Revisiting Bob Dylan's GRAMMY History
(Bob Dylan will be honored as the 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year on Feb.6 at a special tribute performance and dinner in Los Angeles, recognizing his accomplishments as an artist and humanitarian. The following is an excerpt from a feature detailing Bob Dylan's entire GRAMMY history, which was published in the official 57th GRAMMY program book.)
How do you measure Bob Dylan's place in modern music and culture? You can't. Just to start you'd need to count the vast number of songs that have been dubbed "Dylanesque." For more than 50 years, his work has been the standard against which all singer/songwriters have been gauged. Yet, the term itself remains hard to define, as Dylan himself has constantly redefined what it means to be a singer/songwriter, and indeed what it means to be Bob Dylan.
Since he arrived in Greenwich Village from his native Minnesota, Dylan's presence has been marked by myth and mystique. His songs — "The Times They Are A-Changin'," "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," "Masters Of War," "Like A Rolling Stone," "Forever Young," "Tangled Up In Blue," "Every Grain Of Sand," and more — scribe the arcs of the last half century, the emotional connections to the events of the times, to each other, the quest to find meaning in love, loss, renewal … it's all there.
In the latter part of his career, having reconciled, if not comfortably so, with the loss of youth, he declared defiantly that it's "Not Dark Yet," and then that "Things Have Changed." They weren't "a-changin'." They had changed. This marked the return of Dylan, and a new Dylan recommitted to his art, his still ongoing Never Ending Tour given new purpose and fire, his performances astounding some and confounding others. That's not Dylanesque. That's Bob Dylan.
On Feb. 6 Dylan will be honored as the 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year for his musical and philanthropic accomplishments, a prestigious award that adds to his 10 GRAMMY Awards, including two for Album Of The Year, a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, and eight recordings inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame.
In addition to his Academy honors, Dylan is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2012 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. He has also garnered an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.
Dylan's GRAMMY-related honors, chronicled in part here, bespeak an artist whose impact is ... well, immeasurable.
The Concert For Bangladesh
Album Of The Year: 15th GRAMMY Awards
Dylan's appearance at the 1971 Madison Square Garden concert, organized by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar to bring relief to the then-new country of Bangladesh following massive floods, was only a hopeful rumor until the moment he stepped onstage for the first of two shows. The performance marked a long-awaited return to live performance after his several-year seclusion following a motorcycle accident, and the largely acoustic set proved him just as powerful and poignant in the Watergate era as he was in the turbulent '60s. For all the participating stars — Harrison (who hadn't performed in concert since the Beatles quit touring in 1966), Shankar, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, and Ringo Starr, among others — Dylan's presence brought the concerts to a higher level, which was a key in the resulting three-disc LP's win for Album Of The Year.
Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1
Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal: 32nd GRAMMY Awards
Lucky Wilbury and his brothers Nelson, Otis, Lefty, and Charlie T. Jr. — or, as we had come to know them, Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty — proved the sum-of-the-parts adage true with this unprecedented collaboration. There was no supergroup ego clash here, but rather five iconic artists feeding off each other and feeding each other choice lines born out of immense mutual respect. Often as not each wrote in one of the others' style, walking the fine line of loving parody and paying homage. Dylan's signature wordplay and vocal styles seemed to be particular favorites of his "brothers." And for all the novelty winks of the pseudonyms and conceits, many of the songs on Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 stand with their makers' best, in particular "Handle With Care," primarily written by Harrison, but taken to pop heaven by the bridges spotlighting Orbison, who died of a heart attack just two months after the album's release.
Lifetime Achievement Award: 34th GRAMMY Awards
Three decades after the release of his debut album, Dylan was honored with a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Jack Nicholson. On the 34th GRAMMY Awards telecast, Dylan reached back into his earliest, most political repertoire to perform a furiously passionate version of "Masters Of War" with his band, a poignant and pointed choice given the Gulf War in Iraq. In his acceptance, Dylan cited his father (who in turn was quoting a 19th century rabbi) as telling him that, even if one was defiled so much that one's parents turned away, "God will always believe in your own ability to mend your own ways."
"Blowin' In The Wind"
GRAMMY Hall Of Fame
It was the song that brought Dylan out of the Greenwich Village folk scene and onto the pop charts — albeit first via an earnest harmonic version by Peter, Paul & Mary — at once captured a rising cultural zeitgeist in its series of philosophical questions. When Dylan recorded "Blowin' In The Wind" in July 1962, a month after it was published in Sing Out! magazine, the Berlin Wall was a year old and tensions were building toward the Cuban missile crisis. When the song was released on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan in May 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. was just out of Birmingham Jail and the massive March on Washington was months away. Peter, Paul & Mary's version (also inducted into the Hall) reached No. 2 as the march took place, and the song took on civil rights anthem status (later covered by, among others, the Staple Singers and Stevie Wonder). Produced by John Hammond, Dylan's urgent recording has transcended time, even though the song typecast him as a protest singer, a tag he quickly rejected.
