Robert Zimmerman was born on this day in 1941, in St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth, Minnesota. He lived in Duluth until age six, when his father was stricken with polio and the family returned to his mother’s home town, Hibbing, where Zimmerman spent the rest of his childhood.
His vast influence on music is matched only by Elvis and the Beatles, (and even the Beatles’ shift toward introspective songwriting wouldn’t have happened without his towering influence). Dylan’s gift was to marry poetic lyrics with catchy tunes, and as a vocalist, he broke the notion that a singer must have a conventionally good voice in order to perform, redefining the vocalist’s role in popular music in the process.
Bob spent much of his youth listening to the radio – first to blues and country stations and later, to early rock and roll. He formed several bands while he attended Hibbing High School, including The Shadow Blasters and The Golden Chords. In his 1959 school yearbook, Robert Zimmerman listed as his ambition “To follow Little Richard”, with whom he was obsessed.
Columbia Records A&R man John Hammond sought out Dylan on the strength of a review, and signed the songwriter in late 1961, producing Dylan’s eponymous debut album, a collection of folk and blues standards that surprisingly boasted only two original songs. Over the course of 1962 Dylan began to write a large batch of original songs, many of which were political protest songs in the vein of his Greenwich Village contemporaries. These songs were showcased on his second album, ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’.
His breakthrough to the pop audience in the summer of 1965, when “Like a Rolling Stone” became a #2 hit. Driven by a circular organ riff and a steady beat, the six-minute single broke the barrier of the three-minute pop song.
As his contemporaries, including McCartney, Jagger, Richards and Paul Simon, all approach 70, the old troubadour is still working harder than any of them. In the 20 years up to 2010, he performed 2,045 concerts!
Keep on rolling, Bob!
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