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Phil Ochs

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Phil Ochs

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PHIL OCHS SINGING “WE AINT MARCHING ANYMORE” 1975

AMERICAN MASTERS PBS- PHIL OCHS THE,FULL DOCUMENTARY-WELL WORTH WATCHING “THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE”

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/phil-ochs-there-but-for-fortune/watch-the-full-documentary/1962/

PHIL OCHS BIOGRAPHY

Singer-songwriter, protest music

Phil Ochs’ songs are on par with his contemporaries: Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Pete Seeger, as well as Woody Guthrie and Ramblin’ Jack.

Phil Ochs Biography:

Phil Ochs was born in El Paso, TX, in December, 1940. While studying journalism at the Ohio State University, he met and befriended Jim Glover, whose father was one of Phil’s mentors. However, after just three years at the University, Phil moved to New York City, where he quickly infiltrated the booming Greenwich Village folk music scene.
In 1964, he released his first record and, within two years, he had enough success to play to a sold out crowd at Carnegie Hall.

In 1967, he signed a contract with A&M Records, and began recording his fourth album, Pleasures of the Harbor. Pleasures was a bit of a departure, featuring more ornate arrangements and, as a result, was not received as well as his previous solo, acoustic efforts.

While traveling in Dar Es Salaam, Phil was mugged, resulting in the loss of the higher end of his vocal range. After returning from that trip, he seemed to go on a downward spiral, suffering from severe depression and anxiety. He committed suicide in 1976, at the age of 35.

Most of Phil Ochs’ music touches on some of the most difficult issues, raising important social and political questions. There have been two biographies written about him, and a number of tribute albums; his music continues to influence and inspire topical songwriters around the world.

“Draft Dodger Rag” – Phil Ochs

Phil Ochs live at Newport Folk Festival
© Robert Corwin

Phil Ochs was undeniably one of the greatest protest songwriters to have lived. This is only one of his great compositions, and it uses Ochs’ wry whit and humor to depict a soldier trying to get out of being drafted. Through the silliness of the lyrics, Ochs was able to paint a clear picture of the opposition to the draft so many men felt during the Vietnam war era.

I’ve got the weakness woes, I can’t touch my toes, I can hardly reach my knees / and when the enemy gets close to me I’ll probably start to sneeze
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SOME WELL KNOWN PROTEST SONGS
“Give Peace a Chance” – John Lennon
Peace
At the end of his week-long “bed-in” in 1969 with his new wife Yoko Ono, John Lennon had recording equipment brought into the hotel room. There, along with Timothy Leary, members of the Canadian Radha Krishna Temple, and a roomful of others, John recorded this song. It was the height of the Vietnam war, and this song became an anthem of the peace movement that summer. It has lived on in its anthemic quality since then during peace movements all over the world.

Everybody’s talking about Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism, This-ism, that-ism, ism ism ism / All we are saying is give peace a chance

“People Have the Power” – Patti Smith
Patti Smith
Calling Patti Smith a folksinger would surely upset fans in both Folk music and Rock circles. But her anthem, “People Have the Power,” is one of the most potent, lyrical, lovely protest songs I’ve ever heard. And it’s certainly a big part of what has taken her work to legendary status. Recorded in 1988, “People Have the Power” serves as a reminder that, as she sings at the end of the song, “everything we dream can come to pass through our union” including, presumably, a world without war.

I awakened to the cry that the people have the power / To redeem the work of fools upon the meek / the graces shower / Its decreed / the people rule
“Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation” – Tom Paxton

Tom Paxton
© Elektra Records

Tom Paxton is another one of those artists who has just penned song after song of exquisite empowerment and protest. His classic “Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation” was pointedly about being drafted to serve in Vietnam, but if you substitute any international conflict, the words still ring true. The song sings about being part of an escalation of troops, fighting a never-ending war, using force to proliferate peace: all topics as topical today (unfortunately) as they were when the song was penned.

Lyndon Johnson told the nation have no fear of escalation / I am trying everyone to please / Though it isn’t really war, I’m sending 50,000 more / to help save Vietnam from the Vietnamese

“If I Had a Hammer” – Pete Seeger, Lee Hays
Peter, Paul & Mary
© Rhino/WEA

This is one of those songs that has seeped so far into the public consciousness that it’s included in children’s songbooks. It’s a simple, easy song to remember. It so idealistic that people can’t help but sing along. Although this was a Pete Seeger composition, it’s most frequently linked to Peter, Paul & Mary, who helped popularize it.

