The Band

The Band

Robbie Robertson – circa 1971

“Your brow is sweatin’ / And your mouth gets dry” – ‘Stage Fright’ (J. R. Robertson)

The stage is hung with elaborate chandeliers, a set borrowed from the San Francisco Opera’s production of ‘La Traviata’.  However it is not an opera that will be presented on this night, 25 November 1976.  Instead, a cast of famous names from rock music will appear on stage to say farewell to the combo who are bringing their career to a close this evening.  What kind of outfit could inspire such an elaborate send-off?  And if they are so significant, why do they have such a bland, generic name as ‘The Band’?

The story of The Band begins with a man who was never actually part of that group.  Ronnie Hawkins hails from Huntsville, Arkansas, in the United States of America.  Some consider him ‘the very last of the original breed of American rock ‘n’ rollers.’  In 1952, while still at university, he puts together the first edition of The Hawks, his backing group.  At this point, rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t even really exist.  By 1956 that situation has changed.  Levon Helm (26 May 1940 – 19 April 2012) is another Arkansas native, born in the town of Marvell.  “I sat in with whoever was playin’,” recalls Levon (pronounced LEE-von).  He also has his own band, The Jungle Bush Beaters.  Ronnie Hawkins passes through and, at the time, is minus a drummer.  Levon Helm is asked if he wants to play drums and so the 16 year old joins The Hawks in 1956.  Ronnie Hawkins plays gigs all across the countryside, but he is not as famous as the likes of Elvis Presley or Chuck Berry who are breaking through to the charts.  The U.S.A.’s northern neighbour, Canada, is not so picky.  It is still rare for them to see a ‘real’ rock ‘n’ roll band so, in 1957, Ronnie Hawkins And The Hawks make their first foray into Canada.  Drummer Levon Helm is with them on this trek.  Given the favourable reception afforded them, Hawkins decides to base the act in Canada.  They sign a recording contract with American company, Roulette Records, and begin their recording career in the spring of 1958.  They knock out songs like ‘Forty Days’ and ‘Mary Lou’.

In 1959, pianist Willard Jones quits The Hawks.  Since the group is in Ontario, Canada, at the time, Ronnie Hawkins looks to local talent for a replacement.  He finds Scott Cushnie, but Scott is already playing in a different band with local guitarist Robbie Robertson.  The only way Scott Cushnie will consent to join The Hawks is if Robbie Robertson comes along too.  This is a condition Ronnie Hawkins is willing to accept.

Robbie Robertson (born Jaime Royal Klegerman, 5 July 1943) is from Toronto, Ontario.  His father, Alexander David Klegerman, is Jewish.  His mother, Rosemarie Myke Chrysler, is a Mohawk Indian.  Alexander Klegerman dies when his offspring is still a child.  Rosemarie remarries and her new husband, James Patrick Robertson, adopts her child as his own.  This is how Jaime Klegerman becomes Jaime Robertson.  ‘Robbie’ is, of course, a nickname based on the surname Robertson.

The membership of The Hawks changes gradually over time.  Some of the American-born members want to return to the U.S.A.; some just get on the wrong side of Ronnie Hawkins’ temper.  Eventually, with the exceptions of Hawkins and drummer Levon Helm, the whole band consists of Canadians.  “There were more characters in Toronto,” Levon Helm slyly notes.  All three of the fellows who make up the balance of the new line-up (joining Hawkins, Helm and Robertson) are born in the Canadian State of Ontario.  Rick Danko (29 December 1942 – 10 December 1999) plays bass and was born in the town of Green’s Corner.  He signs up in 1961.  Then comes pianist Richard Manuel (3 April 1943 – 4 March 1986) from Stratford.  Last to join is Garth Hudson (born 2 August 1937), a classically-trained musician from Windsor, who plays organ.  “We were kids,” Rick Danko claims [By 1963 Ronnie Hawkins is 28 and his Hawks range in age from 26 (Garth Hudson) to 20 (Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson).].  Life on the road is an eye-opening experience.  “It got pretty outrageous,” recalls Danko.

