Dylan and the Hawks


At about the same time, the enigmatic folk singer/songwriter Bob Dylan was also looking for a change. Although seen as the heir apparent to the iconic folksinger Woody Guthrie, Dylan was beginning to explore a new sound. Just as the Hawks were not satisfied playing behind the rock-a-billy Ronnie Hawkins, Dylan was increasingly dissatisfied playing just his folkie self.
He had begun to write and recording songs fronting a group of musicians wielding electric instruments - which was an anathema to folk purist. Dylan's first gig as an electric artist was in front of a hostile crowd at the New Port Folk Festival. Dylan was backed by members of Paul Butterfield's band and guitarist-turned-keyboardist Al Kooper. Although not wildly popular at the time - the crowded booed, Pete Seegar was backstage looking for a hatchet to cut the speaker wires, and Alan Lomax started a wrestling match with Dylan's manager - today, many critics argue that this concert marked the beginning of rock music. Dylan was taking the energy of rock-n-roll connecting it with the serious lyrical content of American folk music (especially folk tradition of protest songs).

Dylan needed a band to support him on his next tour, which would combine his traditional folk set with a second set of electric songs. A friend of the Hawks who was working in the office of Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman, helped bring the Dylan and Robbie Robertson together. It wasn't long before Robertson had talked Dylan into signing up the rest of the band.  

On their tour across America, Europe and Australia, Dylan and the Hawks were booed and jeared almost nightly. Many folk fans went to the concerts just to show Dylan their anger at his "selling out" to pop music. Before long, Levon dropped out - he saw no point in performing in front of an audience that was constantly booing. The others stuck it out, and along the way, helped Dylan to create a new sound, a confluence of raw musical power and intense, lyrical poetry. The audience's anger only seemed to spur them on. The so-called "Royal Albert Hall" concert (which actually it took place in Manchester), documents the confrontation between performer and audience. When one fan called Dylan a Judas, Dylan slurred back "I don't believe you. You're a liar!" He then turns back to his band and says "Play fucking loud!"
Together they launch into a searing version of "Like A Rolling Stone" with the song's oblique but biting criticism directed straight at his audience. Dylan, backed by the Hawks, was heading off in a direction that his fans weren't ready to go, but he would dragged them along kicking and booing all the way.