I’d ring out “Danger!” / I’d ring out “Warning!” / I’d ring out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land

“War” – Edwinn Starr
Edwin Starr
© Motown

Originally recorded by the Temptations, this song was popularized in 1970 by Edwin Starr. The Vietnam war was at the height of its conflict, and the peace movement was gaining speed. The song talks about war in general, not specifically the one in Vietnam. The lyrics raise the question of whether there must be a better way to resolve conflict.
War, I despise because it means destruction of innocent lives / War means tears to thousands of mothers eyes / when their sons go to fight and lose their lives

“I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore” – Phil Ochs
Phil Ochs – I Ain’t Marching Anymore album cover
© Elektra

Phil Ochs was one of the most prolific “protest song” writers on the scene in the 60s and 70s. This song takes the voice of a young soldier who is refusing to fight in any more wars, after having seen and participated in so many killings at war. It’s a poetic look into the inside of the ugliness of war, and a staunch claim for Och’s “War is Over” stance.

I marched in the battle of New Orleans at the end of the early British war / I killed my brothers and so many others, but I ain’t marching anymore
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“Where Have All the Flowers Gone” – Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger
© Sony

That Pete Seeger really knows how to write those protest songs. This is yet another classic by Woody’s protege. The simple recurring lyrics make it completely sing-along-able. The story is of the cycle of war, beginning with young girls picking flowers that eventually end up on the graves of their dead soldier husbands. The recanting of “When will they ever learn” is so pretty and catchy that it gets sung at peace demonstrations even still.

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EVERYTHING ABOUT WOODIE GUTHRIE

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WOODIE GUTHRIE SONGS

BIOGRAPHY



CHILDHOOD (1912-1931)
Okemah, Oklahoma
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From left: Woody, Nora, Charley, & George Guthrie at their home in Okemah, Oklahoma, 1924.

WOODY SEZ…

“Okemah was one of the singingest, square dancingest, drinkingest, yellingest, preachingest, walkingest, talkingest, laughingest, cryingest, shootingest, fist fightingest, bleedingest, gamblingest, gun, club and razor carryingest of our ranch towns and farm towns, because it blossomed out into one of our first Oil Boom Towns.”

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was born on July 14, 1912, in Okemah, Oklahoma. He was the second-born son of Charles and Nora Belle Guthrie. His father – a cowboy, land speculator, and local politician – taught Woody Western songs, Indian songs, and Scottish folk tunes. His Kansas-born mother, also musically inclined, had an equally profound effect on Woody.

Slightly built, with an extremely full and curly head of hair, Woody was a precocious and unconventional boy from the start. Always a keen observer of the world around him, the people, music and landscape he was exposed to made lasting impressions on him.

During his early years in Oklahoma, Woody experienced the first of a series of immensely tragic personal losses. With the accidental death of his older sister Clara, the family’s financial ruin, and the institutionalization and eventual loss of his mother, Woody’s family and home life was forever devastated.

In 1920, oil was discovered nearby and overnight Okemah was transformed into an “oil boom” town, bringing thousands of workers, gamblers and hustlers to the once sleepy farm town. Within a few years, the oil flow suddenly stopped and Okemah suffered a severe economic turnaround, leaving the town and its inhabitants “busted, disgusted, and not to be trusted.”

From his experiences in Okemah, Woody’s uniquely wry outlook on life, as well as his abiding interest in rambling around the country, was formed. And so, he took to the open road.

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THE GREAT DUST BOWL (1931-1937)
Pampa, Texas
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Woody in Pampa, Texas, 1931.

WOODY SEZ…

“If there was anybody around there that did not play some instrument I did not see them… We played for rodeos, centennials, carnivals, parades, fairs, just bustdown parties, and played several nights and days a week just to hear our own boards rattle and our strings roar around in the wind. It was along in these days I commenced singing, I guess it was singing.”

In 1931, when Okemah’s boomtown period went bust, Woody left for Texas. In the panhandle town of Pampa, he fell in love with Mary Jennings, the younger sister of a friend and musician named Matt Jennings. Woody and Mary were married in 1933, and together had three children, Gwen, Sue and Bill.

It was with Matt Jennings and Cluster Baker that Woody made his first attempt at a musical career, forming The Corn Cob Trio and later the Pampa Junior Chamber of Commerce Band. It was also in Pampa that Woody first discovered a love and talent for drawing and painting, an interest he would pursue throughout his life.

If the Great Depression made it hard for Woody to support his family, the onslaught of the Great Dust Storm period, which hit the Great Plains in 1935, made it impossible. Drought and dust forced thousands of desperate farmers and unemployed workers from Oklahoma, Kansas, Tennessee, and Georgia to head west in search of work. Woody, like hundreds of “dustbowl refugees,” hit Route 66, also looking for a way to support his family, who remained back in Pampa.

Moneyless and hungry, Woody hitchhiked, rode freight trains, and even walked his way to California, taking whatever small jobs he could. In exchange for bed and board, Woody painted signs and played guitar and sang in saloons along the way, developing a love for traveling the open road-a lifelong habit he would often repeat.

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KFVD RADIO YEARS (1937-1940)
Los Angeles, California
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Woody and Maxine “Lefty Lou” Dempsey in Los Angeles, CA.

WOODY SEZ…

“I hate a song that makes you think that you’re not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are either too old or too young or too fat or too slim or too ugly or too this or too that….songs that run you down or songs that poke fun of you on account of your bad luck or your hard traveling. I am out to fight those kinds of songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood.”

