Posts Tagged ‘The Band’

(L-R) Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel and Rick Danko of The Band pose for a group portrait in London in June 1971. (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

Fans of The Band celebrated the 50th anniversary of the band’s 1970 Stage Fright studio album in 2020, and to mark the ongoing celebration, Universal Music Enterprises has shared a previously-unreleased live version of the band performing their most well-known hit, “The Weight”.

This live take on the celebrated Music From Big Pink track was recorded during The Band’s June 3rd, 1971 show at London’s famed Royal Albert Hall. The previously-unreleased concert is set to be included in full on The Band’s upcoming Stage Fright 50th Anniversary Edition box set, due out on February 12th.

The song that perfectly encapsulates The Band’s deep arsenal of talented singers in Levon HelmRick Danko, and Richard Manuel came in at the three slot of the show as the group explodes out of the starting gate. Coming into London hot on the tail end of a 1971 European tour, this two-night run at the Royal Albert Hall was The Band’s first time back at the famous venue since backing Bob Dylan in 1966. Given the crowd’s vitriolic reaction to the newly-electrified demeanor of the iconic singer-songwriter five years prior, the group’s 1971 return was justifiably much more rewarding.

“Everybody was on their game. And it was such a great relief to come back to Albert Hall from the last experience of playing with Bob there, [Laughs]” Robertson said “When we played with Bob, we were on a ridiculous schedule on tour. I’m amazed that Bob, you know, could even pull it off physically. This time, the crowd was just over the top on enthusiasm and we were trying to give it back to them.”

Just when you think “The Weight” has reached peak exposure in the culture, Robbie Robertson’s 1968 song and its original recording by the Band — always manages to stage a comeback. During the past five decades, it’s repeatedly popped up in soundtracks, from Easy Rider to The Big Chill to the recent Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. In 2019, an all-star remake featuring Robertson, Ringo Starr and musicians from around the world generated millions of views. And next week, a new Band box set will revive “The Weight” again, this time by way of an excavated live version.

Starting with Music From Big Pink, Robertson has started the process of digging through master tapes and archives of each of the Band’s albums in time for their five-decade anniversaries. This year, the time has come for an upgrade of their third LP, Stage Fright. A 50th-anniversary edition of the album, out February 12th, will include a new stereo mix of the album, a few alternate takes, and a collection of hotel-room jams featuring Robertson, bassist Rick Danko, and pianist-drummer Richard Manuel.

Also included is the never-before-released Live at Royal Albert Hall, June 1971, which carries additional significance. The previous time the Band had played at that austere venue, in 1966, they were known as the Hawks and were backing Bob Dylan on his controversial European tour. The last two shows of the tour took place at the hall, where, as at other shows, some in the audience were less than thrilled by the sound of Dylan backed by a plugged-in band — and let their frustrations be known by way of booing and yelling.

By 1971, though, things had changed: “The Hawks had been booed there last time out,” wrote Levon Helm in his memoir This Wheel’s on Fire. “Not this time. Take my word for it — pandemonium. They were on their feet and dancing from the first notes.”

Naturally, Live at Royal Albert Hall, June 1971, includes a version of “The Weight.” The song was also in the news last December when Dylan sold his song catalogue to Universal Music Publishing for a reported $400 million — a deal that, to the bafflement of some, included all the original Band songs from Music From Big Pink(The Band had signed with Dylan’s publishing company, Dwarf Music, back in 1968.) 

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’s classic 1970 album is often considered slightly inferior to its two stone-cold-classic predecessors, the group’s debut “Music From Big Pink” and the self-titled follow-up — but what’s not often stated is that “slightly inferior” to those albums still makes it one of the best albums of the year if not the era.

While the group had started to fragment a bit at the time of its recording — largely due to substance abuse — it still contains several of their all-time best songs, like the title track, “The Shape I’m In,” “Strawberry Wine” and others. On February 12th, 2021, Capitol/UMe 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 colour 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. 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, In the set’s liner notes, Robertson calls the show at London’s Royal Albert Hall “One of the greatest live concerts The Band ever played. ”It was a thrilling full concert captured in the midst of their European tour; 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.

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; 1970,” a fun and loose, impromptu late night hotel jam session between Band members Robertson, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel of several “Stage Fright” songs, recorded during the group’s legendary “Festival Express” Canadian tour with Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Buddy Guy and others. 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.

Originally 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 50th Anniversary collection, the sequence has been changed to present Stage Fright with the originally planned song order.

The release follows last year’s stellar reissue of “The Band,” which included the group’s previously unreleased set from the Woodstock festival. 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 (which resolves the conundrum caused by some of the album’s earlier re-releases, which included incorrect mixes of several songs). While the release notes that “For the first time, the album is being presented in the originally planned song order,” what will really interest fans is the previously unreleased material.

The Band

If you loved The Last Waltz but want to know more about The Band and frontman Robbie Robertson, Once Were Brothers is the “confessional, cautionary, and occasionally humorous tale of Robertson’s young life and the creation of one of the most enduring groups in the history of popular music, The Band. The film is a moving story of Robertson’s personal journey, overcoming adversity and finding camaraderie alongside the four other men who would become his brothers in music, together making their mark on music history.” It’s got interviews with Martin Scorsese, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and more.

