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Bob Dylan’s switch to electric guitar ‘changed the world’

Bob Dylan performs during the British Summer Time festival at Hyde Park in London (Isabel Infantes/PA)
Bob Dylan performs during the British Summer Time festival at Hyde Park in London (Isabel Infantes/PA)

Bob Dylan’s former guitarist Robbie Robertson has said the folk star’s controversial shift to electric guitar changed the world.

Robertson, 76, was songwriter for Americana pioneers The Band, who backed Dylan in 1965 during his first tour as an electric act.

He said the shows, which regularly prompted boos from audiences expecting Dylan’s trademark political acoustic music, forced the world to come “round to us”.

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Tell me a secret.

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Writing in The Big Issue’s Letter To My Younger Self, he said: “Playing those electric shows with Bob Dylan in the 60s, I did think at the time, I’ve never heard of anybody doing this kind of thing before.

“Someone on the scale that he was – the king of folk music, the voice, the guy that could write songs that caused armies to join together – suddenly changing everything and going in a different direction.

“And the way that people reacted – we got booed all over the world. But for us, it was about saying: ‘You know what? This music we’re making, it’s really good.’

“And we didn’t change, the world changed. The world came round to us.”

Robertson’s Canadian troupe, who were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1994, are credited with sparking a revival in roots rock, and inspiring British artists like Sir Elton John.

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"Once Were Brothers" video is out now!

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He said being in The Band – who released 10 studio albums, numerous live recordings and a documentary with Martin Scorsese – felt like a “brotherhood”.

“Right from the start that brotherhood was such a powerful force,” he said.

“When we were really young we were our own gang. But as you grow up, you start raising families, one guy goes here, one guy goes there and things separate.

“You still want the brotherhood, but as time goes on destiny sets in. By the late 70s I thought, we’ve got to get off the road. Somebody’s going to die.”

Robertson told the magazine that he wished he could have had the chance to speak to his late father.

The Irishman International Premiere and Closing Gala – BFI London Film Festival 2019
Robbie Robertson worked with Martin Scorsese on the documentary (Ian West/PA)

He said: “If I could have one last conversation with anybody it would be with my father. He got killed before I was born.

“Everybody has told me that he was a fantastic character. And I’ve lived all my life with the idea that I missed out on that.”

The Big Issue, sold by vendors to lift themselves out of poverty, is available now.

The documentary Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson And The Band is released in the US on February 21, with a UK release to follow soon.

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