By the time he arrived in California in 1937, Woody had experienced intense scorn, hatred, and even physical antagonism from resident Californians, who opposed the massive migration of the so-called “Okie” outsiders.

In Los Angeles Woody landed a job on KFVD radio, singing “old-time” traditional songs as well as some original songs. Together with his singing partner Maxine Crissman, aka “Lefty Lou,” Woody began to attract widespread public attention, particularly from the thousands of relocated Okies gathered in migrant camps. Living in makeshift cardboard and tin shelters, Woody’s program provided entertainment and a nostalgic sense of the “home” life they’d left behind; despite their desperate circumstances, it was a respite from the harsh realities of migrant life.

The local radio airwaves also provided Woody a forum from which he developed his talent for controversial social commentary and criticism. On topics ranging from corrupt politicians, lawyers, and businessmen to praising the compassionate and humanist principles of Jesus Christ, the outlaw hero Pretty Boy Floyd, and the union organizers that were fighting for the rights of migrant workers in California’s agricultural communities, Woody proved himself a hard-hitting advocate for truth, fairness, and justice.

Woody strongly identified with his audience and adapted to an “outsider” status, along with them. This role would become an essential element of his political and social positioning, gradually working its way into his songwriting; “I Ain’t Got No Home”, “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad”, “Talking Dust Bowl Blues”, “Tom Joad” and “Hard Travelin'”; all reflect his desire to give voice to those who had been disenfranchised.

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NEW YORK TOWN (1940-1941)
New York City, New York
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From left: Woody, Millard Lampell, Bess Lomax, Pete Seeger, Arthur Stern, and Sis Cunningham. The Almanac Singers in 1941.

WOODY SEZ…

“There’s several ways of saying what’s on your mind. And in states and counties where it ain’t any too healthy to talk too loud, speak your mind, or even to vote like you want to, folks have found other ways of getting the word around. 

One of the mainest ways is by singing. Drop the word ‘folk’ and just call it real old honest to god American singing. No matter who makes it up, no matter who sings it and who don’t, if it talks the lingo of the people, it’s a cinch to catch on, and will be sung here and yonder for a long time after you’ve cashed in your chips.

If the fight gets hot, the songs get hotter. If the going gets tough, the songs get tougher.”

Never comfortable with success, or being in one place for too long, Woody headed east for New York City, arriving in 1940. He was quickly embraced for his Steinbeckian homespun wisdom and musical “authenticity” by leftist organizations, artists, writers, musicians, and progressive intellectuals. That same year, folklorist Alan Lomax recorded Woody in a series of conversations and songs for the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Woody also recorded “Dust Bowl Ballads” for RCA Victor, his first album of original songs, and throughout the 1940s he continued to record hundreds of discs for Moses Asch, founder of Folkways Records. The recordings from this early period continue to be touchstones for folk music singer-songwriters everywhere.

In New York City, Lead Belly, Cisco Houston, Burl Ives, Pete Seeger, Will Geer, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Josh White, Millard Lampell, Bess Hawes, Sis Cunningham, among others, all became Woody’s close friends and musical collaborators. Forming a loosely knit folk group called The Almanac Singers, they took up social causes such as union organizing, anti-Fascism, strengthening the Communist Party, peace, and generally fighting for the things they believed in the best way they could: through songs of political protest and activism. Woody became one of the prominent songwriters for the Almanac Singers.

The Almanacs helped to establish folk music as a viable commercial genre within the popular music industry. A decade later, original members of the Almanacs would re-form as the Weavers, the most commercially successful and influential folk music group of the early 1950s. It was through their tremendous popularity that Woody’s songs would become known to the larger public.

With increasing popularity, prosperity and critical success from public performances, recordings, and even his own radio show, Woody could afford to bring his struggling family to New York to enjoy his new found success.

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COLUMBIA RIVER (1941)
Portland, Oregon
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Woody in the Pacific Northwest.

WOODY SEZ…

“The Pacific Northwest is one of my favorite spots in this world, and I’m one walker that’s stood way up and looked way down acrost aplenty of pretty sights in all their veiled and nakedest seasons.

The Pacific Northwest has got mineral mountains. It’s got chemical deserts. It’s got rough run canyons. It’s got sawblade snowcaps. It’s got ridges of nine kinds of brown, hills out of six colors of green, ridges five shades of shadows, and stickers the eight tones of hell.

I pulled my shoes on and walked out of every one of these Pacific Northwest Mountain towns drawing pictures in my mind and listening to poems and songs and words faster to come and dance in my ears than I could ever get them wrote down…”

Despite his success, Woody became increasingly restless and disillusioned with New York’s radio and entertainment industry. Feeling the heat of censorship he wrote: “I got disgusted with the whole sissified and nervous rules of censorship on all my songs and ballads, and drove off down the road across the southern states again.”