Time Out Of Mind, Album Of The Year, Best Contemporary Folk Album; "Cold Irons Bound," Best Male Rock Vocal Performance: 40th GRAMMY Awards
Time Out Of Mind showed Dylan not merely back at the peak of his powers, but with a whole new set of powers. What The Freewheelin' ... and Bringing It All Back Home reflected in his youth, what Blood On The Tracks yielded in his growing maturity, this album represents in his elder statesmanship. Here he unflinchingly embraces middle age (and beyond), as restless and probing as ever, but with earned experience and wisdom countered with even more questions and doubts. "Not Dark Yet " is a bold declaration, a statement some linked to the works of Keats, as well as to the source of his assumed name, Dylan Thomas. This centerpiece is framed by the frisky opener "Love Sick " (which Dylan performed on the 40th GRAMMY Awards telecast) and almost manic, rockabilly inflected "Cold Irons Bound," and the epic closer, "Highlands." At more than 16 minutes, the latter is the longest studio recording in his catalog. The sharp, atmospheric production by Daniel Lanois and playing from a stellar cast, including drummers Jim Keltner and Brian Blade, slide guitarist Cindy Cashdollar, and keyboardists Jim Dickinson and Augie Meyers, gave richness to the soundscapes of this career landmark.
Blonde On Blonde
GRAMMY Hall Of Fame
Between the summers of 1964 and 1966, Dylan recorded four albums, each reaching new heights of ambition and achievement. Released in May 1966, Blonde On Blonde capped that run with monumental flare. The front cover, bearing no name or title, features just a photo of the scarf-clad, tousle-haired artist, defiant and determined. It's a perfect representation of the music held within. At more than 72 minutes, spanning two vinyl discs in its original release, Blonde On Blonde was unprecedented. The songs play as chapters in a modern, impressionistic novel. In the opener/prologue "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," Dylan is surrounded by a rowdy parade band, embattled but impervious. For the rest of the album he's anything but. Alternately probing his relationships and his own state of being, he's devoted and vulnerable ("Pledging My Time"), romantic ("Visions Of Johanna"), lustful ("I Want You"), taunting ("Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat"), tortured ("Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again"), and dismissive ("Just Like A Woman"). Finally, the 11-minute-plus "Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands" is a complex portrait of his then-new wife, Sara Lownds. Not that too many clues can be deciphered — the album is Dylan at his most richly elusive.
Modern Times, Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album; "Someday Baby,"
Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance: 49th GRAMMY Awards
Modern Times became the third straight of Dylan's later-period albums to earn Best Contemporary Folk Album honors. This one, perhaps most of all, saw Dylan passionately personalizing classic folk and blues forms to serve his songs powerfully, reporting from his perspective of then being in his mid '60s. Words and melodies again slyly draw on a number of styles and artists, from Memphis Minnie and Sleepy John Estes to Bing Crosby (the melody of "When The Deal Goes Down" pays homage to the Crosby chestnut "Where The Blue Of The Night [Meets The Gold Of The Day]"). A frisky mix of country swing and classic '50s jump R&B, "Someday Baby" finds Dylan saying how he’s going to break it off one day, with delicious detail, though with the admission that it's not happening now: "You got me so hooked," he croons, before promising, "Someday baby, you ain't gonna worry po' me anymore."
Blood On The Tracks
GRAMMY Hall Of Fame
"Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts" is the quizzical epic; "Idiot Wind" is a howling screed against the chattering class. But "Tangled Up In Blue," "Simple Twist Of Fate" and "Shelter From The Storm" are at the heart of what has proven not just the enduring landmark of Dylan's '70s return, but arguably the most personal, affecting album of his career. A brokenhearted Dylan was estranged from wife Sara, a divorce imminent. Every angle, every emotion is present — affectionate, hurt, regretful, nostalgic for what was, fearful of what will be and full of self-doubt and second-guessing, the latter mirrored in Dylan recording a bulk of the material twice, first in New York with session musicians largely new to him and again in Minneapolis largely with local folkies. The released version is split evenly between the two, yet sounds remarkably seamless, threaded with flowing folk and folk-blues motifs and the singer's conversational poetry, not just songs but chapters in a story — a love story, all the more powerful for coming at its end.
(Steve Hochman has been covering music since 1985. He can be heard regularly discussing new music releases on KPCC-FM's "Take Two" and the KQED-FM-produced show "The California Report." In addition to writing for GRAMMY.com, he has served as host and interviewer for live programs at the GRAMMY Museum. For 25 years he was a mainstay of the pop music team at the Los Angeles Times and his work has appeared in many other publications.)