago from USA

      Being a long time Bob Dylan fan I truely enjoyed this article. Wouldn't it be great to own an orginal copy of that first LP?

      I started listening to Bob Dylan in the 70s, and my kids listen to him now! He is truely timeless! I have always enjoyed his voice. To me what he is saying has always been more important than the melody he said it with.

      Also because of my admiration of him, I explored the talant of Woody Guthrie, and was absolutely in awe of him as well!

      So glad you wrote this!

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Micky Dee - Nice to hear from you :)

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @RunAbstract - I know what you mean Dylan is a timeless performer. Thanks for your comments.

    • profile image

      David99999 6 years ago

      Great hub!:) "Don't follow leaders, and watch your parkin' meters!" Bob Dylan

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @David99999 - Thanks for stopping by :)

    • platinumOwl4 profile image

      platinumOwl4 6 years ago

      The majority of the artist you write about I have in my collection. This is another fantastic article. The saying today is "Dylan Rocks" I purchase and covert 331/3 and cassette into CD's. That's my Hobby.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
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      Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @platinumOwl4 - Sounds like an interesting hobby you have. Thanks for your feed back on this article :)

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 6 years ago

      Excellent hub about a very talented guy. Thanks for putting this together. Rated up and beautiful.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @toknowinfo - Thanks for your kind words on this article :)

    • expats profile image

      expats 6 years ago from UK

      Excellent hub. Love Dylan's period of 'protest songs.' I saw him in concert in Manchester (England) a few years ago.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @expats - Sounds interesting, I hope it was a good concert experience for you. Thanks for your feedback on my hub :)

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