Bob Neuwirth Dies, Dylan Cohort and Co-Writer of Joplin’s ‘Mercedes Benz’

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Bob Neuwirth with Bob Dylan in 1965, in a scene from D.A. Pennebaker’s 1967 film, Dont Look Back

Bob Neuwirth, part of the burgeoning Cambridge, Mass., blues-folk scene in the ’60s, who later collaborated with such prominent figures as filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson and Janis Joplin, died yesterday (May 18, 2022) at age 82, in Santa Monica, Calif. The news was shared today (May 19) by many friends and acquaintances on social media. The cause of death was not revealed.

From the official bio on his website: The singer, songwriter, producer, performer, painter, improviser, collaborator, and instigator… found himself at the epicenter of one artistic upheaval after another.

That’s Neuwirth in the striped shirt

Neuwirth, born June 20, 1939, went to art school in Boston and was part of the Cambridge blues-folk scene, where he learned firsthand from such blues legends as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Mississippi John Hurt and the Rev. Gary Davis. In California’s Bay area, Neuwirth entertained in folk clubs in Berkeley and in the bohemian bars across the bay in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood.

From Cambridge to Berkeley to Paris in the ’60s, from the Newport Folk Festivals to the Monterey Pop Festival and from Woodstock to the Rolling Thunder Revue, from SoHo to Nashville, Neuwirth quietly plied his trade, made his mark and assembled an array of colleagues and creative partners.

Some of Neuwirth’s mid-’60s years were spent working and traveling with Dylan. He appeared on the cover of Dylan 1965 album, Highway 61 Revisited (that’s him in the red and white striped shirt, with dangling camera), and was along for the tours chronicled in Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary, Dont Look Back, and in Eat the Document.

Neuwirth served as stage manager at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. He later traveled to Nashville with a then-struggling songwriter named Kris Kristofferson.

Prior to meeting Kristofferson, he’d heard his song “Me and Bobby McGee.” Soon after that, Neuwirth was in the Gaslight, a New York folk club, when Ramblin’ Jack Elliott introduced him to Kristofferson.

“He said, ‘You’re the guy that taught Janis my song,'” Neuwirth recalled. “I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Have a drink,’ and he takes a hip flask of tequila out of his boot. I thought, ‘This is my new best friend.'”

He would later teach “Me and Bobby McGee” to his old friend Janis Joplin, with whom Neuwirth had co-written the song “Mercedes Benz.” Both songs were recorded just days before Joplin died on Oct. 4, 1970.

Neuwirth assembled the backing musicians for Dylan’s 1975-1976 Rolling Thunder Revue tour. During this period he was also featured in Dylan’s film, Renaldo & Clara, from the same period.

Neuwirth reminisced about the earlier days in a 2016 interview.

In the ’80s, he recorded two solo albums: Back to the Front and 99 Monkeys, produced such artists as T Bone Burnett and Vince Bell and saw his songs recorded by Concrete Blonde, k.d. lang, Peter Case, Robert Earl Keen Jr., Kristofferson, Tom Russell and others.

In 1994, he partnered with John Cale on the album Last Day on Earth.

Neuwirth participate in the Harry Smith Anthology concerts with famed producer Hal Willner, appearing at Royal Festival Hall in London, St. Ann’s Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., and UCLA’s Royce Hall. Neuwirth produced a documentary movie by Pennebaker, Down From the Mountain, filmed at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and featuring the music of John Hartford, Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, the Fairfield Four, the Cox Family, the Whites, Chris Thomas King, Colin Linden and others who performed the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Related: Musicians and other celebrities we’ve lost in 2022

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