Early Caffè Lena Performer Bob Dylan Sells Music Catalog for $300 Million

Universal Music purchased more than 600 of the Nobel Prize winner's songs.

A boyish Bob Dylan, as he might have appeared at Caffè Lena, on the cover of his eponymous 1962 debut album.

For all of you upstart folk singers, who grace the socially distanced, live-streamed stage at Caffè Lena and depend on Patreon and virtual dip jar donations to make ends meet, there may be, whether you believe in it or not, a giant pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Nobel Prize–winning songwriter Bob Dylan, who first appeared at the Saratoga Springs folk venue in July 1961, shortly after he arrived in New York City to track down his hero Woody Guthrie, and followed that up with a pair of performances in January 1962, has sold his entire music catalog—more than 600 songs—to Universal Music Publishing Group for an estimated $300 million, per The New York Times.

The trove of Dylan songs includes all of his most famous numbers, including “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Tangled Up in Blue.” The only songs not included in the sale were some of his earliest, which include “Song for Woody,” one of the first songs Dylan was lauded for, and “Talkin’ New York,” a song he likely played on the stage at Caffè Lena (it was in his earliest sets and appeared as the second track on his eponymous debut album). Those songs were already owned by Universal, when it obtained the rights from MCA after a sale.

“It’s no secret that the art of songwriting is the fundamental key to all great music, nor is it a secret that Bob is one of the very greatest practitioners of that art,” Lucian Grainge, the chief executive of the Universal Music Group, said in a statement announcing the deal.

Jody Gerson, the chief executive of Universal’s publishing division, added, “To represent the body of work of one of the greatest songwriters of all time—whose cultural importance can’t be overstated—is both a privilege and a responsibility.”

As the Times notes, the deal includes all of his songs through and including his latest album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, but none beyond it.

Next May 24, Dylan will turn 80.

Will Levith

Will Levith is Editorial Director at Saratoga Living and Capital Region Living magazine. He's a native Saratogian and graduate of Saratoga Springs High School. His work has been published by Esquire, Playboy, Condé Nast Traveler, Men's Health, RealClearLife and many others. He lives in Troy with his wife, Laura, and dog, Esopus.


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