Leaving New York, with his wife and three young children in tow, Woody headed out to Portland, Oregon where a documentary film project about the building of the Grand Coulee Dam sought to use his songwriting talent. The Bonneville Power Administration placed Woody on the Federal payroll for a month and there he composed the Columbia River Songs, another remarkable collection of songs that include “Roll on Columbia,” “Grand Coulee Dam,” and “The Biggest Thing That Man Has Done.” When his contract expired, Woody moved his family back to Pampa, Texas.

Hoping to get back to New York City, and on the radio, he hitchhiked his way across the country. Woody’s constant traveling, performing, and lack of regular work throughout the early 1940s took a hard toll on his family. Together with his increasing interest and involvement with progressive “radical” politics helped bring about the end of his first marriage.

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WORLD WAR II (1942-1945)
New York City, New York
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Woody with his iconic guitar. Photo by Al Aumuller.

WOODY SEZ…

“This machine kills fascists.”

Back in New York, Woody met and courted a young dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company named Marjorie (Greenblatt) Mazia. Sharing humanist ideals and activist politics, Woody and Marjorie were married in 1945 and over the years had four children: Cathy, (who died at age four in a tragic home fire), Arlo, Joady, and Nora.

This relationship provided Woody a level of domestic stability and encouragement which he had previously not known, enabling him to turn out a staggering number of original songs, writings, drawings, paintings, poems and prose pieces. His first novel, Bound for Glory , a semi-autobiographical account of his Dust Bowl years was published in 1943 to critical acclaim.

During World War II, moved by his passion against Fascism, Woody served in both the Merchant Marine and the Army. Shipping out to sea on several occasions with his buddies Cisco Houston and Jimmy Longhi, Woody’s tendency to write songs, tell stories and make drawings continued unabated. He composed hundreds of anti-Hitler, pro-war, and historic ballads to rally the troops, such as “All You Fascists Bound To Lose”, “Talking Merchant Marine,” and “The Sinking of the Reuben James.” He began to work on a second novel, Sea Porpoise, and was enlisted by the army to write songs about the dangers of venereal diseases, which were published in brochures distributed to sailors. His capacity for creative self-expression seemed inexhaustible, whether on land or sea.

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CONEY ISLAND (1946-1954)
New York City, New York
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Woody performing for children on New York City Street, 1943. Photo by Eric Schaal/TIMEPIX

WOODY SEZ…

“Watch the kids. Do like they do. Act like they act. Yell like they yell. Dance the ways you see them dance. Sing like they sing. Work and rest the way the kids do.

You’ll be healthier. You’ll feel wealthier. You’ll talk wiser. You’ll go higher, do better, and live longer here amongst us if you’ll just only jump in here and swim around in these songs and do like the kids do.

I don’t want the kids to be grownup. I want to see the grown folks be kids.”

Following the war, in 1946, Woody Guthrie returned to settle in Coney Island, New York, with his wife Marjorie and their children. The peace he had fought so hard for seemed finally within his reach. It was during this time that Woody composed and recorded Songs to Grow On For Mother and Child and Work Songs To Grow On , considered children’s classics which won him success and recognition as an innovative writer of children’s songs.

Woody’s unique approach was to write songs that dealt with topics important to children written in language used by children such as; friendship (“Don’t You Push Me Down”), family (“Ship In The Sky”), community (“Howdi Doo”), chores (“Pick It Up”), personal responsibility (“Cleano”) and just plain fun (“Riding In My Car”).

During these years, Woody was exposed to Coney Island’s Jewish community through his mother-in-law, Aliza Greenblatt, a Yiddish poet. Inspired by this new relationship, he wrote a remarkable series of songs reflecting Jewish culture, such as “Hanuka Dance,” “The Many and The Few” and “Mermaid’s Avenue.”

Toward the late 1940s, Woody’s behavior started to become increasingly erratic, moody and violent, creating tensions in his personal and professional life. He was beginning to show symptoms of a rare, neurological disease, Huntington’s Chorea, a hereditary, degenerative disease that gradually and eventually robbed him of his health, talents and abilities. At the time, little was known about Huntington’s Chorea. It was later discovered to be the same disease which thirty years earlier had caused his mother’s institutionalization and eventual death.

Shaken by inexplicable volatile physical and emotional symptoms, Woody left his family once again, taking off for California with his young protégé, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.

Arriving at his friend Will Geer’s property, Woody met Anneke Van Kirk, a young woman who became his third wife and with whom they had a daughter, Lorina.

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HOSPITAL YEARS (1954-1967)
Huntington’s Disease
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Woody at Greystone Hospital, New Jersey, 1958.
Photo by Lou Gordon.

WOODY SEZ…

“The note of hope is the only note that can help us or save us from falling to the bottom of the heap of evolution, because, largely, about all a human being is, anyway, is just a hoping machine.”