In 1963 Ronnie Hawkins finds himself the odd man out in the company and he and The Hawks part ways that summer.  This is the line-up that will later become known as The Band: Robbie Robertson (guitar), Levon Helm (vocals, drums, occasional guitar or mandolin), Rick Danko (vocals, bass), Richard Manuel (vocals, piano) and Garth Hudson (organ, piano accordion).  In 1963 they play some gigs as Levon And The Hawks and some under the name of The Canadian Squires.  They range from Canada to the U.S.A.  In 1965, as The Canadian Squires, they release a single, ‘Uh-Uh-Uh’ backed with ‘Leave Me Alone’.  The same year, in New York City they cut a single as Levon And The Hawks, ‘The Stones That I Throw’ b/w ‘He Don’t Love You (And He’ll Break Your Heart)’.  Under this name they also put on another single that year, ‘Go Go Liza Jane’.  While in New York, the group meets aspiring blues singer John Hammond, Junior.  His father, John Hammond, Senior, is the artists & repertoire man for Columbia Records.  In 1961 Hammond Senior signed Bob Dylan to a recording contract.  Dylan made a name for himself as a folk musician, performing with just his acoustic guitar and harmonica.  By 1965, the restless Dylan is looking to play full-blooded rock music and needs a band.  Through the Hammond family connection, Dylan is introduced to The Hawks.

On 30 April 1965, with The Hawks behind him, Bob Dylan begins a tour of the United Kingdom.  For whatever reasons, Levon Helm is absent from this tour.  Mickey Jones is the drummer during this excursion.  Dylan’s first rock show in the U.S. is at the Newport Folk Festival on 25 July 1965.  Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm are part of Dylan’s backing combo at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens, New York on 27 August 1965.  Bob Dylan’s fans are, at first, not keen on their idol’s change of musical direction.  The members of The Hawks, used to the rough and tumble of Ronnie Hawkins’ gigs, are a bit bemused about the reason for all the fuss.

The Hawks seriously consider working with blues veteran Sonny Boy Williamson instead.  But while they are clearing their calendar, Williamson learns he is dying.  He passes away before the mooted partnership can begin.

So on 26 November 1965 The Hawks reunite with Bob Dylan to begin a world tour.  Highlights include a gig at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England, on 26 May 1966.  Following this, on 29 July 1966 Dylan has a motorcycle accident.  This necessitates some time out for convalescence.  The newly-married singer and his family move to Woodstock, New York.  This enforced lull in activity finds The Hawks forging their own discreet musical identity.

Backing away from the hectic pace of life with one of the biggest rock stars of the 1960s, the quintet strip away much of the hype and gloss.  They go in search of a purer, more basic sound.  Usually, when an act retreats from rock music, it is to country music or folk music.  There are elements of those styles in what Robbie Robertson and company devise, but it is not that simple.  It is just as much rock ‘n’ roll; that’s hard-coded into their musical D.N.A. after years of touring with Ronnie Hawkins.  Perhaps the best illustration is this: If your average rock band of the time can be considered a pre-fabricated suburban kit home, then The Hawks are building a log cabin in the woods.  It’s unquestionably more rural, but to suggest it is more primitive is wrong.  In some ways, there is a higher level of craftsmanship involved in creating something so organic and hand-made.  “We try and play to a tradition,” states Levon Helm.  “Music ain’t a fad.  It ain’t a style.  It ain’t theatre.”

Robbie Robertson becomes the primary songwriter.  Most of the others make some contributions, but the vision belongs to Robertson.  Having said that, in his later autobiography, Levon Helm casts doubt over how much of Robertson’s songwriting is really his work alone and how much is built up (uncredited) by the rest of the outfit.  There is no way to easily settle this question.  Officially, Robertson amasses the bulk of the songwriting credits.