ONCE WERE BROTHERS: ROBBIE ROBERTSON AND THE BAND is a confessional, cautionary, and occasionally humorous tale of Robertson’s young life and the creation of one of the most enduring groups in the history of popular music, The Band. The film is a moving story of Robertson’s personal journey, overcoming adversity and finding camaraderie alongside the four other men who would become his brothers in music, together making their mark on music history. ONCE WERE BROTHERS blends rare archival footage, photography, iconic songs and interviews with Robertson’s friends and collaborators including Martin Scorsese, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, and more. Directed by Daniel Roher

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.

Image may contain: 9 people, screen

The Band Press Photo 1974

On January 3rd, 1974 Bob Dylan embarked on a 30-date tour with The Band. “Tour ’74” marked the reunion of Dylan with the group that backed him in 1966 as “The Hawks.” A stellar audience recording of The Band’s portion of the show from a January 25th, 1974 concert at Tarrant County Convention Center in Fort Worth, Texas recently surfaced on YouTube.

The Band not only backed Dylan for most of the night, but the quintet played their own material without Bob at portions of each show. In the embed below fans can hear 10 of The Band’s most beloved songs played live . Guitarist Robbie Robertson, multi-instrumentalists Levon Helm and Richard Manuel, keyboardist Garth Hudson and bassist Rick Danko work through such numbers of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “King Harvest (Has Surely Come),” “Up On Cripple Creek,” “The Shape I’m In” and “The Weight.”

Tarrent Counry Convention Center, Fort Worth, TX, 1-25-1974

Setlist: 1. Stage Fright (0:16) 2. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (4:49) 3. King Harvest (Has Surely Come) (9:26) 4. When You Awake (13:09) 5. I Shall Be Released (16:19) 6. Up On Cripple Creek (19:41) 7. Rag Mama Rag (24:43) 8. This Wheel’s On Fire (28:41) 9. The Shape I’m In (33:21) 10. The Weight (36:10)

Image result for the band at big pink images

The Band emerged in the late sixties as part of the roots movement that would come to counter the psychedelic influence that had taken a grip on popular music. This group of four Canadians and one Arkansas musician, who once backed Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan, exploded onto the scene with arguably two of the greatest albums of all time – Music From Big Pink and the self-titled second album The Band. Rustic and encompassing various genres, performed with musicianship of the highest order and with a great trio of vocalists in Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, the albums are like timeless storybooks, documenting a long-gone era with nostalgia, bitterness and regret.

Flanked by a guitarist of the highest order in Robbie Robertson and the almost mythical layer-adding Garth Hudson, these are soundscapes like no other. Songs like The Weight, Whispering Pines, Lonesome Suzie, The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down and King Harvest represent a group in full mastery of their abilities and are rightly regarded as classics.

The problem with The Band is that they peaked too early. The dirty habits of the rock and roll life style set in, drugs and alcohol the corrupting influences that saw the group decline after the third album Stage Fright. In addition to this, Robertson has also alluded to the pressures of being on the road that only served to exasperate the issues facing these talented musicians. By the early seventies, Manuel, once the main songwriter for the group, could no longer pen material. His voice remained entrancing but onstage he could barely perform beyond a few numbers.
The Band would continue to show sparks of their former selves throughout the remaining seven years they spent together. Moondog Matinee, a covers album, is pretty fine and there are a few nuggets to be found on Northern Lights-Southern Cross, one of the original setup’s final albums. By the time they called it quits following the Last Waltz they were burned out. Robertson could no longer tour and Manuel would tragically take his own life in 1986. A reunited Band in the nineties (minus Robertson) was unable to capture the magic, with very little new original material penned. Here are some of their classic songs.

A Musical History

The Weight

Gram Parsons might have coined the phrase “cosmic American music”, but has any piece of music ever sounded so cosmic, or indeed so American, as the Band’s signature track? By the time Levon Helm’s road-weary traveller has pulled into Nazareth – not in biblical Galilee, but eastern Pennsylvania, where CF Martin founded the oldest guitar company in the US in 1833 – he’s already “feeling ’bout half-past dead”, with light years on the clock, and no end to his journey in sight. So ingrained is The Weight’s sense of the mythological and metaphysical that even after you learn the more prosaic truth behind its cast of characters – that “Luke” refers to their former Hawks bandmate Jimmy Ray Paulman, “Anna Lee” was a childhood friend of Helm’s and “Crazy Chester” was an eccentric club owner from North Carolina – it still feels as esoteric and inscrutable it did on your first listen. It’s a song that doesn’t sound like it was written, so much as divined – a nugget of gold panned from the riverbed of American musical tradition, even if four-fifths of the group who happened upon it were Canadian.

