Bob Dylan’s Early Days in New York: 17 Intimate Photos of 20-Year-Old Folk Singer Inside His First Apartment

In November 1961, Bob Dylan was just 20 years old, a young folk Singer on the cusp of fame. His first paid performances, at Gerde’s Folk City in New York’s Greenwich Village, were starting to attract interest.

His first review had just come out, a surprising rave in the New York Times, which said, “Mr. Dylan is both a comedian and a tragedian.”

Meanwhile, Ted Russell was a photojournalist working regularly for LIFE magazine in New York when an RCA Records publicist hired him to photograph the label’s latest discovery, Ann-Margret.

Shortly afterward, the publicist moved to Columbia Records and invited Russell to take some pictures of its new hire, Bob Dylan. Russell liked the idea, thinking a story on an up-and-coming Village folk singer could interest LIFE.

“I wanted to do an essay on the trials and tribulations of an up-and-coming folk singer trying to make it in the big city,” Russell told the NY Times. “[The LIFE editors] gave me a big yawn, not the slightest interest.” Despite the lack of interest in that shoot, Russell ended up shooting Dylan twice more in 1963 and 1964, when he was already a star.

Robert Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman; May 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter. Often regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of all time, Dylan has been a major figure in popular culture during a career spanning more than 60 years. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s, when songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1963) and “The Times They Are a-Changin'” (1964) became anthems for the civil rights and anti-war movements. His lyrics during this period incorporated a range of political, social, philosophical, and literary influences, defying pop music conventions and appealing to the burgeoning counterculture.

Following his self-titled debut album in 1962, which mainly comprised traditional folk songs, Dylan made his breakthrough as a songwriter with the release of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan the following year. The album features “Blowin’ in the Wind” and the thematically complex “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”. Many of his songs adapted the tunes and phraseology of older folk songs. He went on to release the politically charged The Times They Are a-Changin’ and the more lyrically abstract and introspective Another Side of Bob Dylan in 1964. In 1965 and 1966, Dylan drew controversy when he adopted electrically amplified rock instrumentation, and in the space of 15 months recorded three of the most important and influential rock albums of the 1960s: Bringing It All Back Home (1965), Highway 61 Revisited (1965) and Blonde on Blonde (1966). His six-minute single “Like a Rolling Stone” (1965) expanded commercial and creative boundaries in popular music.

In July 1966, a motorcycle accident led to Dylan’s withdrawal from touring. During this period, he recorded a large body of songs with members of the Band, who had previously backed him on tour. These recordings were released as the collaborative album The Basement Tapes in 1975. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dylan explored country music and rural themes in John Wesley Harding (1967), Nashville Skyline (1969), and New Morning (1970). In 1975, he released Blood on the Tracks, which many saw as a return to form. In the late 1970s, he became a born-again Christian and released a series of albums of contemporary gospel music before returning to his more familiar rock-based idiom in the early 1980s. Dylan’s 1997 album Time Out of Mind marked the beginning of a renaissance for his career. He has released five critically acclaimed albums of original material since then, the most recent being Rough and Rowdy Ways (2020). He also recorded a series of three albums in the 2010s comprising versions of traditional American standards, especially songs recorded by Frank Sinatra. Dylan has toured continuously since the late 1980s on what has become known as the Never Ending Tour.

Since 1994, Dylan has published eight books of drawings and paintings, and his work has been exhibited in major art galleries. He has sold more than 125 million records, making him one of the best-selling musicians of all time. He has received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, ten Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award. Dylan has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Pulitzer Prize Board in 2008 awarded him a special citation for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power”. In 2016, Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. (Wikipedia)

Dylan and Suze Rotolo
Dylan inside the kitchen of his W. 4th Street apartment
Dylan inside his first apartment in NYC on W. 4th Street
Dylan talking to James Baldwin at the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee’s Bill of Rights Dinner
Dylan singing at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village
Dylan hands in pockets and smiling
Dylan with Mark Spoelstra in the basement of Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village
Dylan about to go onstage at Gerde’s Folk City
Dylan and Rotolo
Dylan singing “House of The Rising Sun” at Gerde’s
Dylan on bed playing guitar and harmonica
Bob Dylan typing
Dylan taking a break from writing
Dylan playing a record
Dylan smoking at typewriter
Dylan smoking cigarette
Dylan silhouetted against window

One thought on “Bob Dylan’s Early Days in New York: 17 Intimate Photos of 20-Year-Old Folk Singer Inside His First Apartment

  1. Thank you for sharing this interesting and informative post about Bob Dylan’s early days in New York. It’s fascinating to learn about the beginning of Dylan’s career and how he rose to fame as one of the greatest songwriters of all time. His music and lyrics have certainly had a profound impact on popular culture and American society, and his influence can still be felt today. It’s also great to see these intimate photos of Dylan in his first apartment, providing a glimpse into his early life and career. This post is a great tribute to Dylan’s legacy and a reminder of his important contributions to the world of music and art.


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