With his signature vocals and complex lyrics, Minnesota 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 songs and albums, one could spend a whole year listening to and learning about him. These are 20 things you probably didn’t know about Bob Dylan.
20. He wasn’t born “Bob Dylan”
Bob Dylan was born “Robert Allen Zimmerman” in Duluth, Minnesota, on May 24, 1941. He started going by “Dylan” when he was attending the University of Minnesota. Dylan has also gone by the names “Elston Gunn” and “Robert Allyn,” and also experimented with alternative spellings like “Bob Dillon.”
19. 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 and Little Richard, playing their songs with his band, Golden Chords. He started gravitating toward folk when he realized how much more substance it contained.
18. 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.
17. His wasn’t an overnight sensation
When Dylan’s self-titled debut 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.
16. 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.
15. He’s 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.
14. 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.
13. 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.
12. 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.
11. 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. He’s also acted in the films Hearts of Fire and Masked & Anonymous.
10. 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 ends of the 1970s led to gospel-infused albums Slow Train Coming and Saved.
9. 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.
8. 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.
7. He didn’t win a solo ‘Album of the Year’ Grammy until 1997
While Dylan had a good collection of Grammys 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 his best.
6. 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.
5. 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 volumes chronicling his lyrics.
4. 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.
3. 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.”
2. Bob Dylan’s net worth is an estimated $200 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.
1. He’s a Nobel Prize winner
The 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Bob Dylan. This was an incredible honor, as it had never before been bestowed upon a musician.