Bob Dylan's debut album released 50 years ago today
For all of the profound mythologizing that is done over the illustrious music career of Bob Dylan, he began the process just like any other musician with the bold but tentative first steps of a debut record. While very few Dylan enthusiasts will list Bob Dylan as among their favorite (or even top-10) studio albums from Bob, it still represents a fledgling twenty-year-old artist's striking initial musical statement to the world at large, one that was released 50 years ago today on March 19, 1962.
The album itself contains only two Dylan originals, and remains his only record that failed to reach the U.S. charts. But to those in the know it was never viewed as a failure, instead the record was seen as an introduction to a confident new voice in folk music. The album is filled with Dylan's attempts to sing and play in the style of his hero Woody Guthrie, who initially inspired Dylan to travel all the way to New York in the first place, just so he could visit Guthrie in his hospital room.
In fact, one of the two Dylan-penned tracks (along with "Talkin' New York") that made it onto the final record is the acoustic paean "Song To Woody," which contains the adulatory lines, "Hey, Woody Guthrie, but I know that you know/All the things that I'm a-sayin' an' a-many times more/I'm a-singin' you the song, but I can't sing enough/'Cause there's not many men that done the things that you've done."
And while it's quite clear who Dylan's influences were at the start of his career, it's quite interesting to see which modern day musicians continue to be affected by the man's songwriting and stature within the Minnesota music community. Metro magazine has a wonderful issue out this month celebrating all things Dylan, and within that edition quite a few local musicians of note affectionately state just how much Bob has influenced or affected them.
Interestingly, a few hip-hop artists cite a deep connection to Dylan as well, as Sims from Doomtree identifies with, "the tradition of storytelling and socio-political awareness in Dylan's music...As a rapper, I feel a connection to Dylan in a way that most people wouldn't see. Essentially rappers are storytellers, community journalists, and poets, as are folk singers. I am as much Dylan and Prince as I am [Afrika] Bambaataa and [Grandmaster] Flash."
And Slug from Atmosphere, in addition to eventually being able to take pleasure from both Dylan's distinctive voice and his wild, untamed head of hair, also realizes that most modern musicians have been affected by Dylan one way or another. "Bob Dylan has been a huge influence directly and indirectly. I can't imagine any contemporary artist being able to say he hasn't been. Directly, he was an influence because he figured out how to do a few different styles of writing. Sometimes as a writer you sacrifice the rhyme to get your point across, and sometimes it's the other way around, and Dylan was able to go back and forth."
No matter what type of music you make, it's clear that there is something within the prodigious back catalog of Bob Dylan that can speak to you, and inform and influence you going forward. And that celebrated career started with a couple of afternoon recording sessions at Columbia's Manhattan studios, with legendary producer John Hammond manning the dials. And those initial sessions would eventually turn into Bob Dylan, a debut album that started the man well on his way to changing music as we know it, and the world for that matter.
Here's a wonderful clip of Dylan performing one of the album's standout tracks, "Fixin' To Die," on Cynthia Gooding's radio show recorded a week before Bob Dylan would be released.
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