The late 1940’s and early 1950’s saw a rise in anti-Communist sentiments. Leftist and progressive-minded Americans were subjected to Red-scare tactics such as “blacklisting”. Many people, particularly in the arts and entertainment fields, either lost their jobs or were prevented from working in their chosen careers. The Weavers, along with Woody, Pete Seeger and others from their circle, were targeted for their activist stances on such issues as the right to unionize, equal rights, and free speech.

Woody headed south to Florida, where friend and fellow activist Stetson Kennedy offered blacklisted artists living space on his property. While in the South at Kennedy’s “Beluthahatchee”, Woody worked on a third novel, Seeds of Man , and composed songs inspired by a heightened awareness of racial and environmental issues.

Becoming more and more unpredictable during a final series of road trips, Woody eventually returned to New York with Anneke, where he was hospitalized several times. Mistakenly diagnosed and treated for everything from alcoholism to schizophrenia, his symptoms kept worsening and his physical condition deteriorated. Picked up for “vagrancy” in New Jersey in 1954, he was admitted into the nearby Greystone Psychiatric Hospital, where he was finally diagnosed with Huntington’s Chorea, the incurable degenerative nerve disorder now known as Huntington’s Disease or HD.

During these years, Marjorie Guthrie, family and friends continued to visit and care for him. A new generation of musicians took an interest in folk music bringing it into the mainstream as yet another folk music revival. Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, The Greenbriar Boys, Phil Ochs, and many other young folksingers visited Woody in the hospital, bringing along their guitars and their songs to play for him, perhaps even to thank him.

Woody Guthrie died on October 3, 1967 while at Creedmoor State Hospital in Queens, New York. His ashes were sprinkled into the waters off of Coney Island’s shore.

A month later, on Thanksgiving 1967, Woody’s son Arlo Guthrie released his first commercial recording of “Alice’s Restaurant”, which was to become the iconic anti-war anthem for the next generation.

In his lifetime, Woody Guthrie wrote nearly 3,000 song lyrics, published two novels, created artworks, authored numerous published and unpublished manuscripts, poems, prose, and plays and hundreds of letters and news article which are housed in the Woody Guthrie Archives in New York.

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LEGACY
“I Ain’t Dead Yet”
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Woody with his iconic guitar
Photograph by Robin Carson

WOODY SEZ…

“There’s a feeling in music and it carries you back down the road you have traveled and makes you travel it again. Sometimes when I hear music I think back over my days – and a feeling that is fifty-fifty joy and pain swells like clouds taking all kinds of shapes in my mind. 

Music is in all the sounds of nature and there never was a sound that was not music – the splash of an alligator, the rain dripping on dry leaves, the whistle of a train, a long and lonesome train whistling down, a truck horn blowing at a street corner speaker – kids squawling along the streets – the silent wail of wind and sky caressing the breasts of the desert.

Life is this sound, and since creation has been a song. And there is no real trick of creating words to set to music, once you realize that the word is the music and the people are the song.”

Having lived through some of the most significant historic movements and events of the Twentieth-Century –the Great Depression, the Great Dust Storm, World War II, the social and the political upheavals resulting from Unionism, the Communist Party and the Cold War– Woody absorbed it all to become a prolific writer whose songs, ballads, prose and poetry captured the plight of everyman. While traveling throughout the American landscape during the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, Woody’s observations of what he saw and experienced has left for us a lasting and sometimes haunting legacy of images, sounds, and voices of the marginalized, disenfranchised, and oppressed people with whom he struggled to survive despite all odds. Although the corpus of original Woody Guthrie songs, or as Woody preferred “people’s songs” are, perhaps, his most recognized contribution to American culture, the stinging honesty, humor, and wit found even in his most vernacular prose writings exhibit Woody’s fervent belief in social, political, and spiritual justice.

In 1996, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and Case Western Reserve University presented a ten day celebration honoring Woody Guthrie, entitled Hard Travelin’. It was the first major conference on the legacy of Woody Guthrie complete with a photo exhibition, lectures, films, and two benefit concerts, which were held in support of the Woody Guthrie Archives.

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HONORS & AWARDS

Woody Guthrie has been recognized for his monumental contributions and achievements in American culture. He has been the recipient of prestigious awards both from governmental departments and private arts organizations.

  • Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, Pioneer Award 2012
  • U.S. Department of the Interior, Conservation Service Award 1966
  • The National Songwriters’ Hall of Fame inductee 1970
  • The Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame inductee 1977
  • The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum inductee 1988
  • The North American Folk Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award 1996
  • National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Lifetime Achievement Award 1999
  • The Oklahoma Hall of Fame inductee 2006

-written by Jorge Arevalo / Woody Guthrie Archives

THE INCONIC BOB DYLAN

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Artist Biography by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Bob Dylan‘s influence on popular music is incalculable. As a songwriter, he pioneered several different schools of pop songwriting, from confessional singer/songwriter to winding, hallucinatory, stream-of-consciousness narratives. As a vocalist, he broke down the notion that a singer must have a conventionally good voice in order to perform, thereby redefining the vocalist’s role in popular music. As a musician, he sparked several genres of pop music, including electrified folk-rock and country-rock. And that just touches on the tip of his achievements. Dylan‘s force was evident during his height of popularity in the ’60s — the Beatles‘ shift toward introspective songwriting in the mid-’60s never would have happened without him — but his influence echoed throughout several subsequent generations, as many of his songs became popular standards and his best albums became undisputed classics of the rock & roll canon. Dylan‘s influence throughout folk music was equally powerful, and he marks a pivotal turning point in its 20th century evolution, signifying when the genre moved away from traditional songs and toward personal songwriting. Even when his sales declined in the ’80s and ’90s, Dylan‘s presence rarely lagged, and his commercial revival in the 2000s proved his staying power.

