Initially poor sales led the record to be known around Columbia Records as ‘Hammond’s Folly’ (John Hammond was producer of Dylan’s early recordings and the man responsible for signing Dylan). The album was praised by the New York City weekly newspaper Village Voice as an ‘explosive country blues debut’, but featured only two Dylan original compositions, Talkin’ New York and Song To Woody, the rest being old folk standards.
His vast influence on music is matched only by Elvis and the Beatles, (and even the Beatles’ shift toward introspective songwriting wouldn’t have happened without his towering influence). Dylan’s gift was to marry poetic lyrics with catchy tunes, and as a vocalist, he broke the notion that a singer must have a conventionally good voice in order to perform, redefining the vocalist’s role in popular music in the process.
Bob spent much of his youth listening to the radio – first to blues and country stations and later, to early rock and roll. He formed several bands while he attended Hibbing High School, including The Shadow Blasters and The Golden Chords. In his 1959 school yearbook, Robert Zimmerman listed as his ambition “To follow Little Richard”, with whom he was obsessed.
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 Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
Finding his way to New York City in January of 1961, Dylan immediately made a substantial impression on the folk community. Initially inspired by the songs of Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie and Robert Johnson, Dylan incorporated in his early song lyrics a variety of political, social and philosophical, as well as literary influences, while drawing on many traditional folk song forms and melodies, including highly topical and witty ‘talking blues’ tales. They defied existing pop music convention, sometimes extended over many verses, appealing, along with the young Dylan’s persona, sometimes world-weary, sometimes mischievous, to the then-burgeoning alternative music scene, almost entirely folk-based.
Columbia Records A&R man John Hammond sought out Dylan on the strength of a review, and signed the songwriter in late 1961, producing Dylan’s eponymous debut album, a collection of folk and blues standards that surprisingly 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 Village contemporaries. These songs were showcased on his second album, ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’.
Between April 1962 and April 1963 he claimed to have written more than 100 songs, being so prolific in this period that he said he was afraid to go to sleep at night, for fear he would miss a song.
His breakthrough to the pop audience in the summer of 1965, when “Like a Rolling Stone” became a #2 hit. Driven by a circular organ riff and a steady beat, the six-minute single broke the barrier of the three-minute pop song. The late-model Bob Dylan has released some amazing records, as good as anything he did in 1975, 1989, and 1997, and still making great records after 50 years of studio and live work.