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Ch. 07: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon


The essence of true genius is in the ability to see that which is there, but not visible to others, and then bring that vision into focus for those willing to look.

In the broad study of American popular music, only a small handful of names might fall into the category of pivotal; that is, they were so significant that a complete adjustment of history took place based on their efforts. 19th century musicians like Foster, Joplin, and Sousa, jazz greats like Ellington, Armstrong, and Parker were pivotal. So were others like Jimmie Rodgers, George M. Cohan, Bing Crosby, Chet Atkins, W.C. Handy, Woody Guthrie, Elvis Presley, and Chuck Berry. These individuals made contributions in the areas of music, technology, or performance technique so important that a new path was created for others to follow.

Bob Dylan, Nov. 1963

However, no individual in the history of music, Guthrie not withstanding, has had an impact on song lyrics as has modern day legend, Bob Dylan. Perhaps no other individual, other than Presley, is more worthy of the title “rock icon” than the idiosyncratic, enigmatic, brooding, distinctive, and completely original Bob Dylan.

Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman in the iron-mining town of Hibbing, Minnesota in 1941. Growing up in blue collar, Jewish-Russian roots, Zimmerman began writing poetry at age ten and learned to play guitar and piano in his early teens. While in high school he joined a rock band, emulated early rock pioneers like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley and wrote in his high school year book that his goal was “to join Little Richard.”

Following high school he moved to Minneapolis and enrolled in the University of Minnesota. Zimmerman’s love of music was greater than his dedication to classes, however, and as a result, he did poorly in his one year there. What he missed in classroom education was more than compensated by the broadening of his musical exposure and experience.

While in Minneapolis, he was exposed to the sounds of the roots of rock: country, blues and folk music. In the music of Hank Williams, Robert Johnson, and Woody Guthrie, Zimmerman (who had by now changed his name to Bob Dillon or Dylan, depending on what stories you believe) found the intensity of feeling and depth of lyrics that were lacking in early rock songs such as “Tutti Fruiti” and “Jailhouse Rock.” In the coffee houses around Minneapolis, Dylan began performing a variety of blues and folk songs interspersed with some original material

In 1960, Bob Dylan (the spelling was supposedly patterned after the Welch poet, Dylan Thomas, although Dylan himself denies the story) moved to New York with two goals in mind: to establish himself as a performer in Greenwich Village and to meet Woody Guthrie before he died. Guthrie was confined to a New Jersey hospital by this point and, although he would not pass away for another seven years, many thought his death was imminent.

Dylan did meet his idol, and on several occasions even performed for him in the hospital. In Greenwich Village Dylan found the perfect environment for his creative juices and the appropriate venues for his performing.


Dylan performs “Blowin’ in the Wind'” 1963

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Study Units

An Overview

Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch

Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse

Ch. 3: Understanding Volume

Ch. 4: Understanding Tone

Ch. 5: Understanding Melody

Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony

Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm

Ch. 8: Understanding Bass

Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody

Ch. 10: Understanding Structure

Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation

Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo

An Overview

Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster

Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People

Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy

Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”

Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster

Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”

Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music

Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”

Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist

An Overview

Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music

Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”

Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave

Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave

Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”

Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message

Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon

Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City

Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport

Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan

Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: The Roots of Country

Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings

Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry

Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies

Ch. 5: Western Swing

Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine

Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One

Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop

Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B

Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice

Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound

Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country

Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century

Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s

Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: What is Jazz?

Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz

Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!

Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians

Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong

Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz

Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!

Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers

Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop

Ch. 10: Cool Jazz

Ch. 11: Hard Bop

Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules

Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience

Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz

Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz

Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!

An Overview

Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music

Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?

Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?

Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues

Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years

Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings

Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power

Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters

Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect

Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today

Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology

Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences

Ch. 3: Rock is Born!

Ch. 4: Rock is Named

Ch. 5: Doo-Wop

Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels

Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal

Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs

Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens

Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues

Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound

Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South

Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock

Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock

Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock

Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love

Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements

Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs

Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music

Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction

Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap

Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets

Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age

Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap

Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap

Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More

Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions

Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap

Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s

Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas

Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century

Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas

Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical

Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals

Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century

Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s

Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century

Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century

Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century

Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary

Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?

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