The vocals are shared out between Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel.  Sometimes they swap the lead from on to another in the course of a single song; sometimes they sing in harmony; and sometimes one of the three is clearly the lead vocalist.  Levon Helm probably scores the most turns as lead vocalist.  His voice is deep, gruff and dry as old leather.  At the other extreme, Richard Manuel usually adopts a frail, high tone.  Levon Helm observes, “Somebody once said he had a tear in his voice.”  This inherent sadness in Manuel’s vocals makes it heart-breakingly effective.  Rick Danko occupies the middle ground, both in vocal tone and in the comparative number of times he is lead vocalist.  He has a supple voice that makes him a good all-rounder, less specialised than his companions.

Robbie Robertson is highly regarded as a guitarist.  Often rock music is guitar-oriented.  The expected move may have been to put Robertson’s playing at the musical centre, but that doesn’t happen.  Instead, Robertson forsakes the spotlight and takes a role equivalent to his band-mates.  It’s an approach that appeals to early fans like Eric Clapton of Cream and George Harrison of The Beatles, musicians for whom the glare of the spotlight is perhaps becoming unwelcome.  The Hawks prefer to work as an ensemble.  Together with Robertson, the rest of the crew are up to the challenge.  “We drove ourselves to as near perfection as we could get,” says Richard Manuel.  According to him, the aim was an almost telepathic connection between the musicians, so they can predict each other with “near clairvoyance.”  It is unusual for a rock band to have both a pianist (Manuel) and an organist (Garth Hudson).  It’s more commonplace in gospel acts where the twin keyboards evoke a church-like atmosphere.  Gospel is yet another ingredient tossed into the melting pot during the development phase as The Hawks become something greater.

In 1967 Robbie Robertson marries Dominique Bourgeois, a Canadian journalist.  The couple goes on to have three children, daughters Alexandria and Delphine and a son named Sebastian.

While Bob Dylan makes himself at home in Woodstock, New York, The Hawks set up shop just down the road in West Saugerties.  They rent a large house that has been painted pink.  The building is affectionately dubbed ‘Big Pink’.  Levon Helm says it “was this regular sort of house sittin’ out there in the country.  It was just a real good music time for all of us.”  The musicians set up in the basement of the house and begin working on two distinct sets of tunes.  Bob Dylan has them work up some material with him.  In typically enigmatic fashion, Dylan does not release these songs to the public.  Some leak out and soon other musicians are covering these mythic pieces and the music industry buzzes with rumours about what Dylan is actually doing.  The second set of music is designed for The Hawks alone.  “We didn’t want to just ride his shirttail all the time,” Levon Helm explains.

A recording contract for The Hawks is secured with Capitol Records.  With the impending release of their first album in their own right, it seems an opportune time to give the group a new name and identity of their own.  “We signed…with Capitol as The Crackers,” cackles Levon Helm.  It is a name with connotations not just of explosives or biscuits, but racist white country boys.  “The Honkies was an alternative,” he points out.  This is an equally unpleasant tag.  “Oh, they were squirmin’ [at Capitol],” he guffaws.  “Nobody was willing to base their entire life,” on this untested proposition is his justification for the less-than-serious sobriquets.  Bob Dylan contributes a (very primitive) painting of the musicians at work for the cover.  When the package is submitted to Capitol, at the end of the credits it says ‘The Band’, “and it said who was in the band,” Levon Helm recalls.  Capitol seizes on this and the album is credited to ‘The Band’.

