60s folk songwriter, singer, artist Bob Neuwirth dies

Bob Neuwirth, an artist, singer and songwriter who helped make Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin the center of the 1960s music world, has died. He was 82.

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Neuwirth’s longtime partner, Paula Batson, confirmed his death saying he died from heart failure, The New York Times reported.

Neuwirth became friends with Dylan after they met at the Indian Neck Folk Festival in Connecticut in 1961. At the time, Dylan was still relatively unknown but he caught the attention of Neuwirth “because he was the only other guy with a harmonica holder around his neck,” he said years after the encounter, according to the Times.

Neuwirth was part of Dylan’s inner circle, frequently accompanying Dylan on tours over the years.

“Neuwirth was the eye of the storm, the center, the catalyst, the instigator,” Eric Von Schmidt said, according to the Times. “Wherever something important was happening, he was there, or he was on his way to it, or rumored to have been nearby enough to have had an effect on whatever it was that was in the works.”

Patti Smith called Neuwirth “a catalyst for action” in the memoir about her own life, Variety reported.

Dylan wrote of Neuwirth, “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,” according to Variety.

Neuwirth also toured with his friend Kris Kristofferson.

Neuwirth said his time with various singers then was different from how it was at the time when he was interviewed for Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary on Dylan, “No Direction Home.” Neuwirth said, “Back then it wasn’t money-driven. It was about if an artist had something to say. Whether it was Bob Dylan or Ornette Coleman, what people would ask was, ‘Does he have anything to say?’”

Neuwirth penned one of the most well-known and posthumous hits for Joplin, “Mercedes Benz,” just before the singer’s death in 1970. He said in one interview that he wrote it when the two were drunk between shows. She played it and fans liked it so it was added to her “Pearl” album as filler.

“It’s a campfire song, isn’t it?” Neuwirth said in 2013, according to Variety. “You don’t need any particular musical skill to sing it, and because it’s a cappella, everybody can tackle it in their own way. But I’m sure Janis would be shocked at the attention that that song has gotten over the years. She’d just be shaking her head in disbelief at it.”

Neuwirth is also credited with introducing Joplin to her signature song “Me and Bobby McGee,” written by Kristofferson.

Neuwirth was born in Akron, Ohio. He studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He returned to Boston after a stint in Paris. He was part of the Cambridge, New York, Berkeley and San Francisco folk movements. He also was an artist and was part of the group that would meet at Max’s Kansas City, which included Andy Warhol, Larry Poons, Robert Smithson and Robert Rauschenberg, Variety reported.

Neuwirth leaves behind Batson and niece Cassie Dubicki and her family, Variety reported.