Rock's Backpages Library Rock's Backpages
Rock's Backpages

Robert Shelton

Robert Shelton

Robert Shelton was a music and film critic who died in 1995. He helped to launch the career of a then-unknown 20-year-old Bob Dylan in 1961, when Dylan was performing at Gerde's Folk City in the West Village, opening for the bluegrass act the Greenbriar Boys. Shelton's positive review in The New York Times brought crucial publicity to Dylan and led to a Columbia recording contract. For a decade (1958–1968), Shelton reviewed music, in particular folk music, but also pop and country music, becoming a friend of many of the artists and extending his influence beyond the pages of the Times. He reviewed the inaugural Newport Folk Festival (NFF) for The New York Times and The Nation and edited the program for the influential 1963 NFF under the pen name "Stacey Williams". He wrote album notes for several artists, including Bob Dylan's first album. During the early 1960s, Shelton co-edited a magazine, Hootenanny at the same time as his friend Linda Solomon edited a different magazine titled ABC-TV Hootenanny.

Shelton spent 20 years writing and rewriting his Dylan biography, No Direction Home, The Life and Music of Bob Dylan which was finally published in 1986, after years of arguments with publishers about the style and length of the work. Shelton's intention from the outset was to write a serious cultural study, not a showbiz biography; as a result, he later said his life's work had been "abridged over troubled waters". The title is taken from the lyric of Dylan's hit single 'Like a Rolling Stone'. The same title, No Direction Home, was used by Martin Scorsese for his 2005 documentary film about Dylan's career from the beginning to his motorcycle crash in 1966. Other books by Shelton include Electric Muse: The Story Of Folk Into Rock and The Face of Folk Music. An updated edition of this book, The Electric Muse Revisited, with new material by Robin Denselow, one of the original quartet of contributors, is scheduled for publication by Omnibus Press in May 2021. The folk music charity Square Roots Productions was midwife to the project.

In 1969 Shelton moved to the United Kingdom, living in Hampstead and Sydenham, and then (from 1982) in the South Coast town of Brighton, where he edited the Arts page of the Brighton Evening Argus, and then wrote – mostly about films – for a number of other publications up to his death. In 1996, Shelton's papers, and his collection of books, records and research material were donated to the Institute of Popular Music at the University of Liverpool.

14 articles

By Artist | By Date

List of articles in the library by artist

Bill Anderson, Lester Flatt, Uncle Dave Macon, Jim Reeves, Earl Scruggs, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams: Durable Formula for Grand Ole Opry

Report by Robert Shelton, The New York Times, 26 November 1961

NASHVILLE, TENN. After thirty-five years of broadcasting, the grand old dinosaur of American radio, Grand Ole Opry, is as boisterously alive as ever. The show ...

Hoyt Axton, Joan Baez, Michael Brown, The Chad Mitchell Trio, Judy Collins, Bob Dylan, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Lynn Gold, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Ewan MacColl, Judy Mayhan, The New Christy Minstrels, Tom Paxton, Peter, Paul & Mary, Jean Redpath, The Rooftop Singers, Pete Seeger, The Weavers, Josh White: Folk albums of 1962: Fad To Staple — Disks Reflect 'Arrival' of Folk Music As Part of Country's Popular Arts

Review by Robert Shelton, The New York Times, 28 April 1963

A LONGER perspective may revise the view, but it appears from a distance of a few months that 1962 was the year when the folk-music ...

Leon Bibb, Len Chandler, The Clancy Brothers, Don Crawford, Billy Faier, Weston Gavin, Carolyn Hester, Ram John Holder, Cisco Houston, Tommy Makem, Tom Paslé, Dick Rosmini, Molly Scott, Brother John Sellers, The Trade Winds, Dave Van Ronk, Beverly Wright: Folk Music Makes Mark on City's Night Life

Overview by Robert Shelton, The New York Times, 17 November 1960

Art Form Flowers in the Coffeehouses and Plush Clubs Airs of Many Lands Presented by an Army of Talent ...

Dock Boggs, Mississippi John Hurt: Alumni Hall, New York University, New York NY

Live Review by Robert Shelton, The New York Times, 14 December 1963


Sandy Bull, Stu Ramsay, Roger Sprung: Albums from Sandy Bull and more

Review by Robert Shelton, The New York Times, 18 August 1963


Paul Butterfield Blues Band: Beatles Backlash Spurs Modern Blues

Report by Robert Shelton, The New York Times, 11 March 1965

Performers in 'Village' Influenced by Britons Paul Butterfield Band Stirs Excitement ...

Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Byrds, Bob Dylan, The Lovin' Spoonful, Simon & Garfunkel: A Symposium: Is Folk Rock Really 'White Rock'?

Letters by Robert Shelton, The New York Times, 20 February 1966


Bob Dylan: Forest Hills Stadium, Forest Hills Stadium NY

Live Review by Robert Shelton, The New York Times, 30 August 1965

DYLAN CONQUERS UNRULY AUDIENCE Folk Singer Offers Works in'New Mood' at Forest Hills ...

Bob Dylan, The Greenbriar Boys: The Greenbriar Boys, Bob Dylan: Gerde's Folk City, New York NY

Live Review by Robert Shelton, The New York Times, 29 September 1961

Bob Dylan: A Distinctive Folk-Song Stylist 20-Year-Old Singer Is Bright New Face at Gerde's Club ...

The Faith Temple Choir, The Gospelaires, Mahalia Jackson, The Staple Singers: Staple Singers, Mahalia Jackson et al: Randalls Island, New York NY

Live Review by Robert Shelton, The New York Times, 8 September 1962

GOSPEL FESTIVAL GETS UNDER WAY 3-Day Event Set for Randalls Island Begins a Little Late ...

Janis Ian: Censors and the "New Reality"

Comment by Robert Shelton, The New York Times, 25 September 1966

A FOLK-ROCK disk issued earlier this month which spotlights a shining new singing and song-writing talent, also throws some rays of light into the shadowy ...

Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band: Bitter End, New York NY

Live Review by Robert Shelton, The New York Times, 21 September 1963

Kweskin Quintet at Bitter End Puts Polish in the Ragtime Jug ...

The Mothers Of Invention, Frank Zappa: Frank Zappa: "Son of Suzy Creamcheese"

Profile and Interview by Robert Shelton, The New York Times, 25 December 1966

  THE MOST original new group to simmer out of the steaming rock 'n' roll underground in the last hour and one-half is an audacious crew ...

Pete Seeger, The Weavers: The Weavers: Carnegie Hall, New York NY

Live Review by Robert Shelton, The New York Times, 3 May 1963

7 WEAVERS OFFER 'REUNION' CONCERT Alumni and Future Member Join Folk-Music Quartet ...

back to LIBRARY