‘Music From Big Pink’ (1968) (US no. 30) is produced by John Simon, a neighbour from Woodstock.  The album includes three contributions from Bob Dylan.  Firstly, ‘I Shall Be Released’ is sung with aching delicacy by Richard Manuel.  He also handles the lead vocals on ‘Tears Of Rage’, a tired and angry song he co-writes with Dylan.  Rick Danko shares a credit with Dylan for ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’.  The subject of a number of cover versions, The Band’s take on this song is pacier than most with some hard-nosed piano-playing well up in the mix.  The best of the group’s own original compositions is ‘The Weight’ (US no. 63, UK no. 21), whose title may be inspired by the chorus urging “Take a load off, Annie.”  This is a rolling, gospel-flavoured song with bright piano trim.  “I picked up my bag, I went looking for a place to hide,” sings Levon Helm, “When I saw old Carmen and the Devil walkin’ side by side / I said ‘Hey Carmen, c’mon let’s go downtown’ / She said ‘I gotta go, but my friend can stick around’.”  The vocals are shared about amongst the members of The Band on this song.  “We discovered a whole new vocal thing,” claims Richard Manuel of the time spent working on ‘Music From Big Pink’.  ‘Their vocals didn’t mesh sweetly but simply flowed together in an informal manner.’  Another song with a cryptic title, ‘Chest Fever’, is an organ workout for Garth Hudson with surreal lyrics like: “As my mind unweaves / I feel the freeze down in my knees.”  The imagery in ‘Kingdom Come’ is also strange: “Tarred and feathered / Thistles and thorns / One or the other / He kindly warned.”  This track has a gospel feel of Judgment Day approachin’ – which is pretty appropriate given the title.  Also included are another couple of ‘evocative if opaque’ songs by Richard Manuel, ‘In A Stadium’ and ‘We Can Talk’.  There are thought provoking enigmas aplenty on this ‘instant homespun classic.’

In April 1969 Levon Helm meets Libby Titus.  Though they don’t marry, she is his ‘common law wife’ for a number of years and the mother of his daughter, Amy (born 3 December 1970).

On 17 April 1969 The Band plays a show at San Francisco’s Winterland.  This is their first solo gig without Bob Dylan since around 1964.  They go on to play a rock festival in Toronto on 22 June 1969, the first such major rock music show in that city.  Steppenwolf, Chuck Berry, Procul Harum and Blood, Sweat And Tears are also on the bill.  The Band has not completely severed their ties with Bob Dylan since they back him at the Isle of Wight Pop Festival in England on 31 August 1969.

In October, they release their second album, titled simply ‘The Band’ (1969) (US no. 9, UK no. 25).  This is their greatest work and ‘remains their masterpiece.’  If ‘Music From Big Pink’ was intriguing because it was so hard to fathom, all that is abandoned for this album.  Again produced by John Simon, the songs on ‘The Band’ are largely straight-forward narratives.  Robbie Robertson’s lyrics sketch out portraits of rural America like sepia-toned photographs from the distant past.  It may be that, as (mostly) Canadians, The Band have an outsider’s perspective that allows them to more accurately record the life of America.  There is a curiously timeless quality to the songs; they don’t sound contemporary so much as exhumed from some dusty trunk.  Even The Band’s appearance evokes days gone by with abundant facial hair and suits that look like they’ve been in a charity store since the 1930s.  “That wasn’t made up either,” testifies Robbie Robertson, “That was just the way that everybody looked.”  ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ is set during the American Civil War (1861 – 1865) and features a cameo appearance from Robert E. Lee, the Confederate Army General.  However it is not narrated by a figure of legendary status but rather a “workin’ man”.  “Virgil Kane is the name, and I served on the Danville train,” sings Levon Helm.  “In the winter of [18]’65, we were hungry, just barely alive,” it is noted.  From the dirt-poor verses, the song blossoms into a grand, if mournful, chorus.  This set also features The Band’s finest song, ‘Up On Cripple Creek’ (US no. 25).  The loose, funky rhythm adopted by Rick Danko and Levon Helm makes this a standout.  Helm also turns in a winning vocal mix of charm and cheek as he declares “Up on Cripple Creek / She sends me / If I spring a leak / She mends me / I don’t have to speak / She defends me / A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one.”  ‘Rag Mama Rag’ (US no. 57, UK no. 16) scores The Band a little action on the singles chart.  ‘Across The Great Divide’ is perhaps the most expansive track on a musical basis with its elaborate arrangement.  The lyrics urge “Across the great divide / Just grab your hat and you take that ride / Get yourself a bride / And bring your children down to the riverside.”  A less flattering family image is bundled into ‘Unfaithful Servant’ which asks over ponderous piano notes “What did you do to the lady / That she’s gonna have to send you away?”  There’s more misery on ‘Whispering Pines’, a track co-written by Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel, with the latter providing another heart-rending vocal.  The same duo pen the gospel-tinged ‘When You Awake’ which recalls a grandfather’s advice.  The wisdom of the elders is also the subject of ‘Rockin’ Chair’, the tale of an old sailor who, at 73, now finds “This hill’s too steep to climb / And the days that remain ain’t worth a dime [ten cents in U.S. currency].”  This yearning for days gone by brings the album’s themes full circle.