For a figure of such substantial influence, Dylan came from humble beginnings. Born in Duluth, Minnesota, Bob Dylan (b. Robert Allen Zimmerman, May 24, 1941) was raised in Hibbing, Minnesota, from the age of six. As a child he learned how to play guitar and harmonica, forming a rock & roll band called the Golden Chords when he was in high school. Following his graduation in 1959, he began studying art at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. While at college, he began performing folk songs at coffeehouses under the name Bob Dylan, taking his last name from the poet Dylan Thomas. Already inspired by Hank Williams and Woody GuthrieDylan began listening to blues while at college, and the genre wove its way into his music. He spent the summer of 1960 in Denver, where he met bluesman Jesse Fuller, the inspiration behind the songwriter’s signature harmonica rack and guitar. By the time he returned to Minneapolis in the fall, he had grown substantially as a performer and was determined to become a professional musician.

Dylan made his way to New York City in January of 1961, immediately making a substantial impression on the folk community of Greenwich Village. He began visiting his idolGuthrie in the hospital, where he was slowly dying from Huntington’s chorea. Dylan also began performing in coffeehouses, and his rough charisma won him a significant following. In April, he opened for John Lee Hooker at Gerde’s Folk City. Five months later, Dylan performed another concert at the venue, which was reviewed positively by Robert Shelton in The New York Times. Columbia A&R man John Hammond sought out Dylan on the strength of the review, and signed the songwriter in the fall of 1961. Hammond produced Dylan‘s eponymous debut album (released in March 1962), a collection of folk and blues standards that 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 contemporaries. These songs were showcased on his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Before its release, Freewheelin’ went through several incarnations. Dylan had recorded a rock & roll single, “Mixed Up Confusion,” at the end of 1962, but his manager, Albert Grossman, made sure the record was deleted because he wanted to presentDylan as an acoustic folkie. Similarly, several tracks with a full backing band that were recorded forFreewheelin’ were scrapped before the album’s release. Furthermore, several tracks recorded for the album — including “Talking John Birch Society Blues” — were eliminated from the album before its release.

Comprised entirely of original songs, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan made a huge impact in the U.S. folk community, and many performers began covering songs from the album. Of these, the most significant were Peter, Paul and Mary, who made “Blowin’ in the Wind” into a huge pop hit in the summer of 1963 and thereby made Bob Dylan into a recognizable household name. On the strength of Peter, Paul and Mary‘s cover and his opening gigs for popular folkie Joan BaezFreewheelin’ became a hit in the fall of 1963, climbing to number 23 on the charts. By that point, Baez and Dylan had become romantically involved, and she was beginning to record his songs frequently. Dylan was writing just as fast.

By the time The Times They Are A-Changin’ was released in early 1964, Dylan‘s songwriting had developed far beyond that of his New York peers. Heavily inspired by poets likeArthur Rimbaud and John Keats, his writing took on a more literate and evocative quality. Around the same time, he began to expand his musical boundaries, adding more blues and R&B influences to his songs. Released in the summer of 1964, Another Side of Bob Dylan made these changes evident. However, Dylan was moving faster than his records could indicate. By the end of 1964, he had ended his romantic relationship with Baez and had begun dating a former model named Sara Lowndes, whom he subsequently married. Simultaneously, he gave the Byrds “Mr. Tambourine Man” to record for their debut album. the Byrds gave the song a ringing, electric arrangement, but by the time the single became a hit, Dylan was already exploring his own brand of folk-rock.

Inspired by the British Invasion, particularly the Animals‘ version of “House of the Rising Sun,” Dylan recorded a set of original songs backed by a loud rock & roll band for his next album. While Bringing It All Back Home (March 1965) still had a side of acoustic material, it made clear that Dylan had turned his back on folk music. For the folk audience, the true breaking point arrived a few months after the album’s release, when he played the Newport Folk Festival supported by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The audience greeted him with vicious derision, but he had already been accepted by the growing rock & roll community. Dylan‘s spring tour of Britain was the basis for D.A. Pennebaker‘s documentary Don’t Look Back, a film that captures the songwriter’s edgy charisma and char

Dylan made his breakthrough to the pop audience in the summer of 1965, when “Like a Rolling Stone” became a number two hit. Driven by a circular organ riff and a steady beat, the six-minute single broke the barrier of the three-minute pop single. Dylan became the subject of innumerable articles, and his lyrics became the subject of literary analyses across the U.S. and U.K. Well over 100 artists covered his songs between 1964 and 1966; the Byrds and the Turtles, in particular, had big hits with his compositions. Highway 61 Revisited, his first full-fledged rock & roll album, became a Top Ten hit shortly after its summer 1965 release. “Positively 4th Street” and “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” became Top Ten hits in the fall of 1965 and spring of 1966, respectively. Following the May 1966 release of the double album Blonde on Blonde, he had sold over ten million records around the world.

