Quote and Credit

Quote and Credit


Mixed up Confusion! The MYTH that Bob Dylan Went Electric

One of the greatest misconceptions and misunderstandings about music in the 20th century is that Bob Dylan "went electric." This concept has become so central to "understanding" his myth and oeuvre that it is basic to rock and roll history. One of those commonly understood notions not questioned at all. Dylan went electric at Newport, someone yelled "Judas" during the tour with the Hawks and the next thing you know howling acid rock has ruined youth from here to Carnaby Street.

Only it is wrong...and like virtually everything we assume to be true, it doesn't hold up.

Want to know who REALLY went electric? Muddy Waters, and he did it when Bob Dylan was a toddler. It wasn't done to startle the establishment (another myth) it wasn't done to "create shockwaves in popular culture" and it certainly wasn't done to piss off Pete Seeger. It was done so Muddy could be HEARD. Chicago wasn't Clarksdale, Mississippi, and Mr. Waters wanted to be noticed in the loud, smoky juke joints of the south side of Chicago. So he plugged in and played, amplification simply being natural to any musician hoping to entertain a dancing crowd.

Know who else went electric? George Jones, the finest country singer alive. Among his earliest recordings were the tunes cut by one "Thumper" Jones. A shameless attempt to cash in on the Rockabilly scene, but again, a decade before Dylan supposedly gave the music world an electric shock to their ass.

And who else went electric? Dylan HIMSELF years before Dylan! Released as the b-side to Corrina, Corrina in 1962, Mixed-Up Confusion is a song written and recorded by Dylan with an electric band on November 14th 1962 during the sessions for his second LP. You can find it...and you can rock out to it, well before Peter, Paul and Mary got rich off Blowin' in the Wind.

In a curious little aside, Dylan's drummer during the 1965 tour was Levon Helm, who quit the tour claiming he was tired of being booed at, but was more likely upset Bob was usurping his role as leader of the Band. Which wasn't the Band yet, but still. There is also speculation Levon didn't get along with Dylan's wicked manager, Albert Grossman. This year Levon snatched "Best Americana" Grammy from fellow nominee Bob Dylan. Revenge is sweet, even if 40 years later.

By the way, the illustration here is a painting by Bob Dylan from around 1967. I guess painting was something he did long before we think too.
Jim Linderman


  1. I blame these rockumentaries; you can't watch a film/special on 60s music without this being brought up. I think their researchers graze Wikipedia for five minutes and call it a day.

  2. If you listen to the Newport concert, the band is underrehearsed...they sound terrible, out of sync, crude in a bad way. The kind of off night with which Dylan's fans are by now quite familiar. I think if it had sounded good there wouldn't have been all the consternation, electric or not.

  3. well put.

    and ditto on GJ and MW.

  4. Dylan skillfully (and rapidly) took the second-hand folk music of the day and scuffed it up to where the Village patrons believed he was an actual folk singer who had just blown in from the Ozarks. It was the skillfulness of his impersonation as much as the sweet earnestness of a song like With God On Our Side that sold him as something uncorrupted. But Dylan had a broader background and as a musical expeditionary was all about striking out. So the move to a rock combo was a stunner to those who had fallen for his Guthrie guise hook line and sinker. He just punked them with the hugeness of his imagination.

  5. I think the term "going electric" just refers to the shift in style that Dylan made. I don't think anyone is under the impression that Dylan was the first person to ever play an electric guitar. What did happen, however, is that he, himself, and the influence that comes with him, changed from this


    to this


    in one very short year.

    The thing with Dylan's "plugging in" is that he was not, as with Waters or Jones, exponents of purely blues or rockabilly. Dylan was transcending these, or at least making giant stabs at it. In just the same way as he does today, he was making music that sounded like no other, and the rock genre benefitted from this greatly.

  6. Dylan did not even "go electric" with "Mixed-Up Confusion". He had already played electric Rock & Roll with his first bands in Hibbing, MN (The Satin Tones, The Shadow Blasters, The Rockets etc.) in the 1950s. It was only around 1959/60 when he went to Minneapolis/St. Paul that he started to play acoustic "folk" music. So if anything he "went acoustic" back then. He returned to electric music full-time in 1965. "Bringing It All Back Home" is not called that for nothing.

  7. "Mixed Up Confusion" was considered the "A" side of this single. An alternate take of "Corrina Corrina," not the one on "Freewheelin'," was the "B" side. Both versions had electrical accompaniment, as did "Mixed Up Confusion." The single went nowhere - is now a valued collectible; "Freewheelin," was Dylan's first successful album as far as initial sales were concerned - it went to #1 in England, and likely influenced John Lennon and others. "Anonymous" is right on about Bobby Zimmerman's high school bands in Hibbing - much more Elvis and Little Richard ( "to join Little Richard's band" was part of his yearbook blurb) than Muddy Waters.

  8. Muddy Waters wasn t the first either. First electric guitars I believe were made in the 1930's. Muddy Waters is for sure under rated in the whole US music scene. Dylan is very much over rated. The great thing about Dylan is his words. His voice is Woody Guthries and the songs, well the songs, thats a big problem because every day that passes more of his songs seem to have been stollen. But the words are Dylan and thats what makes Robert Zimmerman, Bob Dylan.

  9. So, maybe he made an obscure electric B-Side in 1962. You can't say that he "went electric" then, though. He didn't officially come out of the electric closet until Newport.

  10. "His voice is Woody Guthries"

    That's true of maybe 5% of his career (the early part). He has influences, but whether you like him or not it's hard to deny that that his phrasing and delivery are distinctive and original.

    The plagiarism comment requires some examples to be worth much.

    Much of his writing is in a folk tradition which has always been about recycling phrases and images from past songs. His recent albums do this overtly and openly. We're not expected to think he wrote "i'm just going down the road feeling bad" (from "tryin to get to heaven"), for example. This is a deliberate reference to the many previous songs that include a similar line.

    There was the revelation that some lines on "Love and Theft" were lifted from a Japanese novel. This should have been credited in my opinion but it doesn't reduce my opinion of the record. His strength is really more as a performer than as a "great poet". It's how he strings these phrases together and makes them his own that makes us listen.

  11. Why let the truth get in the way of a good myth.

    Good article.

  12. I remember the times well. I loved his acoustic work but I loved rock and roll too. When he put consciousness into rock and roll it was a gift to the world, the gift that keeps on giving. The complainers missed the point. Rock and Roll is folk music too.