Bob Neuwirth, Folk-Music Fixture and Bob Dylan Confidant, Dead at 82

Photo: John Byrne Cooke Estate/Getty Images

Bob Neuwirth, the prolific singer-songwriter, painter, and Bob Dylan confidant, has died at the age of 82. According to his partner, Paula Batson, Neuwirth died from heart failure on May 18 in Santa Monica, California. “On Wednesday evening in Santa Monica, Bob Neuwirth’s big heart gave out,” Neuwirth’s family wrote in a statement seen by Variety. “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,” it continues. “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.”

Although Neuwirth had a string of solo projects, beginning with his self-titled debut album in 1974, he is best known for being a key figure in the careers of Dylan and Janis Joplin. A rare Dylan confidant, Neuwirth met the “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” singer at the Indian Neck Folk Festival in Connecticut in 1961. As Dylan rose to fame, Neuwirth became a valued member of his inner circle, and the folk-music scene took notice of his ability to help Dylan navigate storms. By 1975, Neuwirth toured with Dylan on multiple occasions and joined him onstage for his Rolling Thunder Revue tour after putting the band together. In his memoir, Chronicles: Volume One, Dylan wrote, “Like Kerouac had immortalized Neal Cassady in On the Road, somebody should have immortalized Neuwirth. If ever there was a renaissance man leaping in and out of things, he would have to be it.”

As for his collaborations with Joplin, Neuwirth co-wrote “Mercedes Benz,” one of the songs she is most famous for. Joplin and Neuwirth met in 1963 and quickly hit it off. In 1969, he taught her Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee,” and her recording of the song hit No. 1 in 1971 after Joplin’s untimely death a year prior. As for “Mercedes Benz,” the duo wrote the song at a bar before her show at the Capitol Theater. He would continue to work with musicians such as Patti Smith alongside his personal projects in music, art, and film.

Bob Neuwirth, Folk-Music Fixture, Dead at 82