Bob Dylan Timeline

A Chronology of America's Premier Songwriter

Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan. photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

In 1961, playing folk songs in Greenwich Village's basket houses for pocket change, little did Bob Dylan (or anyone) know that he would end up writing some of the world's most celebrated anthems, whose meanings still weather the generations. From the civil rights folk singer who infamously “went electric” in 1965, to the rock 'n' roll icon who continues to captivate audiences in the new millennium, Bob Dylan endures as America's premier tribal poet, while his products continue to serve as cultural milestones. What follows is a timeline hitting the peaks and valleys of Dylan's epic and ongoing five-decade career.

May 24, 1941: Dylan is born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota.

1955-60: Living in Hibbing, Minnesota, a teenage Dylan teaches himself to play guitar, soon forming The Golden Chords among other high school rock 'n' roll cover bands. Attending college in Minneapolis, Bob becomes a full-blown folk singer, emulating his musical icon, Woody Guthrie.

1961: After reading Guthrie's 1943 autobiography, Bound for Glory, an inspired Dylan departs for New York City. Bob Zimmerman becomes Bob Dylan and begins playing around Greenwich Village. Duly impressed by the young impresario, Columbia Records President John Hammond signs him to a five-year recording contract.

1962: Columbia releases Dylan's debut record, Bob Dylan—an album of mostly cover songs.

1963: The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan puts Bob on a fast track to fame in the folk circuit, and he plays the Newport Folk Festival for the first time.

1964: The Times They Are A-Changin' is released, and Dylan gains increasing notoriety as a "protest" folksinger. Puzzling critics, Another Side of Bob Dylan quickly follows, featuring less protest and more personal essay, which runs contrary to the folk genre. The stormy two-year relationship with Suze Rotolo – which inspired much of the music of this period – comes to an end.

1965: Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisted hit the stores, and the Bob Dylan craze is on. The British tour is captured by filmmaker D.E. Pennebaker, to be released in 1967 as the critically acclaimed documentary, Don't Look Back. After England, Dylan "goes electric" at the July Newport Folk Festival performance, stirring his first of many controversies. Later in the year, The Hawks (later called The Band) becomes Dylan's permanent backup group.

1966: Blonde On Blonde is released and becomes Dylan's seminal '60s album. After a serious motorcycle accident, Dylan cuts short his tour to convalesce at his house in Woodstock, NY with his new wife, Sara Lownds. Dylan refuses to tour for the next eight years.

1967: John Wesley Harding is released, featuring the anthem “All Along the Watchtower,” which would become one of America's all-time most covered rock songs.

1969-71: Dylan goes country, releasing Nashville Skyline. Dressed in a white suit, he does a rare performance at the Isle of Wight Festival. In 1970, the album Self Portrait casts a pall on Bob's career following the high flying peaks of the past decade. Dylan's first book is released, a volume of free verse poetry titled Tarantula.

1973: Sam Peckinpah's film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid hits the screen, featuring the music of Bob Dylan, who also has a small role in the film as the knife-throwing Alias. Dylan's second book, Writings and Drawings, is released. In another rare appearance, Dylan plays at George Harrison's Concert For Bangladesh.

1974: The album Planet Waves is released. After eight years off the road, Dylan launches the Hard Rain world tour, his first since 1966. His first live album, Before the Flood, also comes out.

1975: The breakthrough album Blood On the Tracks ignites much critical praise, while Dylan embarks on the Rolling Thunder Revue tour with its motley cast of characters, including Joan Baez, Rambin' Jack Elliot, actor Sam Shepard, poet Allen Ginsberg, and scores of others.

1976: The album Desire is released, featuring the ballad for falsely imprisoned boxer, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. On Thanksgiving day, the all-star farewell concert for The Band is filmed by Martin Scorcese, later to be released as The Last Waltz.

1979-81: Dylan's conversion to Christianity baffles critics and fans. Slow Train Coming is released, the first of a trilogy of gospel albums (followed by Saved and Shot of Love, 1980-81). “You Gotta Serve Somebody” earns him his first Grammy.

1988-89: Teaming up with George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne, Dylan records and releases The Traveling Wilburys: Volume One. Meantime, the live album Dylan and the Dead is universally panned in reviews. But the follow-up release of Oh Mercy – lauded as Dylan's finest achievement since 1975 – saves the day

1992: Musicians ranging from Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder to folk singer Joni Mitchell gather at Madison Square Garden to perform at what Neil Young dubbed “Bobfest,” an all star tribute celebrating 30 years of Bob Dylan.

1997: Dylan's first collection of all original songs in seven years is released. Time Out of Mind garners Bob three Grammys.

2001: Dylan wins an Academy Award and an Oscar for his song, “Things Have Changed,” which he penned a year earlier for director Curtis Hanson's The Wonder Boys soundtrack. The album "Love and Theft" is released to a flood of praise.

2004: Dylan scores the music for a Victoria's Secret lingerie ad, sparking all-new controversy, soon publishing his memoir, Chronicles: Volume One. The book climbs to #2 on the New York Times bestseller list. Meanwhile, Martin Scorcese's four-hour documentary No Direction Home hits the screen, exploring Dylan's life and career until 1966.

2006-08: Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour premieres on XM/Sirius satellite radio and the album Modern Times hits the racks. And alas, Dylan is the recipient of a special Pulitzer Prize. Wearing his new hat as a fine artist, Bob's first show, the Drawn Blank Series,  is exhibited in Germany.

2009: Together Through Life is released, with the majority of songs co-written with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. In October, Dylan releases Christmas in the Heart, donating all royalties to feed the hungry.