Posts Tagged ‘Bob Clearmountain’

The Band Stage Fright Album Cover web optimised 820

To call an album a group’s third best would usually be faint praise, but not where The Band is concerned: 1970’s “Stage Fright” arguably ranks slightly behind its two predecessors in their catalogue, but that’s only because those earlier records are their classic Music from Big Pink debut and their even better eponymous sophomore LP. In this group’s discography, third best is still good enough to put an album on a par with the finest releases of its era. It’s worth noting, moreover, that “Stage Fright” actually did better on the charts than either of the two earlier records.

Like those previous LPs, the self-produced Stage Fright sounds rooted in a mythic version of rural southern America (though all but one of the Band’s members were Canadian): if they’d had rock music in the South in the 1800s, it might have sounded a lot like this.

By the time The Band came to record their third album, in May 1970, expectations were high. They had already been Bob Dylan’s backing group and then broken out on their own to play an integral role in changing the direction of American music with their 1968 masterpiece, “Music From Big Pink”, and its self-titled follow-up. Judging by its title, Stage Fright suggested the group knew they’d have even more to prove. On February 12th, 2021, Capitol/UMe Records will celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Band’s classic third album, Stage Fright, with a suite of newly remixed, remastered and expanded 50th Anniversary Edition packages, including a multi-format Super Deluxe 2CD/Blu-ray/1LP/7-inch vinyl box set photo booklet; digital, 2CD, 180-gram black vinyl, and limited edition 180-gram color vinyl packages. All the Anniversary Edition releases were overseen by principal songwriter Robbie Robertson and boast a new stereo mix by Bob Clearmountain from the original multi-track masters.

Released on August 17th, 1970, “Stage Fright” features two of The Band’s best-known songs, “The Shape I’m In” and the title track, both of which showcased inspired lead vocal performances by Manuel and Danko, respectively, and became staples in the group’s live shows. Recorded over 12 days on the stage of the Woodstock Playhouse, the album was self-produced by The Band for the first time and engineered and mixed by Todd Rundgren with additional mixing by Glyn Johns.

For the first time, the album is being presented in the originally planned song order. The boxed set, CD and digital configurations feature a bevy of unreleased recordings, including “Live at the Royal Albert Hall, June 1971″, a thrilling full concert captured in the midst of their European tour.

The new set also includes alternate versions of “Strawberry Wine” and “Sleeping”; and seven unearthed field recordings, Calgary Hotel Recordings, 1970, an impromptu late-night hotel jam session between Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel of several “Stage Fright” songs recorded while the album was in the mixing stage.

As a gesture to the residents of Woodstock – who had endured some of the problems of living in a town that played home to famous musicians – The Band offered to record “Stage Fright” in a private town concert. The proposal was rejected by the local council and so the group recorded the album at the Woodstock Playhouse, without an audience. Young engineer Todd Rundgren was in charge of the acoustics, and guitarist/vocalist Robbie Robertson said, “It turned out to be an interesting acoustical thing because you could perform with the curtain closed and it would give you this dry sound and if you opened the curtain you got the sound of the house in there.”

Though The Band had privacy to be creative, the anxieties of fame and celebrity are evident in the themes of fear and alienation that permeate Stage Fright, which was released on 17th August 1970.

The songs are more personal than those of their first two albums, and an undoubted highlight is the title track, a candid song about Robertson’s struggle with stage fright. He turns his fears about performing for an audience into a universal lament. Robertson said, “In ‘Stage Fright’ a lot of stuff I was trying to hold in was starting to creep out.” Bassist and fiddle player Rick Danko takes lead vocals on the song and delivers a powerful performance, ably supported by Garth Hudson’s fluent organ playing.

Stage Fright continued to highlight The Band’s virtuosity. Hudson also played electric piano, accordion, and tenor and baritone saxophones on the record, while Levon Helm played drums, guitar and percussion (and sang lead vocals on four songs), and Richard Manuel played piano, organ, drums and clavinet.

All that instrumental talent, together with Manuel’s skill as a singer, came together on ‘Sleeping’, a Robertson-Manuel composition that blends rock and jazz inflections into a ruminative gem.

That pairing also co-wrote ‘Just Another Whistle Stop’, which races along in zestful Band style, while the mood darkens again on ‘The Shape I’m In’ and the catchy ‘The WS Walcott Medicine Show’. The bleak ‘Daniel And The Sacred Harp’ is a parable about a musician selling his soul: “The moment of truth is right at hand/Just one more nightmare you can stand.” Robertson, who wrote the song, said he was trying to convey how helpless and vulnerable things seemed for the musicians at the time.

Helm sings tenderly on Robertson’s poignant lullaby of ‘All La Glory’, which he wrote for his child. Hudson’s graceful accordion playing brings out the best from moving lyrics, while ‘The Rumour’, one of seven songs Robertson is credited with writing solo, is another strong offering.

In their 1970 review, Rolling Stone magazine called the album “elusive”. Indeed, “Stage Fright” has the uncertainty of a record made at a time when the bonds between the band members were being tested by personal and professional frictions. However, as a piece of music it stands the test of time.

“It was a dark album,” Helm admitted later. “And an accurate reflection of our group’s collective psychic weather. We all realised something was wrong, that things were beginning to slide.”

The public loved it, however. Stage Fright reached a career-best position of No.5 in the album charts and went gold after selling more than half a million copies.