In June 1970 The Band journeys by rail across Canada in the company of U.S. acts The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin.  This musical travelling caravan stops at various cities to put on shows.  The whole experience is captured on film and, many years later, becomes the documentary movie ‘Festival Express’ (2003).

‘Stage Fright’ (1970) (US no. 5, UK no. 15), released in August, is the first album where the production credit is assigned to The Band themselves.  This will be the case for almost all the rest of their output.  The album is written in a mere three weeks.  The title track, ‘Stage Fright’, is seen by some pundits as a shot at Bob Dylan who, at the time, seems reluctant to go on tour.  “I’ve got fire water [alcohol] right on my breath / And the doctor warned me I might catch a death,” sings Rick Danko in ‘Stage Fright’.  ‘The Shape I’m In’ (US no. 121) has a funky feel and taunts “Now two young kids might start a ruckus / You know they feel you tryin’ to shuck us.”  Garth Hudson offers a tasty organ solo on this track.  ‘Time To Kill’ (US no. 77) applies rhythm guitar shades to its optimistic message: “We’ve got time to kill / What a thrill / June and July / We’ve got all our love / Buckets of.”

If ‘Stage Fright’ is considered ‘uneven’, things soon get much worse.  There are multiple reasons for this.  Firstly, the pressures of touring are beginning to weigh the group down.  The higher profile and success of The Band leads to some ‘irresponsible behaviour.’  Richard Manuel in particular struggles with a drinking problem.  Perhaps most tellingly, the rest of The Band grow resentful at Robbie Robertson’s songwriting dominance and the public’s fixation on him at the expense of the others.

From 18 May to 3 June 1971 The Band undertake their first European tour.  They start off in Rotterdam, Holland and conclude at London’s Royal Albert Hall, where they backed Bob Dylan in 1966.

‘Cahoots’ (1971) (US no. 21, UK no. 41), in September, is most notable for ‘Life Is A Carnival’ (US no. 72), a track co-written by Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm and Rick Danko.  “Life is a carnival / Believe it or not,” it offers, “Life is a carnival / Two bits a shot.”  The expression ‘two bits’ is an old-fashioned term for twenty-five cents in U.S. currency.  In other words, just as a cheap ticket at a fairground allows you to test your skill in, say, knocking over bottles by tossing a ball, everyone gets a shot at making the best of their life.  The song employs a colourful musical backdrop reminiscent of the New Orleans Mardi Gras.

This interest in the multi-ethnic New Orleans sound is more fully developed late in 1971 with a New Year’s Eve concert at New York’s Academy of Music where The Band are backed by the horn section from Allen Toussaint’s New Orleans recording studio.  This concert is recorded and released as the double album ‘Rock Of Ages’ (1972) (US no. 6).

In 1973 Levon Helm meets Sandra Dodd.  Although, at this time, he is still living with Libby Titus, he will later go on to marry Sandra Dodd.

The Band plays the Watkins Glen Festival in July 1973, their first show in eighteen months.  Supposedly they have been occupied in the recording studio with Robbie ‘Robertson’s ambitious project, a complex thematic work.’  If any of this is completed, it never sees the light of day.

What is released instead in October is ‘Moondog Matinee’ (1973) (US no. 28).  The album is named after the radio show hosted by Alan Freed, the disc jockey credited with inventing the term ‘rock ‘n’ roll’.  Accordingly, this is an album of cover versions of old rock ‘n’ roll hits.  The Band run through such tunes as Junior Parker’s ‘Mystery Train’ from 1953; The Platters’ ‘The Great Pretender’ from 1955; Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry’s ‘Ain’t Got No Home’ (UK no. 73) from 1956; Chuck Berry’s ‘The Promised Land’ from 1964; Bobby Bland’s ‘Share Your Love With Me’ from 1964; and Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ from 1965.  All well and good and, given The Band’s experience backing Ronnie Hawkins in approximately the same era, it may seem quite logical.  However it’s no substitute for new songs of their own.

