Newly honored Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee Joan Baez remains one of music's most complex and intriguing figures. She's had an impact on everyone from Bob Dylan to Judas Priest, while remaining steadfastly true to the '60s activist spirit.
A folk legend, she has always had ties to the worlds of pop and rock, too. Baez was just 19 when she released her self-titled 1960 debut LP on the Vanguard label, the home of the folk elite. Her first pair of albums went gold, quickly establishing her status on the folk scene. As the decade unfolded, Baez became a presence across other genres as well, memorably working with Phil Ochs, Johnny Cash, the Band and, of course, Bob Dylan.
Later, she served as an unlikely influence on a couple of hard rockers, even as a career dedicated to political activism and a better world continued into a new era. As such, making her induction case to on-the-fence electors really becomes a process of winnowing.
Ultimately, we came up with five reasons why Joan Baez should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – but there could have been many more ...
She Was Bob Dylan's Muse and Helped Introduce His Songs to the World
Baez first crossed paths with Bob Dylan in New York City in 1961 at Gerde's Folk City. Joan had already released her debut, an album that included her version of the traditional "House of the Rising Sun." Dylan later covered it on his own 1962 debut, leading to the Animals' smash hit rendering in 1964. Dylan initially had his eye on Joan's younger sister Mimi, though she would soon marry Richard Farina, another folk scene regular. Ultimately, however, Bob and Joan became a couple. Her influence and inspiration in that era is undeniable, as she tagged along on Dylan's first U.K. tour in 1965, captured so well in the film Don't Look Back.
The variety of styles at Woodstock was pretty staggering. And while it shouldn't surprise anyone that Joan Baez made an appearance, her place on that stage seems all but forgotten. Baez, six months pregnant and with her husband in jail, closed out the first day of the festival amid a light rain and a sparse crowd. "Maybe there'll be a few more people here by then," she joked before taking the stage. "I don't like a little puny gathering like this." Her 14-song set included covers of songs by Dylan, the Byrds and the Rolling Stones, among others.
She Kept The Torch of Activism Burning
From her earliest days of performing as a teenager in the late '50s, Baez's heart was always in the grip of issue-based advocacy. Her path of political and social consciousness was a sincere one, and her entire life and career unfolded in tandem with this passion for justice. Along the way, she's embraced everything from Civil Rights and the anti-war effort to LGBT awareness and the Occupy movement.
She Made the Band's 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down' a Hit
"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" was originally released in 1969 on the self-titled second album by the Band, but Baez make it a smash. Recorded for 1971's Blessed Are..., it became a surprise hit for Baez in the fall of that year, checking in at No. 3 in the U.S. and making Top 10 lists worldwide.
She Boasts Unexpected Ties to Heavy Metal
Her 1962 album Joan Baez in Concert included "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You," a song Baez had heard in folk clubs. The guys in Led Zeppelin loved her version and did a total revamp for their 1969 debut. Meanwhile, Judas Priest raided her songbook to find 1975's "Diamonds and Rust" for Sin After Sin in 1977. “We thought, ‘Oh, she’s gonna give us some [grief],'" Rob Halford later admitted. "She actually came over to say, ‘My son played me your version of my song, and it was very sweet.’ So to be acknowledged for what we did with her tune was very professional, very selfless I thought.”