July 25th, 1965 was a defining moment for rock music. Bob Dylan took the stage at Newport Folk Festival and his group played “Maggie’s Farm” with electric guitars. The guitars screeched loudly as the band jammed. It was heresy to play an electric guitar at a folk festival, however. The two genres were in staunchly different camps. “Almost immediately, the jeering and yelling from the audience grew loud enough nearly to drown out the sound of Dylan and his band,” it was said. Next was his new song “Like a Rolling Stone,” recorded just six weeks prior. The boos were worse. To the folk purists Dylan had musically betrayed them.
Appearing on stage at the same festival was Mel Lyman who played with the Jim Kweskin Jug band, a folk-bluegrass group. Awaiting to perform backstage, Lyman said he received a special request from God to play “Rock of All Ages” on his harmonica. “Like what Christ had to do before mounting the cross,” he said. Lyman came out and played a moving ten minute rendition of the track that left some in awe. The feat helped him achieved cult-icon status with some labeling him the greatest living blues harmonica player.
“The ‘blues’ harmonica moves in an underground world most of the time, not in the glare of publicity. It has celebrities [like] Mel Lyman,” wrote John Bowers in 1965.
Lyman published his first book shortly after his iconic performance at the Newport Festival. It was called Autobiography of a World Savior.