Similarly, The Band’s next move also seems a step backwards.  From 3 January to 14 February 1974 thy tour the United States with Bob Dylan.  The concerts are well received and The Band share the credit for the resultant live album, ‘Before The Flood’ (1974) (US no. 3, UK no. 8).  They are also co-credited for Dylan’s albums ‘Planet Waves’ (1974) (US no. 1, UK no. 7, AUS no. 21) and ‘The Basement Tapes’ (1975) (US no. 7, UK no. 8).  The last-named sees Dylan give an official release to the work he created with the nascent Band back in 1968.

Finally, in November, The Band issues a new album of their own original material, ‘Northern Lights, Southern Cross’ (1975) (US no. 26).  Cheryl Pawleski shares production credit for the disc with The Band.  The highlight is probably ‘Acadian Driftwood’, ‘a song chronicling the migration of a group of French Canadians.’  They also hazard a vague attempt at disco with ‘Forbidden Fruit’.  The album even ‘encompasses elements of synthesiser music.’

During a U.S. tour in 1976 the decision is made to bring the career of The Band to a close.  In later years, Levon Helm claims that the decision is actually Robbie Robertson’s and is forced on the rest of the group.  Even if it is true, it illustrates the division between Robertson and the others.  Their finale is set for 25 November 1976.  This coincides with the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday so a buffet dinner is also served.  The venue is San Francisco’s Winterland, the same place where The Band played their first show in their own right back on 17 April 1969.  Concert promoter Bill Graham comes up with the idea to make it a grand affair, borrowing the enormous chandeliers and set from ‘La Traviata’.  An orchestra is also employed.  Film-maker Martin Scorsese, a personal friend of Robbie Robertson, is enlisted to document the proceedings of this ‘Last Waltz’.  Aside from The Band themselves, the main drawcard is the array of famous names who appear on stage with the group, many of whom have met The Band professionally or personally over the years.  Of course, Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan are both present.  In addition, the list of guest performers consists of blues harmonica player Paul Butterfield; New Orleans great Bobby Charles; guitar hero Eric Clapton, an early fan of The Band; Neil Diamond, the popular singer whose album ‘Beautiful Noise’ (1976) is produced by Robbie Robertson; Dr John, who blends psychedelia with New Orleans music; singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, on whose album ‘Court And Spark’ (1974) Robbie Robertson played guitar; Irish legend Van Morrison who collaborated with The Band for a track on ‘Cahoots’; ex-Beatle Ringo Starr who attended The Band’s show with Bob Dylan on 14 February 1974 and raved about it; Stephen Stills of folk rock harmony combo Crosby, Still And Nash; blues man Muddy Waters whose album ‘Muddy Waters At Woodstock’ (1976) is produced by Levon Helm; guitarist Ron Wood, late of The Faces and newly recruited to The Rolling Stones; and Neil Young, icon of, alternately, folk and rock.

Still owing an album to Capitol Records, The Band issue ‘Islands’ (1977) (US no. 64) in March.

Martin Scorsese’s film ‘The Last Waltz’ (1978) showcases The Band’s final concert.  Typically, Levon Helm grouses that the footage is edited to favour Scorsese’s buddy, Robbie Robertson.  Predictably, Robertson has a somewhat different view, later stating that “To this day that film is unsurpassed.  The talent on that stage is unsurpassed.”  There is an accompanying triple album soundtrack, ‘The Last Waltz’ (1978) (US no. 16) on which Robbie Robertson acts as producer.

The band never reforms…or, at least, Robbie Robertson never reunites with his colleagues.  He fitfully releases solo albums.  ‘Having written most of The [Band’s] songs, [he has] a steady stream of income from the publishing as wells as record sales.’  In 1997 Robbie Robertson and his wife, Dominique, divorce after thirty years of marriage.

Richard Manuel meets Arlie Sitvak sometime after 1976 and marries her.

In 1979 Garth Hudson marries actress Maud Kegel.

