Elijah Wald is a musician, author of Dylan Goes Electric! (Dey Street Books), and historian who has published on a broad range of music and related cultural subjects. He started playing guitar after seeing his first Pete Seeger concert at age seven, went to New York at seventeen to study with the folk-blues legend Dave Van Ronk, and spent many years traveling and performing in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa, studying with the Congolese guitar innovator Jean-Bosco Mwenda, and touring with the African-American string band master Howard Armstrong. His recordings include an LP, Songster, Fingerpicker, Shirtmaker, and a CD, Street Corner Cowboys.
In the early 1980s he began writing for the Boston Globe, first covering gospel and other “roots” styles, then becoming the newspaper’s regular “world music” reporter throughout the 1990s. He has published well over a thousand articles for a wide range of popular and academic journals, and his dozen books include Dylan Goes Electric! Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night that Split the Sixties (Dey Street Books); How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ’n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music; Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues (Amistad); The Dozens: A History of Rap’s Mama; Global Minstrels: Voices of World Music; Dave Van Ronk’s memoir of the New York folk revival, The Mayor of MacDougal Street (the inspiration for the Coen Brothers’ movie, Inside Llewyn Davis); and Narcocorrido (Rayo), a survey of the modern Mexican ballads of drug smuggling and political corruption.
His most recent book, Dylan Goes Electric! Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night that Split the Sixties, Elijah Wald explores the cultural, political and historical context of this seminal event that embodies the transformative decade that was the sixties. On the evening of July 25, 1965, Bob Dylan took the stage at Newport Folk Festival, backed by an electric band, and roared into his new rock hit, Like a Rolling Stone. The audience of committed folk purists and political activists who had hailed him as their acoustic prophet reacted with a mix of shock, booing, and scattered cheers. It was the shot heard round the world—Dylan’s declaration of musical independence, the end of the folk revival, and the birth of rock as the voice of a generation—and one of the defining moments in twentieth-century music. Wald delves deep into the folk revival, the rise of rock, and the tensions between traditional and groundbreaking music to provide new insights into Dylan’s artistic evolution, his special affinity to blues, his complex relationship to the folk establishment and his sometime mentor Pete Seeger, and the ways he reshaped popular music forever. Breaking new ground on a story we think we know, Dylan Goes Electric! is a thoughtful, sharp appraisal of the controversial event at Newport and a nuanced, provocative, analysis of why it matters.
Wald has an interdisciplinary PhD in ethnomusicology and sociolinguistics, has taught in the musicology department at UCLA, and travels widely as a speaker on the history and culture of popular music. He is particularly known for exploring musical styles within broader sociocultural contexts, as well as for original research on early blues, Mexican ranchera, and the folk revival. His awards include a Grammy for the album notes to The Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Box, an ASCAP-Deems Taylor award, and special mention for the American Musicological Society’s Otto Kinkeldey award.
Praise for Elijah Wald:
“How could we thank you enough? We have received nothing but exuberant praise for your program last night. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
--Jonathan Hiam, Curator and Program Organizer, Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts
“Sincerely, your presentation was perfect for the occasion. Thomas, who is also on the ASPM board and who's always very hard to please considered yours the best of all invited papers we’ve had so far! It was as entertaining as it was enlightening. You've experienced the reaction by the audience - it was enthusiastic.”
--Ralf van Appen, organizer, Association for the Study of Popular Music biannual conference, Basel, Switzerland
"In 2010, when I was looking for a stimulating closer for the Louis Prima Centennial Colloquium that I was organizing at Tulane University, I immediately thought of Elijah Wald because of previous experience witnessing his unique combination of erudition and provocation as a presenter at the Experience Music Project conference in Seattle in 2006. As expected, the Prima colloquium ended on a high note with the audience in rapt attention. As an author and a speaker, Elijah never disappoints."
--Bruce Boyd Raeburn, Director of Special Collections and Curator, Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University
“It is not often that one attends such a delightful and erudite presentation! Elijah has certainly researched his topic, but it was his manner of confidence and passion that impressed me…. I hope that he will be invited back to Tulane, soon. Elijah can handle any topic and get my interest.”
-- Audience Member, Tulane University.
