Robert Zimmerman: poet; writer; singer; musician; and controversialist towering over all others in the 20th century, he has defined and redefined music over five decades, and is still doing it. His range is enormous from trad-folk to rock, from ballad to protest. He is studied in schools, colleges and universities by people learning about music and society.
His origins were in folk and blues, his writing about the down-trodden and abused, his Jewish-American background, his Christianity, his knack of putting to music love/anger/absurdity and his extraordinary ability to capture phrases and images that, as Bob Geldof said, ‘chime with the zeitgeist’, but also enter the international psyche.
He is, and always has been, the master of reinvention. Writing in Melody Maker in May 1966, Max Jones cried: “Will the real Bob Dylan please stand up?”
That has been echoed ever since, by critics, journalists and, to some extent, music fans. While simultaneously denying he was a protest singer, he told Jones: “All my songs are protest songs. All I do is protest. You name it, I’ll protest about it”.
At that point he considered Peter Lorre (the ‘sinister actor’, not a singer at all) the world’s greatest folk singer. This was all part of his developed sense of provoking journalists, of course, which adds to his mystery and in no way takes him from the top spot of musical influences of the 20th century. Read our A-Z of Bob Dylan here.
D is also for Donovan
Donovan Philips Leitch, an itinerant Scottish folk musician (singer/songwriter and guitarist), described by Adam Sweeting in The Daily Telegraph as the ‘universal pixie’, became for some people the British equivalent of Bob Dylan. His first single hit was Catch the Wind (1965) and he went on to create a string of hits as his style evolved blending elements of folk, pop, psychedelia and world music, including the anti-war ballad, Universal Soldier.
Donovan wrote in the UK’s Independent in 2005 about his first meeting with Dylan in a London hotel suite at the height of the media-led ‘Dylan vs Donovan controversy’, and it was recorded in Pennebaker’s movie Don’t Look Back. The fact is, that both men influenced each other to an extent, but were not enemies in any real sense. All part of the rich fabric of human life that is folk music in reality.
And D is also for Sandy Denny (1947-78)
English singer/songwriter who worked with The Strawbs and later the folk-rock band Fairport Convention as lead singer. She also toured the folk club circuits on her own and built up a dedicated following of her pure vocals. Her song Who Knows Where the Time Goes? has been covered widely by Eva Cassidy, Judy Collins, Lonnie Donegan, Nanci Griffith, Nina Simone and Barbara Dickson, among others.
Listen: Bob Dylan performing one of his songs about injustice, The Death Of Emmett Till