On 7 September 1981 Levon Helm marries Sandra Dodd, whom he met back in ’73.

Denied the financial support Robbie Robertson enjoys from songwriting royalties, the rest of The Band reunite from time to time between solo projects.

In 1983 – 1984 they tour with ‘Arkansas bar-band veterans’ The Cate Brothers joining them.  Earl Cates plays guitar in place of Robbie Robertson.

Another tour is undertaken in 1986 with Jimmy Weider as guitarist.  After a show on this tour, on 4 March 1986 Richard Manuel returns to this hotel room and commits suicide by hanging himself.

In 1991 The Band goes on tour with Billy Preston on keyboards.

Levon Helm pens his autobiography, ‘This Wheel’s on Fire: Levon Helm and the story of The Band’ (1993).

A new album ‘Jericho’ (1993) (US no. 166) follows.  This set includes a cover version of Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 song ‘Atlantic City’.  Two more albums are issued in the ‘90s, ‘High On The Hog’ (1996) and ‘Jubilation’ (1998).

Rick Danko dies as a result of heart failure on 10 December 1999.  He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Grafton whom he married sometime before 1986; his daughter, Lisa, from his first marriage to Grace Seldner; and his adopted stepson, Justin.  Rick had another son, Eli, but he died from asphyxiation at the age of 18.

On 19 April 2012 Levon Helm dies from throat cancer.

The Band laboured for years as supporting musicians to Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan.  The two albums they recorded in 1968 and 1969 are the bedrock of their reputation as an act in their own right.  They invented perhaps the earliest known example of a style of music that, in the twenty-first century, is categorised as Americana, a blend of sounds that draws on the musical roots of the U.S.A.  During the ‘70s, The Band seemed to slowly lose power until all that was left was to give their legend a grandiose send-off with ‘The Last Waltz’.  Their subsequent reunions (if, without Robbie Robertson, they can even be called reunions) if not artistically appropriate, are at least economically understandable.  ‘The Band were responsible for…bringing rock “back home” to a form that privileged tradition and storytelling.’  ‘Mixing folk, blues, gospel, R & B [rhythm and blues], classical, and rock ‘n’ roll…their music was steeped in Americana and historical and mythic American imagery.’


  1. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 101, 104, 105, 108, 116, 118, 147, 157, 159, 161, 186, 224, 225, 262
  2. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘The Band’ by Ed Ward (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 430, 431, 432, 433, 434
  3. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 19, 20, 67, 105
  4. as at 27 May 2013
  5. Notable Names Database – as at 7 July 2013
  6. Backstage video interviews at a 1984 reunion concert of The Band in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  7., ‘The Band’ by Bruce Eder as at 6 July 2013
  8. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 70, 101, 165
  9. ‘The Globe and Mail’(Canadian newspaper) Robbie Robertson interview (1 April 2001) reproduced on
  10. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 42, 43
  11. as at 4 July 2013
  12. – Robbie Robertson interview conducted by Simon Harper (22 June 2011)
  13. urban cinefile via (14) below
  14. Internet Movie Databse – – as at 8 July 2013
  15. ‘The Most Of The Band’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (EMI Music Australasia, 1991) p. 3
  16. as at 8 July 2013
  17. as at 8 July 2013
  18. ‘Billboard’ magazine – for the years in which the songs by Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry and Chuck Berry. Quoted in ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘The Sound of New Orleans’ and ‘Chuck Berry’ (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 47, 66
  19. ‘The Chicago Tribune’ (U.S. newspaper) Robbie Robertson interview (7 April 2002) (reproduced on
  20. as at 27 May 2013
  21. as at 8 July 2013
  22. (4 May 2013)
  23. ‘People’ magazine (24 March 1986) (reproduced on
  24. ‘The New York Times’ (U.S. newspaper) (12 December 1999) (reproduced on
  25. ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p.101

Song lyrics copyright EMI Songs with the exceptions of ‘The Weight’, ‘Chest Fever’, ‘Kingdom Come’ (all Warner / Chappell) and ‘Rockin’ Chair’ (Control).

Last revised 19 November 2013


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