Bob Dylan in Toronto in 1980. Photo by Jean-Luc Ourlin
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27 Fascinating Facts About Bob Dylan

With his signature vocals and complex lyrics, Minnesota-born American singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan isn’t just a music legend, he’s also become one of the most important individuals in modern culture. With decades worth of popular music releases and awards, one could spend a whole year listening to and learning about him. These are 27 things you probably didn’t know about Bob Dylan.

27. Bob Dylan’s Birthdate

Bob Dylan was born on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota in the United States. His family later moved to Hibbing, Minnesota, which is where he spent most of his childhood. 

26. He Wasn’t Born “Bob Dylan”

Bob Dylan was born “Robert Allen Zimmerman” to parents Abram Zimmerman and Beatrice Stone. He stopped going by Robert Zimmerman and started going by “Dylan” when he was attending the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis

Dylan has also gone by the names “Elston Gunn” and “Robert Allyn,” and also experimented with alternative spellings like “Bob Dillon.” Later in Life Bob Dylan mentioned in an interview that the name and spelling of Dylan came from a time when he read the poems of poet Dylan Thomas and liked the alternative spelling. He legally changed his name in 1962

Bob Dylan with Joan Baez at a civil rights march in 1963.

25. He Lived In New York City For Awhile

In 1960, Dylan dropped out of college and decided to travel to New York City. While he was there, he visited music icon Woody Guthrie, who was gravely ill at the time. He would later tell fans that Woody Guthrie, and the way he sang, was a true inspiration to him.

Dylan remained in New York City, playing at clubs around Greenwich Village, which is a neighborhood of Manhattan. During this time, he began picking up the styles of many famous folk singers such as Fred Neil, Odetta, and Dave Van Ronk. 

24. He Was into Rock and Roll Before Folk Music

Dylan is known for folk music, but in high school he was all about rock stars like Elvis Presley and Little Richard, playing their songs with his band, Golden Chords. He started gravitating toward folk music and wanting to become a folk singer when he realized how much more substance it contained than other genres of music. 

23. Dylan Played Electric Guitar at a Music Festival and the Audience Hated it

In our interview with “Spider” John Koerner, he explains the experience of Bob Dylan performing for the first time with an electric guitar at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. The audience did not receive it well, as he was met by an overwhelming crowd worth of booing.

After this experience, Bob Dylan stuck with his signature instruments, the acoustic guitar, and harmonica. 

22. He Wasn’t an Overnight Sensation

When Dylan’s self-titled debut studio album was released in 1962, its sales figures of 5,000 copies didn’t indicate that he would be Columbia Records’ new star. However, producer John Hammond, who helped to discover Dylan, didn’t lose faith and they released Bob Dylan’s second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in 1963. 

Life moved quickly for Bob Dylan after that, and in 1964 he released his 3rd and 4th albums, The Times They Are a-Changin’ and Another Side of Bob Dylan respectively. 

He apparently didn’t give himself a day off because his 5th album, Bringing It All Back Home was released in 1965, followed by his 6th album Highway 61 Revisited the same year. 

21. Blowin’ in the Wind Was First a Hit in the United Kingdom

In 1962 and 1963, Bob Dylan visited the United Kingdom with the purpose of being in a play called Madhouse on Castle Street. The director of the play had Bob Dylan play his song Blowin’ in the Wind at the end of each performance, and it instantly became a hit among the citizens of the UK. 

20. Bob Dylan Backed out of Playing Woodstock

In 1969, Bob Dylan was quite famous when he was asked to play at Woodstock. Supposedly a contract was drawn up saying he would play, only for him to back out at the last minute. To this day, he has never revealed exactly why he backed out. 

19. Conspiracy Theorists Believe Bob Dylan Sold his Soul to the Devil

In an interview, Dylan was asked why he’s still playing shows despite his accomplishments of massive fame and fortune.

He responded, “It all goes back to the destiny thing. I made a bargain with it a long time ago, and I’m holding up my end.” When asked who he made the bargain with, he laughs and says “With the Cheif Commander of this earth and the one we can’t see.”

According to Christianity, before Satan (or Lucifer) turned on God and was shunned to earth as The Devil, he directed God’s choir in heaven and led the songs of praise to the lord as one of the most beautiful angels.

This is why ‘making a deal’ to become a musical success has been thought of as an agreement with the devil, rather than God himself.

18. He Has Long Been an Activist

Music as a form of protest has long been one of Bob Dylan’s biggest calling cards. He performed at the March on Washington and wrote songs about prominent black figures like Medgar Evars and Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.

In addition, many of his songs such as “Like a Rolling Stone” (from the album Highway 61 Revisited) and “Blowin’ in the Wind” addressed many of the civil issues the American people were experiencing during the 1960s. 

He continued to show signs of his activism well into the 1970s with the release of Blood on the Tracks in 1975.

