Dylan by the Decade

posted on May 25th, 2011 by Shannon Cosgrove

Bob Dylan turned 70 yesterday. As this timeline shows, the man has been pretty busy over the last seven decades.

1941-1951: Robert Allen Zimmerman is born at St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth, Minnesota on May 24, 1941. He is raised there until age six when his father Abram is stricken with polio and the family moves to his mother Beatrice’s hometown of Hibbing, in the northwest region of Minnesota. Young Robert spends much of his time listening to blues and rock programs on the radio.

1951-1961: While in high school, Robert forms several bands, including the short lived Shadow Blasters and then the Golden Chords. In his 1959 school yearbook, Robert lists his ambition to “follow Little Richard.” He enrolls in the University of Minnesota in the fall of ’59 and becomes active in the local folk music circuit where he introduces himself as “Bob Dylan.”

1961-1971: Soon after his enrollment, Dylan drops out of college. He moves to New York in early 1961 and gains recognition on the folk music circuit. He is signed to Colombia Records in October of ’61, and his first album Bob Dylan is released in 1962. In the winter of that year, he travels to the UK where he performs “Blowin’ In the Wind” for the first time. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is released in 1963 and gains Dylan wide recognition and new fans, including The Beatles.

Dylan, along with his collaborator and lover Joan Baez, becomes involved with the civil rights movements, and his next album The Times They Are a-Changin’ reflects issues of social unrest. The live album Another Side of Bob Dylan is also released in ’64. Dylan’s transition from folk to electric rock unfolds during this period, and Dylan becomes increasingly eccentric and confrontational with journalists.

1965’s Bringing It All Back Home cements Dylan’s stylistic leap from folk to rock, and he is booed by the crowd at the year’s Newport Folk Festival. In July of ’65, Dylan releases “Like a Rolling Stone” an instant classic that has been called the greatest song ever recorded. The song opens the album Highway ’61 Revisited. On November 22, 1965, Dylan marries model Sara Lownds. The couple has a child, Jesse, in 1966.

An extensive world tour finishes with Dylan feeling mounting pressures from his label and management. He crashes his motorcycle in July of 1966 and uses the accident as an opportunity to retreat from the public eye, seizing touring for the next eight years. Dylan records John Wesley Harding in Nashville in the fall of 1966 and makes his first public appearance in almost two years at 1968 memorial service for his idol Woody Guthrie. Dylan’s 1969 recording Nashville Skyline includes a duet with Johnny Cash. Dylan’s son Jakob, (who will later form The Wallflowers), is born in December of this year.

1971-1981: Dylan’s output becomes unpredictable during this period, with mixed reviews for his 1970 release Self Portrait. In 1973, he signs to a new label, Asylum Records. The Band is his backing group for the album Planet Waves, and the group also performs with him on the subsequent tour. After poor record sales, Dylan returns to Columbia Records and records 1974’s Blood on the Tracks, an account of his troubled marriage. Desire is released in 1975, amidst Dylan’s extensive Rolling Thunder Revue tour. Lownds and Dylan divorce in 1977, and he plays 114 shows for a total of two million people during his 1978 world tour. Dylan becomes a born again Christian in the late ‘70s and records two albums of gospel music during this period.

1981-1991: Dylan releases a series of albums that are all criticized for both song quality and careless production. He collaborates on a track with Kurtis Blow in 1986 and begins extensively touring with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers throughout ’86 and ’87. He is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, with Bruce Springsteen giving the introductory speech. Dylan collaborates with Petty, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and George Harrison in the group The Traveling Wilbury’s. The super-group is Dylan’s greatest commercial success in a decade.

1991-2001: Dylan releases three underwhelming albums in the early 1990s and receives a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award from presenter Jack Nicholson in 1991. After falling ill with a life threatening heart infection in 1997, Dylan releases the critically acclaimed Time Out of Mind, which wins the Grammy for Album of the Year.

2011-2011: Dylan wins an Academy Award for the song “Things Have Changed” (from the film Wonder Boys), releases two albums and the first part of his memoirs, Chronicles: Volume One. He appears in a Victoria’s Secret commercial in 2004 and begins hosting his satellite radio program in 2006. He plays China for the first time in April 2011.

Be sure to check our tributes to Dylan:

The String Quartet Tribute to Bob Dylan

Available now at iTunes and Amazon

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