The Man Who Made Rock Respectable; Liverpool Links Are Entwined around Bob Dylan's Career Mike Chapple Talks to Two Local Experts Ahead of a Groundbreaking and Long Overdue Documentary about His Early Years
Byline: Mike Chapple
ROBERT Allen Zimmerman, Bob Dylan for short, is unquestionably, one of the most influential musicians in the history of popular music. He is widely regarded as the man who brought literacy to rock and drew forth respect for what had previously been considered a trite and primitive genre by the musical establishment.
This week the BBC pays tribute to the man with a week-long series of programmes including a two-part Arena special No Direction Home, directed by Martin Scorsese, which chronicles the singer/ songwriter's revolutionary and controversial early career.
It's a move that has been widely proclaimed as long overdue by his fans on Merseyside, traditionally a hot-bed of support for the now 64-year-old troubadour whose long career in many ways has been linked to the area and its people.
He played the Liverpool Odeon in 1965 and 1966, groundbreaking years when his switch from acoustic to electric outraged folk traditionalists. His introduction to the Beatles in Manhattan on August 30, 1964 is also considered to be one of the pivotal moments in the history of popular culture.
Dr Mike Jones is director of the University of Liverpool's popular MA in Music Industry Studies, over which the legacy of what both Dylan and the Beatles created looms large.
"Personally I'm a huge Dylan fan, I think he is one of the key people in the history of popular music," says Dr Jones. "But you've also got to remember how important it was when Dylan first met the Beatles. This was an incredibly significant moment in terms of how they influenced each other. Afterwards, the Beatles went away and wrote songs about subjects that groups had never written about before such as Help! and You've Got To Hide Your Love Away. They also became more acoustic while Dylan tried to start sounding more like the Beatles."
The week-long BBC tribute has been much anticipated by Merseyside Dylan, one of the longest established fan clubs devoted to the Bobster. Founded in 1983, its members meet on the first Thursday of every month at the Railway on Tithebarn Street.
They keep up to date with the latest developments in the career of the musician who is still very active, having embarked on what has been dubbed his Never Ending Tour.
One of its members, Dave Harrison, from Chester, says: "The significance of Bob Dylan in the 1960s is that he changed popular music forever, expanding the limits of what pop songs could be about.
"But the greatest revolution was his attitude, particularly in the mid-60s when he played with an electric backing band after years of performing solo with an acoustic guitar.
"Many regard his Manchester Free Trade Hall gig on May 17 1966 - film of which is included as part of Scorsese's documentary - as a defining moment in rock history when a heckler shouts at Dylan, "Judas". "Confronting his accuser, Dylan rallies his band by saying "Play f------ loud!" and launches into a ferocious version of his anthemic Like A Rolling Stone.
"This is the point at which popular music ceases to be the cosy tunes of the Hit Parade but instead transforms into that rebellious, challenging and glorious noise we call rock 'n' roll.
Forty-three-year-old Tim Dalton remembers the night even though he was but a tot. He was being babysat while his mum and dad, Karl and Jenny, both ardent folkies, attended the Free Trade Hall gig - and remembers the debate that raged around him for days afterwards.
Tim, now senior lecturer in Popular Music Studies at Liverpool John Moores University, believes that Dylan's influence is still reverberating through today's music.
"I think he is crucial to modern pop. You only have to look at his influence on local bands such as the Coral and The Basement who even take their name from one of his albums, The Basement Tapes. In fact we've just had freshers week and at least three of the 18-year-old kids on this course turned up wearing Dylan T-shirts so you can see how his influence now spans three generations. …