Following his graduation in 1959, he began studying art at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. While at college, he started 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 Guthrie, Dylan began listening to blues while at college, and the genre weaved its way into his music.
Dylan 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 idol Woody Guthrie 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 debut album, released in March 1962, a collection of folk and blues standards that boasted only two original songs.
Over the course of the year, Dylan began to write a large batch of original tunes, 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 present Dylan as an acoustic folkie. Similarly, several tracks with a full backing band that were recorded for Freewheelin' 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.
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 & 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 & Mary's cover and his opening gigs for popular folkie Joan Baez, "Freewheelin'" 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, and was performing hundreds of concerts a year.
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 like Arthur 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 fall 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 1965, he had ended his romantic relationship with Baez and had begun dating a former model named Sara Lowndes. 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, as well as the mainstream press, who were fascinated by his witty, surreal and caustic press conferences. 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 charm.
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 literay analyzations across the US and UK.
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 upon its fall 1965 release. Singles from the album, "Positively 4th Street" (#12) and "Rainy Day Women" (#35) became Top Forty 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 10 million records around the world.
Late in 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 Britain had heard the electric Dylan, and their reaction was disagreeable and violent. At the tour's opening date, an audience member called Dylan "Judas," inspiring a positively vicious version of "Like a Rolling Stone" from 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.
Following the British tour, he returned to America, where on July 29, 1966, he was injured in a motorcycle accident outside of his home in Woodstock, New York home, 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, Dylan became 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 Bearsville 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 were 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.
While Dylan was in seclusion, rock & roll had become heavier and artier in the wake of the psychedelic revolution. When Dylan 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 US and number one in the UK. 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 1968.
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 10 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 1970, the album was a hodge-podge of covers, live tracks, re-interpretations and new songs greeted with vicious reviews from all quarters of the press. Dylan followed the album quickly with "New Morning", which was hailed as a comeback.
Following the release of "New Morning", Dylan began to wander restlessly. In 1971, he moved back to Greenwich Village, published his book, "Tarantula" for the first time, and performed at the Concert for Bangladesh; it would be his only live performance in the first half of the decade. 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 one album, 1974's "Planet Waves", coincidentally his first number one album, before he moved back to Columbia. The Band supported Dylan on "Planet Waves" and 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 culminated by 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 travelling medicine shows.
Lining up an extensive list of supporting musicians, including Joan Baez, Jonie Mitchell, Rambling Jack Elliott, Arlo Guthrie, Mick Ronson, Roger McGuinn, and poet Allen 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 Revue, Dylan 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 band. The group was featured on the 1978 album "Street Legal" and the 1979 live album, "At Budokan". At the conclusion of the tour in 1979, Dylan announced that he was a born-again Christian, and he launched a series of Christian albums that fall with "Slow Train Coming". Though the reviews were mixed, the album was a success, peaking at number three and going platinum.
His supporting tour for "Slow 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 rumours that his conversion to Christianity was short-lived. He returned to secular recording with 1983's "Infidels", which was greeted with favourable reviews.
Dylan returned to performing in 1984, releasing the live album "Real 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 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 released "Down In The Groove", an album largely comprised of covers. The Never-Ending Tour received far stronger reviews than Down in the Groove, but 1989's "Oh Mercy" was his most acclaimed album since 1974's "Blood on the Tracks".
His 1990 follow-up, "Under The Red Sky", 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. For the remainder of the '90s, Dylan divided his time between live concerts and painting.
In 1992, he returned to recording with "Good As I Been to You", an acoustic collection of traditional folk songs. It was followed in 1993 by another folk album, "World Gone Wrong", which won the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album. After the release of "World Gone Wrong", Dylan released a greatest-hits album and a live record. He also appeared on the highly successful "Traveling Wilburys" album with Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne.
Dylan released "Time 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 10. Its success sparked a revival of interest in Dylan, as he appeared on the cover of Newsweek to promote the album and his concerts became sell-outs. He placed a second straight LP in Billboard's Top 10 with "Love & Theft" in 2001.