"Wald takes the blues home, puts the music in context with its varied audiences, from the original fans in the juke joints to the listeners who heard blues songs long after their creation . . . Wald's is a story of race, to be sure, of black musicians, primarily, and black and white audiences. And he sets his history in a full social context . . . full of insight and intelligence."
-- Susan Larson, New Orleans Times-Picayune
"I don't think the reviews of Escaping the Delta that appeared at the time of its publication went far enough in describing its genius.... Wald puts you inside Johnson's head...he shows you what Johnson decided to play and when and puts forward convincing reasons why, shows you what sources he was combining, how he changed them, honored them....an extraordinary thought-movie... "
--John Jeremiah Sullivan, Harper's magazine
"Through the stories of the corrido-crafters themselves [in Narcocorrido], Wald uncovers a world desperate for heroes. At once tragic and hopeful, the results of his journey holds a mirror up to life on both sides of the border."
--Louie Perez, of the Chicano band Los Lobos
"Elijah Wald’s Narcocorrido is more than an exposé of a musical genre and a contemporary problem, it is a journey into the complex nuances of Mexican social and cultural history. His book is a most significant contribution to the bibliography on travel literature by foreign observers to Mexico since colonial times. It will be of interest to a wide range of specialists in diverse fields as well as to the casual reader who will enjoy the pleasure of a rich narrative of adventure and detective work."
--Guillermo E. Hernández, Ph.D., Director of the UCLA-Chicano Studies Research Center
Praise for Dylan Goes Electric!:
"...one of the best music journalists around.... As told by Wald, the story of Dylan at Newport is not so much about music as it is about stories themselves, how they mesmerize even as they bumble along and don't always end cleanly. The truth is often messy. And usually that messiness makes for a better story."
--David Kirby, Washington Post
"Wald is a remarkably sharp and graceful writer, capable of drawing extraordinary connections between artists, genres, and cultural moments. There’s simply no one better when it comes to unpacking not just the mechanics of American music, but the mythology of American music – the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we believe."
--Amanda Petrusich, author of Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78rpm Records.
“What Wald reveals about that most mystified of singer-songwriters and the folk and rock worlds that then surrounded and elevated him changed my own view of a moment I thought I had all figured out-and of the songwriterly 1960s as a whole.”
--Ann Powers, author of Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America and, with the artist, Tori Amos: Piece by Piece
“Concise and entertaining . . . a great story, masterfully told, of how the times were, indeed, a-changin’-and why.”
--Ed Ward, rock and roll historian for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross and author of Michael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero
“Elijah Wald’s book reflects the many directions in which America’s music scene evolved in those extraordinary years, 1963-1970-I can’t recommend it enough.”
--George Wein, Founder of the Newport Folk Festival
“In this tour de force, Elijah Wald complicates the stick-figure myth of generational succession at Newport by doing justice to what he rightly calls Bob Dylan’s ‘declaration of independence’ . . . This is one of the very best accounts I’ve read of musicians fighting for their honor.”
--Todd Gitlin, author of The Sixties and Occupy Nation
“Wald contextualizes the deeply divisive event in illuminating detail . . . a major contribution to modern musical history.”
--Booklist (starred review)
“Easily the definitive account of Newport ‘65.”
“It is a great work of scholarship, brimming with insight – among the best music books I have ever read.”
“Wald’s personal knowledge seems encyclopedic . . . An enjoyable slice of 20th-century music journalism.”
“Anyone interested in Dylan, folk music, or rock and roll will adore this volume. It might not resolve the questions of what really happened in Newport in 1965, but it comes very close.”
“Wald is a superb analyst of the events he describes. And his analyses fly in the face of conventional wisdom. Even his introduction includes enough startling context to indicate ‘Dylan Goes Electric!’ will be seeing the old story with new eyes.”
--Janet Maslin, New York Times
Praise for Escaping the Delta:
“If you read only one book about blues...read this one.”
--Starred Booklist on Escaping the Delta
Praise for Narcocorrido:
“Wald is an engaging writer, and Narcocorrido a must-have for those wanting an introduction to the genre.”
“a unique book about a unique subject...a fascinating reading.”
--Dave Ferman, Fort Worth Star-Telegram