By defying pop music conventions and exploring a variety of musical genres, Dylan carved his own path through the mass of popular culture. His success is evidenced in the multiple awards and accolades he has received, including the Pulitzer Prize jury citing his impact as "marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power."
Following his stated high school ambition “to follow Little Richard,” Dylan took an interest in American folk music while at the University of Minnesota. It was during his time on the Dinkytown folk circuit that he shifted his name from Robert Zimmerman to Bob Dylan, inspired by the poetry of Dylan Thomas.
In 1961, at the end of his freshman year, Dylan moved on to New York City in hopes of meeting his idol, an ailing Woody Guthrie. He did just that and vowed to become “Guthrie's greatest disciple.” Falling into the thriving Greenwich Village folk scene, it wasn't long before Dylan caught the ear of producer John Hammond who signed him to a deal with Columbia Records.
Although his debut album did little business, the follow-up, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, started making some inroads. Filled with protest songs inspired by Guthrie as well as Pete Seeger, the album's most visible track was “Blowin' in the Wind,” which would go on to become a worldwide hit for Peter, Paul, and Mary. Joan Baez also brought Dylan into the limelight through her performances and recordings of his songs.
Dylan kept the political themes flowing through The Times They Are a-Changin', but then lightened his mood for Another Side of Bob Dylan. Then, with 1965's Bringing It All Back Home, he went electric. That year also saw the release of the single "Like a Rolling Stone" which hit number two on the U.S. charts and has been counted by Rolling Stone magazine as the greatest song of all time.
Pressures from the folk movement and fairly consistent touring started mounting. In 1966, Dylan crashed his motorcycle and turned the accident into an excuse to withdraw from the public. He wouldn't tour again for eight years. He continued to record, however.
Huddling in a Woodstock basement in 1967, Dylan and his band, the Hawks, recorded what would later become a five-disc set, The Genuine Basement Tapes. That was also the year that the Hawks became the Band and set out on their own massively successful career.
In late '67, Dylan went to work in Nashville and came out with John Wesley Harding. It was at that time that Woody Guthrie passed away, bringing Dylan out of hiding to play at his Carnegie Hall memorial.
The mainstream country effort of Nashville Skyline came in 1968 and the poorly received Self Portrait in 1970. A label switch to Asylum Records came in 1973 prior to the release of Planet Waves. Dylan, accompanied by the Band, embarked upon an extensive tour to support that record and a live, double-album resulted in Before the Flood.
Blood on the Tracks dropped in 1975 after a move back to Columbia. Upon its release, critics said the record sounded like it was “made with typical shoddiness.” Time has been kind to the album, though, as it is now cited as one of his best efforts, indeed “his only flawless album.”
By the late '70s, Dylan had become a born-again Christian, releasing two Christian gospel records, Slow Train Coming and Saved. His proselytizing didn't sit well with some of his colleagues. Though he won a Grammy for the song "Gotta Serve Somebody," he also received a rebuttal from John Lennon in “Serve Yourself.”
The Dylan records of the 1980s continued to mix in his evangelical ideals and most met with lukewarm responses, if not outright condemnation. One effort, Dylan & The Dead, came from a tour he did with The Grateful Dead and caused one critic to tag it as “quite possibly the worst album by either Bob Dylan or the Grateful Dead."
In 1985, Dylan appeared both on USA for Africa's “We Are the World” and at Live Aid, where his outspokenness on behalf of farmers sparked Willie Nelson to form Farm Aid.
Things started looking up in the late '80s. Dylan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and he formed the Traveling Wilburys alongside Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne. Their multi-platinum debut, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, was followed two years later by Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3, made after Orbison's death.
Teaming up with Daniel Lanois for Oh Mercy, Dylan managed to get back into the good graces of critics who dubbed it “the nearest thing to a great Bob Dylan album in the 1980s.” That artistic capital was spent, though, when Under the Red Sky failed to clear the bar. Still, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.
Returning to his early form for the folk- and blues-tinged Good as I Been to You (1992) and World Gone Wrong (1993), Dylan also recorded two shows for MTV Unplugged in 1994.
Finding Lanois once again, Dylan issued Time Out of Mind which was heralded as his “best overall collection in years” and honored with a Grammy for Album of the Year. He was also presented with a Kennedy Center Honor by President Bill Clinton.
After years of contributing songs to films, Dylan finally landed an Oscar winner with "Things Have Changed" from the Wonder Boys soundtrack. Continuing to push artistic boundaries, 2001's Love and Theft ventured into rockabilly, Western swing, and jazz.
The first part of Dylan's autobiography, Chronicles: Volume One, was published in 2004 accompanied by Martin Scorsese's film biography, No Direction Home, in 2005. The book won a National Book Award while the film garnered a Peabody Award.
His first chart-topping album since 1976 came after 30 years with Modern Times. The collection earned two Grammy wins and the title Album of the Year from Rolling Stone magazine. Another biographical film, I'm Not There, came in 2007 and met with much critical praise. A three-CD retrospective, Dylan, was also released in 2007.
After an art show, a series of bootleg issues, and more, Dylan came out with Together Through Life in 2009 at the top of charts. Christmas in the Heart followed later that year.
The Never Ending Tour started in 1988 and carries on year after year with about 100 shows annually. For 2010, the Tour took Dylan through Japan, South Korea, Europe, and the U.S.