Twenty years ago, on 11 December 1995, New York Times critic Robert Shelton died in Brighton aged 69. Shelton is today remembered principally as ‘the man who discovered Bob Dylan’, and it’s true he wrote the celebrated review of his performance at Gerde’s Folk City which ran on 29 September 1961 and is credited with landing the 20-year-old with his Columbia recording contract. He went on, of course, to write the core text on Dylan, No Direction Home.
But Shelton also played a key role in bringing to national and international attention innumerable 1960s talents, among them Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Buffy Ste Marie, José Feliciano, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Frank Zappa and many more besides. A ‘metropolitan critic’ and ‘a taste-maker’ according to Dave Laing, who came to know him at Let It Rock in the 1970s, after Shelton’s relocation to Britain, he was also ‘the father of rock journalism’ according to Janis Ian, another of the era’s giants, who has always acknowledged her debt to him.
How he came to spend his last years on a regional paper on Britain’s south coast – where few of his colleagues knew his pedigree – is a whole other story. The Editors’ Introduction to the 2011 ‘author’s cut’ of No Direction Home, together with Shelton’s own Prelude, offers a sense of the man who is one of the under-sung figures in popular music history.
Read the Introduction and Prelude here (PDF file).
Two of the many tributes:
- Robert Shelton by Karl Dallas (Independent)
- Robert Shelton, critic who chronicled the 60s folk boom by Jon Pareles (New York Times)