In 2005, the street on which Dylan grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota, was re-named Bob Dylan Drive. September, 2006 brought more good times for Dylan when for the first time in 30 years, he topped The Billboard 200 album chart with "Modern Times". Not only was it the legendary songwriter's first album to reach number one since "Desire" in 1976, it was also his highest debuting album and his best sales week since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking data in 1991. The Columbia album sold 192,000 copies in the United States in its first week. In December, the CD was named the winner of the 2006 Billboard Critics' Choice poll.
In August 2007, the award-winning film biography of Dylan, I'm Not There, written and directed by Todd Haynes, was released. On October 1st of that same year, Columbia Records issued the triple CD retrospective album "Dylan", anthologising his entire career under the "Dylan 07" logo.
In 2008, a road called the Bob Dylan Pathway was opened in the singer's honor in his birthplace of Duluth, Minnesota. Later that year, The Pulitzer Prize jury awarded him a special citation for "his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power." In October 2008, Columbia released Volume 8 of Dylan's bootleg series, "Tell Tale Signs: Rare And Unreleased 1989 - 2006" as both a two-CD set and a three-CD version with a 150-page hardcover book. However, the hefty price tag of the three-CD version led to heavy criticism.
Dylan released his album "Together Through Life" on April 28th, 2009 to mostly favorable reviews. In its first week of release, the LP topped the Billboard Hot 200 album chart, making the 67-year-old Dylan the oldest artist to ever debut at number one on that chart. October 13th, 2009, brought "Christmas in the Heart", featuring Christmas standards such as "Little Drummer Boy", "Winter Wonderland" and "Here Comes Santa Claus". Dylan's royalties benefited the charities Feeding America in the USA, Crisis in the UK, and the World Food Program.
On April 12th, 2011, Legacy Recordings released "Bob Dylan in Concert at Brandeis University 1963", the original tape of which had been discovered in the archives of music writer Ralph J. Gleason. On October 4th, Dylan's label, Egyptian Records, released an album of previously unheard Hank Williams songs, "The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams". On December 10th, 2011, to mark International Human Rights Day, Amnesty International announced they would release a 4-CD set, "Chimes of Freedom: Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International", to mark the 50th anniversary of the international human rights organization in January 2012.
In March, 2012, Dylan began working on his 35th studio album in Los Angeles, with Los Lobos musician David Hidalgo serving as producer. The LP, entitled "Tempest", opened at #2 on Billboard's Top Rock Albums chart and #3 on the Billboard 200 with 110,000 in sales in its first week. On May 29th, U.S. President Barack Obama awarded Dylan the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor, at a ceremony at the White House. An official government statement said that the rock and roll icon had "considerable influence on the civil rights movement of the 1960s and has had significant impact on American culture over the past five decades." In November, 2013, the French government presented Dylan with the country's highest award, the Legion of Honour, in a brief ceremony in Paris.
In mid-May, 2014, Dylan posted a cover of Frank Sinatra's 1945 hit "Full Moon and Empty Arms" on his website, the first song from an upcoming new album. His tour plans included a European leg of his Never Ending Tour June 16th in Cork, Ireland, running though July 17th in Pori, Finland. On June 24th, Dylan was in the news again when a draft of the lyrics for his ground breaking 1965 song "Like a Rolling Stone" sold for $2.045 million at auction. In August, he announced a 31-date, North American Fall tour that would begin on October 17th in Seattle. His promised new album, "Shadows In The Night", which features ten songs popularized by Frank Sinatra, was released in February, 2015 and promptly went to the top of Billboard's Top Rock Album chart, selling 50,000 copies in its first week. That was also good enough to debut at #7 on the Billboard 200 chart. In May, 2016, he issued a second collection of Standards called "Fallen Angels" that features compositions by Tin Pan Alley composers Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael, Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen and others.
Dylan's influence throughout Folk music has been equally powerful and he marked 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 was incalculable.