Bob Neuwirth, Country Singer-Songwriter and Bob Dylan Collaborator, Dies at 82

by Lauren Boisvert

Bob Neuwirth was a country music and folk singer-songwriter who had a profound impact on performers like Patti Smith, Janis Joplin, and Bob Dylan in their early days. Additionally, he was at the center of so many movements and history-making events; he played and wrote alongside those who would become some of the biggest names of the 60s, 70s and beyond. He was often behind the scenes, producing and writing in near anonymity. Neuwirth passed on Wednesday at the age of 82; we recognize him for his many achievements in the wake of his death.

Neuwirth’s family put out a statement regarding the artist’s death, per Rolling Stone. “On Wednesday evening in Santa Monica, Bob Neuwirth’s big heart gave out,” the family wrote. “Bob was an artist throughout every cell of his body and he loved to encourage others to make art themselves. He was a painter, songwriter, producer and recording artist whose body of work is loved and respected. For over 60 years, Bob was at the epicenter of cultural moments from Woodstock, to Paris, “Don’t Look Back” to Monterey Pop, “Rolling Thunder” to Nashville and Havana. He was a generous instigator who often produced and made things happen anonymously. The art is what mattered to him, not the credit. He was an artist, a mentor and a supporter to many. He will be missed by all who love him.”

Bob Neuwirth: A Life of Incredible Musical Influence

Born in Akron, Ohio to engineer parents, Bob Neuwirth moved to Boston, Massachusetts in 1959. He attained an arts scholarship to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts, and after, traveled to Paris for a time. He then returned to Massachusetts and installed himself in the folk scene of 1960s Cambridge.

In addition to folk and country music, Neuwirth was a staple in the classic rock world. He was a frequent collaborator with Bob Dylan, and appeared in Dylan’s 1965 U.K. tour film, “Don’t Look Back.” He also put together the touring band for Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue.

Neuwirth also worked with Janis Joplin before her death in 1970; the two, alongside poet Michael McClure, wrote “Mercedes Benz,” and Neuwirth introduced Joplin to his friend Kris Kristofferson, who wrote “Me and Bobby McGee.” The song would prove to be a huge hit for Joplin, although the accolades came after her untimely death.

Patti Smith spoke to Rolling Stone about Bob Neuwirth, and how he was the first person to really encourage her to pursue songwriting. She shared that he came up to her in 1970 while she was writing poetry, and she recognized him instantly. “He said, ‘Let me see what you’re writing,’” shared Smith. “He started reading and he was one of the first people who looked at my work and took it seriously, he said, ‘You should be writing songs.’”

Neuwirth’s Friends Remember His Talent and Temperament

“He was good at everything,” Patti Smith continued. “He was a great songwriter. A moving singer. A really fine painter. He had so much magnetism; you couldn’t not be drawn to him. But it wasn’t because he was aggressive. He just wasn’t the kind of person who pushed [his] own agenda on a situation.” 

“Right from the start, you could tell that Neuwirth had a taste for provocation and that nothing was going to restrict his freedom,” wrote Bob Dylan in “Chronicles, Volume One,” his 2004 memoir. “He was in a mad revolt against something. You had to brace yourself when you talked to him.”

Joan Baez remembers Bob Neuwirth as a stabilizing figure, one who helped her get through being on the road with Bob Dylan. “I felt slighted again [after ‘Don’t Look Back’] which is how I spent much of my time with Dylan,” said Baez of the Rolling Thunder tour. “I had taken to my bed in my hotel and Neuwirth came in and started acting silly and opened the window and shouted, ‘She’s going to live!’ He was just one of those people who could make you laugh.”