Bob Dylan performing in Barcelona, Spain in 1984.

17. Dylan Walked Out on “The Ed Sullivan Show”

In the infancy of his fame, Dylan was booked to appear on Ed Sullivan’s famous variety show. He wanted to play his politically-charged song, “John Birch Paranoid Blues,” which Sullivan and his producer approved the day before his live appearance.

However, the day of, CBS staff asked him to play a more friendly song. Dylan opted to snub the show, which created a frenzy in the news. Dylan gained an even greater reputation as someone who sticks to his principles.

16. He Suffered a Motorcycle Crash

In 1966, Dylan was at the helm of a motorcycle when it crashed. It’s a piece of Dylan lore, as the exact circumstances that led to him crashing aren’t known. He was never hospitalized for the incident, but he was out of the public eye for years after the crash.

During the time he was out of the public eye, Bob Dylan formed a band called The Band which recorded songs called “The Basement Tapes.” Although these songs weren’t released to the public until years later, this was an important time of change in Bob Dylan’s songwriting style. 

15. He Worked with George Harrison

The Beatles counted themselves among Dylan’s fanbase. The one he seemed to click with the most was George Harrison. Dylan and Harrison collaborated on the songs “I’d Have You Anytime” and “If Not for You.” These appeared on Harrison’s solo album, All Things Must Pass. The 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, arranged with Harrison’s help, featured a performance by Dylan.

14. He’s Toured with Tom Petty

In the 1980s, Bob Dylan spent much of the decade touring with Tom Petty and the Grateful Dead. 

13. He’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

In 1988, Bob Dylan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Bruce Springsteen. This was a busy year for Bob Dylan as he was also featured in The Traveling Wilbury’s album “Volume 1” alongside many other famous singers and songwriters, some of which include Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, and George Harrison.  

12. Bob Dylan has Branched into Films

Dylan’s presence isn’t limited to the microphone. He directed and starred in the ambitious, albeit poorly received, Renaldo and Clara, which also featured Joan Baez and his then-wife, Sara Dylan(formerly named Sara Lownds). He’s also acted in the films Hearts of Fire, Masked & Anonymous, and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

11. He’s Made Christian Music

Bob Dylan’s albums do a great job of showing where he was at certain points in his life. His conversion to Christianity toward the end of the 1970s led to gospel-infused albums Slow Train Coming and Saved.

10. He’s Tried his Hand at Rap

Bob Dylan definitely has lyrical skills, and he has some remarkable vocal characteristics, but you might not think he’d ever rap. However, he brought some bars to a song on the album Kingdom Blow by Kurtis Blow.

Bob Dylan performing in Rotterdam, the Netherlands in 1978.

9. He’s Been Sober Since 1994

In the early 1990s, Dylan kicked a booze habit. He’s also spoken about a previous dependency on heroin.

8. He Didn’t Win a Solo ‘Album of the Year’ Grammy until 1997

While Dylan had a good collection of Grammy Awards before the release of his 30th album, Time Out Of Mind, he shockingly hadn’t been given one for an album he himself released. Even if it was long overdue, Time Out Of Mind has still been rightfully recognized as one of the best albums of modern times. 

7. He’s an Oscar Winner

Dylan added an important trophy to his collection in 2000, when he won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Things Have Changed,” featured in the film Wonder Boys. 

Besides the Oscar, Bob Dylan also has a Golden Globe and an Academy Award. But it Doesn’t stop there, as he has also won the Pulitzer Prize for his impact on American culture.

6. He’s an Author

Dylan has writing beyond songwriting. He’s published a memoir, Chronicles: Volume One, which is set to be followed by two more installments. There’s also a poetry book, Tarantula, as well as several volumes chronicling his lyrics.

5. He has a Presidential Medal of Freedom

In 2012, Dylan was given the honor by President Barack Obama. The former President championed Dylan for the power of his voice and what he used it for.

4. He’s a Constant Touring Presence

Since 1988, Dylan has been on the road regularly, playing more than 3,000 shows around the world. This has been dubbed the “Never Ending Tour.”

3. Bob Dylan’s Net Worth is an Estimated $350 Million

Bob Dylan is an acquired taste for some, which makes his 100 million album sales all the more impressive. Although many of his popular songs were created in the 1960s, his work spans over five decades.

2. He’s a Nobel Prize Winner

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Bob Dylan. This was an incredible honor, as a Nobel Prize for literature had never before been bestowed upon a musician. This was awarded to him shortly after he released his studio album “Shadows in the Night.”

1. He Has a Collection of Whiskeys

Bob Dylan is a busy man, and in May 2018, he released a special collection of whiskeys called Heaven’s Door, which is ironic because the singer himself is almost three decades sober.

 

Written by Bo Weber

Supporting artists since 2014

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