By all accounts the greatest musical poet of the 20th century, Bob Dylan's insight as a classic songwriter and his historical contributions to pop, electrified folk rock and country rock were among the benchmarks of American culture in the 60s. Considering the breadth of his output and impact, it's hard to pinpoint a top achievement, but his success in the late 90s around his triple Grammy winning recording Time Out of Mind,including Best Album, in an era where hip-hop was so dominant, has to be up there. This collection received his strongest reviews in years and debuted in the Top Ten, earning him the cover of Newsweek and a revitalized interest for yet another generation.
Robert Zimmerman grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota, a huge fan of folk, country, R&B and early rock. While at the University of Minnesota, he began hanging around the beatnik coffeehouses, where he discovered blues and incorporated that flavor into his early folk oriented material. While living in Denver in 1960, he adopted a persona based upon the Woody Guthrie romantic hobo figure in the movie Bound for Glory, and learned harmonica from blues performer Jesse Fuller. He took the last name Dylan in recognition of the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, whose writing he much admired. His travels took him to New York's club scene by 1961, and his impact on the Greenwich Village folk crowd was immediate; his first professional appearance was opening for John Lee Hooker. He was signed by Columbia Records later that year and released his self titled debut the following March. His song "Blowin' In The Wind,' written in April 1962, was to be the most famous of his protest songs. Peter, Paul & Mary's later version helped bring Dylan's name to national and international attention for the first time.
The years 1964-66 were Dylan's greatest as a writer and as a performer; they were also his most influential years and many artists today still cite the three albums that followed, Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited from 1965 and 1966's double album Blonde On Blonde as being seminal in their own musical development.
In January 1968, Dylan appeared with the Hawks, at this time renamed the Crackers, at the Woody Guthrie Memorial Concert at Carnegie Hall in New York.
Dylan chose to avoid the Woodstock Festival, though the Band - the newly rechristened Crackers - played there. In 1971, he appeared at the Concert For Bangladesh benefit, his only live performance between 1970 and 1974, and in November of the same year released George Jackson, a powerful protest song, as a single. In 1973 he played the enigmatic Alias in Sam Peckinpah's brilliant Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, for which movie he also supplied the soundtrack music, including the hit single "Knockin' On Heaven's Door".
In the late 70s, Dylan became a born-again Christian and released an album of fervently evangelical songs, Slow Train Coming, and won a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance for the religious based, "Gotta Serve Somebody." Dylan entered the video age by making promos for "Sweetheart Like You" and "Jokerman," and he was a notable contributor to both the "We Are The World" USA For Africa single and Live Aid. Later that year came the five album retrospective Biograph. His successful touring with Tom Petty led to the late Eighties supergroup the Traveling Wilburys, with Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and George Harrison.
Throughout most of the 1990s, his nostalgic live shows were far more successful than his new songwriting efforts, but Time Out of Mind led to a resurgence of the creativity which helped begin a musical revolution.