During the fall of 1965, Dylan hired the Hawks, formerly Ronnie Hawkins‘ backing group, as his touring band. the Hawks, who changed their name to the Band in 1968, would become Dylan‘s most famous backing band, primarily because of their intuitive chemistry and “wild, thin mercury sound,” but also because of their British tour in the spring of 1966. The tour was the first time the British had heard the electric Dylan, and their reaction was disagreeable and violent. At the Manchester concert (long mistakenly identified as the show from London’s Royal Albert Hall), an audience member called Dylan“Judas,” inspiring a positively vicious version of “Like a Rolling Stone” from Dylan and the band. The performance was immortalized on countless bootleg albums (an official release finally surfaced in 1998), and it indicates the intensity of Dylan in the middle of 1966. He had assumed control of Pennebaker‘s second Dylan documentary, Eat the Document, and was under deadline to complete his bookTarantula, as well as record a new record. Following the British tour, he returned to America.

The Basement Tapes

On July 29, 1966, he was injured in a motorcycle accident outside of his home in Woodstock, New York, suffering injuries to his neck vertebrae and a concussion. Details of the accident remain elusive — he was reportedly in critical condition for a week and had amnesia — and some biographers have questioned its severity, but the event was a pivotal turning point in his career. After the accident, Dylanbecame a recluse, disappearing into his home in Woodstock and raising his family with his wife, Sara. After a few months, he retreated with the Band to a rented house, subsequently dubbed Big Pink, in West Saugerties to record a number of demos. For several months, Dylan and the Band recorded an enormous amount of material, ranging from old folk, country, and blues songs to newly written originals. The songs indicated that Dylan‘s songwriting had undergone a metamorphosis, becoming streamlined and more direct. Similarly, his music had changed, owing less to traditional rock & roll, and demonstrating heavy country, blues, and traditional folk influences. None of the Big Pink recordings was intended to be released, but tapes from the sessions were circulated by Dylan‘s music publisher with the intent of generating cover versions. Copies of these tapes, as well as other songs, were available on illegal bootleg albums by the end of the ’60s; it was the first time that bootleg copies of unreleased recordings became widely circulated. Portions of the tapes were officially released in 1975 as the double album The Basement Tapes.

John Wesley Harding

While Dylan was in seclusion, rock & roll had become heavier and artier in the wake of the psychedelic revolution. WhenDylan returned with John Wesley Harding in December of 1967, its quiet, country ambience was a surprise to the general public, but it was a significant hit, peaking at number two in the U.S. and number one in the U.K. Furthermore, the record arguably became the first significant country-rock record to be released, setting the stage for efforts by the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers later in 1969.

Nashville Skyline

Dylan followed his country inclinations on his next album, 1969’s Nashville Skyline, which was recorded in Nashville with several of the country industry’s top session men. While the album was a hit, spawning the Top Ten single “Lay Lady Lay,” it was criticized in some quarters for uneven material. The mixed reception was the beginning of a full-blown backlash that arrived with the double-album Self Portrait. Released early in June of 1970, the album was a hodgepodge of covers, live tracks, re-interpretations, and new songs greeted with negative reviews from all quarters of the press. Dylan followed the album quickly with New Morning, which was hailed as a comeback.

Dylan [1973]

Following the release of New MorningDylan began to wander restlessly. He moved back to Greenwich Village, he finally published Tarantula in November of 1970, and he performed at the Concert for Bangladesh in August 1971. During 1972, he began his acting career by playing Alias in Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, which was released in 1973. He also wrote the soundtrack for the film, which featured “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” his biggest hit since “Lay Lady Lay.” The Pat Garrett soundtrack was the final record released under his Columbia contract before he moved to David Geffen‘s fledgling Asylum Records. As retaliation, Columbia assembled Dylan, a collection of Self Portrait outtakes, for release at the end of 1973. Dylan only recorded two albums — including 1974’s Planet Waves, coincidentally his first number one album — before he moved back to Columbia. the Band supported Dylan on Planet Wavesand its accompanying tour, which became the most successful tour in rock & roll history; it was captured on 1974’s double live album Before the Flood.