Exclusively for the boxed set, Clearmountain has also created a new 5.1 surround mix and a hi-res stereo mix of the album, bonus tracks and the live show, presented on Blu-ray. All the new audio mixes have been mastered by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering. The set also includes an exclusive reproduction of the Spanish pressing of The Band’s 1971 7-inch vinyl single for “Time To Kill” b/w “The Shape I’m In” in their new stereo mixes and a photo booklet with new notes by Robbie Robertson and touring photographer John Scheele, who recorded the Calgary Hotel Recordings; plus a reprinting of the original Los Angeles Times album review by critic Robert Hilburn; three classic photo lithographs; and photographs from Scheele and several other photographers.

The new collection includes many previously unreleased live recordings.

The Band are reissuing their 1969 self-titled sophomore album to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its release. A super deluxe limited edition version of The Band is slated to arrive November 15th.

The reissue will feature a new stereo mix of the album that engineer Bob Clearmountain made from the original analog masters, as well as classic photos, the group’s previously unreleased 1969 “Live At Woodstock” performance, Classic Albums: The Band documentary, and thirteen bonus tracks.

Exclusively for the boxed set, Clearmountain has also created a new 5.1 surround mix for the album and bonus tracks, presented on Blu-ray with the new stereo, both in high resolution audio (96kHz/24bit). All the new audio mixes have been mastered by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering. The boxed set also includes an exclusive reproduction of The Band’s 1969 7-inch vinyl single for “Rag Mama Rag”/“The Unfaithful Servant” in their new stereo mixes and a hardbound book with an extensive new essay by author and music critic Anthony DeCurtis and classic photos by Elliott Landy. For the album’s new vinyl editions, Chris Bellman cut the vinyl lacquers for the album’s new stereo mix at 45 rpm at Bernie Grundman Mastering, expanding the album’s vinyl footprint from one LP to two.

The super deluxe reissue of The Band is cut at 45RPM and available on two 180-Gram LPs. Additionally, a reproduction of the Band’s 1969 7″ vinyl single for “Rag Mama Rag” with a B-side of “The Unfaithful Servant.” Listen to the alternate version of “Rag Mama Rag” .

All the Anniversary Edition releases were overseen by guitarist/songwriter Robbie Robertson and feature a new stereo mix by Bob Clearmountain from the original multi-track masters, similar to the 50th anniversary collections of last year’s Big Pink releases. The 50th Anniversary Edition’s CD, digital and boxed set configurations also include 13 outtakes, featuring six previously unreleased outtakes and alternate recordings from The Band sessions,  The Band’s legendary Woodstock performance, which has never been officially released.

“Up On Cripple Creek” was the B side of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Robbie Robertson wrote this song and it appeared on The Band’s sophomore self-titled album.

The Band had rented Sammy Davis’s house turning the pool house into a recording studio, nailing baffles all along the outside wall and getting a great sound inside. The album was recorded there except “Up On Cripple Creek”, “Jemima Surrender” and “Whispering Pines” which was recorded at the Hit Factory studio in New York City.

The unusual sound that sounds like a jaw harp was achieved by Hudson with a wah-wah pedal on his clavinet. The song has a great Americana sound to it. Hard to believe this band was all Canadian except for the southern Levon Helm. Guitarist Robbie Robertson wrote this song, which tells a disjointed story about a mountain man and a girl named Bessie. We hear about a trip to the horse races, listening to Spike Jones, and how what really makes him happy is when she “dips her doughnut in my tea.”

Like many songs by The Band, it’s wide open for interpretation. Robertson claims he doesn’t even know what’s going on. “I don’t really write songs with anything other than just a storytelling sense,” he said when asked about the song in Goldmine (August, 1998). “You sit down and write the song, and usually when something happens, you just don’t even know where it came from, or why it came, or anything like that. That’s the best. You know, when something comes out of you that surprises you. And it was one of those. You know, I was just sitting down to see if I could think of anything, and that’s what came out. But it was a fun song to write.”

Drummer Levon Helm sang lead on this track, giving it a very folksy vibe.

The guy in this song is one of the many curious characters Robbie Robertson has conceived. “We’re not dealing with people at the top of the ladder,” he said. “We’re saying what about that house out there in the middle of that field? What does this guy think, with that one light on upstairs, and that truck parked out there? That’s who I’m curious about.”

Robertson is listed as the only songwriter on this track, which is something his bandmates disputed, as they claimed they helped write it. Songwriting credits going to Robertson was a great source of friction in The Band.

That funky sound on “Up On Cripple Creek” was created by keyboardist Garth Hudson, who played a Hohner Clavinet D6 through a Vox Wah Wah pedal.

In The Band’s 2000 Greatest Hits compilation, Levon Helm said, “It took a long time to seep into us. We cut it two or three times, but nobody really liked it. It wasn’t quite enough fun. Finally one night we just got hold of it, doubled up a couple of chorus and harmony parts, and that was it.” The B-side of the single was “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which became a hit for Joan Baez in 1971.

The Band performed this on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1969. It was their only appearance on the show.

The Band was originally released on September 22nd, 1969. In short order, the Band appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, one of only two television appearances the group would ever make, and it had a hit single with “Up on Cripple Creek.” In addition, The Band appeared on the cover of Time magazine in January of 1970, the first North American group ever to do so.

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