From Folk Music to Rock, Bob Dylan Has Always Followed His Own Path

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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Barbara Klein.

And I'm Steve Ember. Singer and songwriter Bob Dylan has been performing for more than forty years. The sixty-seven year old musician and his band are currently on tour in Europe. Last week on our program, we looked back at his rise as a folk singer in the early nineteen sixties.

Nineteen sixty-five was a turning point -- the year he "went electric." It would anger many fans of his folk music, but gain new fans of rock and roll.


"Like a Rolling Stone" was on Bob Dylan's sixth album, "Highway 61 Revisited." The single reached number two on the Billboard music charts in July of nineteen sixty-five.

The album came at a time when he was exploring different kinds of music. This new record included blues and rock influences. He also had excellent supporting musicians, including the famous blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield.

Nineteen sixty-five was also the year he got married to Sara Lownds. But the pressure of performing internationally and producing records was building up. Then, in July of nineteen sixty-six, something happened that seemed to change everything.

He spent months out of public life. He needed the time, he said, to recover from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident near his home in Woodstock, New York. Yet the events of that time have given writers and fans something to talk and debate about ever since.

During this period, he worked with some of the musicians he had traveled with that year. These musicians formed their own group, known simply as the Band. An album of Bob Dylan and the Band called the "Basement Tapes" was released in nineteen seventy-five.


For several years, Bob Dylan did not make records as often as he had early in his career. Not only that, he began writing songs with a country music sound. In nineteen sixty-nine, he released the record "Nashville Skyline." It included the hit "Lay Lady Lay."


The young Bob Dylan, with the power and poetry of his folk music, was often called the voice of his generation. Yet he did not appear at his generation's most famous music festival. The Woodstock Music and Art Fair took place in August of nineteen sixty-nine. By then, this "voice of a generation" had moved on.

Through the early seventies, Bob Dylan continued to experiment with his sound. He worked with many different musicians. Then in nineteen seventy-five, in Minneapolis, he made a record that many consider one of his best. "Blood on the Tracks" included this song, "Shelter From the Storm."


In nineteen seventy-six, Bob Dylan released "Desire." It become a number one record.

The year before, he had started touring with a new group of musicians. They called their tour the Rolling Thunder Revue. It included folk performers like Joan Baez and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Singer and songwriter Joni Mitchell also joined the tour. So did Arlo Guthrie, the son of Woody Guthrie, the biggest musical influence on Bob Dylan's early career.

Poet Allan Ginsberg took part in a film about the tour. And playwright Sam Shepard traveled with the group, writing about what he saw. His observations were later published as "The Rolling Thunder Logbook."


Other changes were about to take place in Bob Dylan's life. In nineteen seventy-seven, he and his wife Sara divorced. They had four children together and also raised a daughter from Sara's earlier marriage. (Their son Jakob Dylan, by the way, is a rock singer who put out a new album just last week.)

Two years later, in nineteen seventy-nine, Bob Dylan announced that he was a born-again Christian. The Jewish-born performer expressed his new religion in three records, starting with "Slow Train Coming." It won him a Grammy Award for best rock vocal performance for "Gotta Serve Somebody."


The nineteen eighties saw highs and lows for Bob Dylan. He and singer Carolyn Dennis secretly married in nineteen eighty-six and had a daughter. But that marriage also ended in divorce, in nineteen ninety-two.

In "Chronicles," his autobiography, Bob Dylan writes about a point during his touring when he lost feeling for his music. But he would find new reasons to perform and start what he calls his never-ending tour.

In nineteen eighty-eight, he was voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The following year, he released the widely praised album "Oh Mercy."


The past twenty years of Bob Dylan's career have been just as notable as the first. In nineteen ninety-one, he received a lifetime achievement Grammy. Six years later, he received the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award.

That same year, nineteen ninety-seven, he suffered a life-threatening heart infection. He healed quickly, however, and was back touring within the year. In nineteen ninety-seven he also released the album "Time Out of Mind." It received three Grammys.

Then he won an Academy Award for best song for "Things Have Changed" in the two thousand movie "Wonder Boys."


His album "Love and Theft" was released, by chance, on September eleventh, two thousand one. Music critics praised it. But some people said the words were similar to the book "Confessions of a Yakuza" by Japanese writer Junichi Saga.

In two thousand six, at the age of sixty-five, Bob Dylan returned to the top of the music world. He had a number one record with "Modern Times."

Bob Dylan continues to tour, playing about one hundred shows a year. He is also writing the second part of his autobiography. The first part of "Chronicles" was published in two thousand four. It reached number two on the New York Times best-seller list. It showed that people are still hungry to know about an artist who took his own road and never looked back.


Our program was written and produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember.

And I'm Barbara Klein. Part one of our Bob Dylan biography can be found at Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.