Dylan‘s 1974 tour was the beginning of a comeback culminating with 1975’s Blood on the Tracks. Largely inspired by the disintegration of his marriage, Blood on the Tracks was hailed as a return to form by critics and it became his second number one album. After jamming with folkies in Greenwich Village, Dylan decided to launch a gigantic tour, loosely based on traveling medicine shows. Lining up an extensive list of supporting musicians — including Joan BaezJoni MitchellRamblin’ Jack Elliott,Arlo GuthrieMick RonsonRoger McGuinn, and poetAllen Ginsberg — Dylan dubbed the tour the Rolling Thunder Revue and set out on the road in the fall of 1975. For the next year, the Rolling Thunder Revue toured on and off, with Dylan filming many of the concerts for a future film. During the tour,Desire was released to considerable acclaim and success, spending five weeks on the top of the charts. Throughout the Rolling Thunder RevueDylan showcased “Hurricane,” a protest song he had written about boxer Rubin Carter, who had been unjustly imprisoned for murder. The live album Hard Rain was released at the end of the tour. Dylan released Renaldo and Clara, a four-hour film based on the Rolling Thunder tour, to poor reviews in early 1978.

Early in 1978, Dylan set out on another extensive tour, this time backed by a band that resembled a Las Vegas lounge act. The group was featured on the 1978 album Street Legaland the 1979 live album At Budokan. At the conclusion of the tour in late 1978, Dylan announced that he was a born-again Christian, and he launched a series of Christian albums that following summer with Slow Train Coming. Though the reviews were mixed, the album was a success, peaking at number three and going platinum. His supporting tour forSlow Train Coming featured only his new religious material, much to the bafflement of his long-term fans. Two other religious albums — Saved (1980) and Shot of Love (1981) — followed, both to poor reviews. In 1982,Dylan traveled to Israel, sparking rumors that his conversion to Christianity was short-lived. He returned to secular recording with 1983’s Infidels, which was greeted with favorable reviews.

Dylan returned to performing in 1984, releasing the live albumReal Live at the end of the year. Empire Burlesque followed in 1985, but its odd mix of dance tracks and rock & roll won few fans. However, the five-album/triple-disc retrospective box set Biograph appeared that same year to great acclaim. In 1986, Dylan hit the road with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers for a successful and acclaimed tour, but his album that year, Knocked Out Loaded, was received poorly. The following year, he toured with the Grateful Dead as his backing band; two years later, the souvenir album Dylan & the Dead appeared.

In 1988, Dylan embarked on what became known as “the Never-Ending Tour” — a constant stream of shows that ran on and off into the late ’90s. That same year, he appeared onThe Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1 — by the supergroup also featuring George HarrisonRoy OrbisonTom Petty, andJeff Lynne — and released his own Down in the Groove, an album largely comprised of covers. The Never-Ending Tour received far stronger reviews than Down in the Groove (theTraveling Wilburys album fared much better), but 1989’s Oh Mercy was his most acclaimed album since 1975’s Blood on the Tracks, due in part to Daniel Lanois‘ strong production. However, Dylan‘s 1990 follow-up, Under the Red Sky (issued the same year as the second album bythe Traveling Wilburys, now a quartet following the death of Roy Orbison shortly after the release ofthe Wilburys‘ first long-player in 1988), was received poorly, especially when compared to the enthusiastic reception for the 1991 box set The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased), a collection of previously unreleased outtakes and rarities.

Good as I Been to You

For the remainder of the ’90s, Dylan divided his time between live concerts, painting, and studio projects. He returned to recording in 1992 with Good as I Been to You, an acoustic collection of traditional folk songs. It was followed in 1993 by another folk record, World Gone Wrong, which won the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album. After the release ofWorld Gone WrongDylan released a greatest-hits album and a live record.

Time Out of Mind

Dylan releasedTime Out of Mind, his first album of original material in seven years, in the fall of 1997. Time Out of Mind received his strongest reviews in years and unexpectedly debuted in the Top Ten, eventually climbing to platinum certification. Such success sparked a revival of interest in Dylan, who appeared on the cover of Newsweek and began selling out concerts once again. Early in 1998,Time Out of Mind received three Grammy Awards — Album of the Year, Best Contemporary Folk Album, and Best Male Rock Vocal.

Love and Theft

Another album of original material, Love and Theft, followed in 2001 and went gold. Soon after its release, Dylanannounced that he was making his own film, to star Jeff BridgesPenelope CruzJohn GoodmanVal Kilmer, and many more. The accompanying soundtrack, Masked and Anonymous, was released in July 2003. Dylan opted to self-produce his new studio album, Modern Times, which topped the Billboard charts and went platinum in both America and the U.K. It was Dylan‘s third consecutive album to receive praise from critics and support from consumers, and it was followed three years later in 2009 by Together Through Life, another self-produced effort (as Jack Frost) that also featured contributions from David Hidalgo of Los Lobos and Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. He capped off the year with an old-fashioned holiday effort, Christmas in the Heart. Proceeds from the album were donated to various charities around the world. Dylan released the self-produced (again as Jack FrostTempest on September 11, 2012.