Chest Fever

According to guitarist Robbie Robertson: “If you like Chest Fever, it’s for god knows what reason … it doesn’t make any kind of sense in the lyrics, in the music, in the arrangement, in anything.” Yet it’s hard to see how the reason could be any more obvious: if you like Chest Fever, it’s because of Garth Hudson. The multi-instrumentalist didn’t sing, and his songwriting credits were scarce, but his peerless ability and technical know-how were a huge, if often overlooked, asset to the Band. Ophelia – on which he almost single-handedly constructs a Dixieland-jazz wall of sound – is perhaps the greater testament to his musicality and versatility, but personal preference means Chest Fever sneaks on to this list ahead of it. Sure, the lyrics were ad-libbed and largely meaningless, but Hudson’s extraordinary Lowrey organ intro (improvised from Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor) and the heaving, inexorable groove of the song’s central riff elevates what might have been a throwaway number into a thing of indomitable power and majesty, which for many years served as the centrepiece of their live set.

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

In later life, drummer Levon Helm began to dabble in acting, appearing in movies such as Coal Miner’s Daughter, The Right Stuff and, bizarrely, the Steven Seagal eco-thriller Fire Down Below. His greatest performance, however, will always be that of Virgil Caine, the defeated but stoically defiant protagonist of what is possibly the Band’s finest track. Helm inhabits the role of a forlorn Confederate veteran so completely that when he sings – in that high, lonesome, cigarettes-and-rye rasp – about how the last days of the US civil war are “a time I remember oh so well”, you find yourself believing him. In writing it, meanwhile, Robertson displayed remarkable nuance: the lyrics are not an expression of sympathy or support for the Confederacy, much less slavery; they’re the lament of an ordinary man who knows he’s on the wrong side of history, aware that his own suffering – and the excesses of the victors – has already been written out it.

Whispering Pines

Much of the Band’s early magic lay in their rejection of clearly defined roles. Each member had a primary instrument but would chop and change as the music required; songwriting duties were mostly shared between Robertson and nominal lead vocalist Richard Manuel, but there was no de facto leader; they were adaptive, instinctual, egalitarian; a band – the band – rather than a vehicle for individual talent. That began to change after their self-titled second album, as much because of Manuel’s drug-induced inertia as the bitter disputes over Robertson’s royalty shares, but the heartrending Whispering Pines stands out as perhaps the greatest collaboration between the group’s two main songwriters. Manuel composed the melody – so haunting it would have given Brian Wilson shivers – on an out-of-tune piano he kept at home before tasking Robertson with finishing the lyrics; the guitarist responded with a poetic meditation on loneliness that Manuel’s fragile falsetto managed to wring every last ounce of pathos from. It was no accident, as Robertson later explained: “Richard always had this very plaintive attitude in his voice, and in his sensitivity as a person. I tried to follow that, to go with it and find it musically. We both felt very good about this song.”

Up on Cripple Creek

There’s an argument for 1969’s The Band – also known as The Brown Album – as a loose concept album about the people, places and shared experiences of an older, more innocent and fast-vanishing America, an idea not entirely dissimilar to what Ray Davies was doing on the other side of the pond with The Village Green Preservation Society and Arthur. The Band’s worldview, however, was decidedly more blue-collar: they gravitated towards earthier tales of stricken sharecroppers, down-at-heel outlaws and charismatic drunkards. Up on Cripple Creek is the epitome of that, the story of a sanguine, free-wheeling hobo’s cross-country adventures with his “little Bessie”, and likened by the critic Greil Marcus to Harry McClintock’s Big Rock Candy Mountain as “a place where all fears vanish beyond memory”. Underpinned by the bright, sure-handed bounce of Helm’s drumming and Hudson’s funky, undulating wah-wah clavinet, it’s possessed of a roguish, irresistible charm that never fails to have you reaching for the nearest bottle.

Stage Fright

All five members of the Band had cut their teeth as working musicians in the 1950s, when the concept of success was very different to what it would be a decade later when they finally achieved it for themselves. “If you’ve never made a million dollars overnight, like we did, you have no concept of what it can do,” reflected bassist Rick Danko. “Suddenly, we had all the money we needed and people were falling over themselves to make us happy, which meant giving us all the dope we could stand.” Stage Fright was the sound of the Band choking on fame’s poisoned chalice, a theme that ran through the album of the same name – see also WS Walcott Medicine Show’s mockery of showbiz artifice, or Daniel and the Sacred Harp’s Faustian parable about a musician selling his soul – and yielded some of its strongest material. In this case, the creeping anxiety and psychosis – “Your brow is sweating and your mouth gets dry / Fancy people go drifting by / The moment of truth is right at hand / Just one more nightmare you can stand” – belonged to Robertson, whose writing was taking a darker, more personal turn, but the song is brought to life by Danko’s twitchy, nervous vocals.

The Shape I’m In

By 1970, the shy, sweet-natured Richard Manuel had started down the self-destructive path that would ultimately consume him. A heavy drinker since his teens, Manuel subsequently developed a fondness for hard drugs that made him unreliable and accident-prone, and he seemed content to let his considerable songwriting gifts wane – after that year, he never wrote again. Robertson would later recall: “I begged him, I pleaded with him, I offered to become his partner in songwriting, I’d pull him into a song I was working on just to get him in the mood or give him a taste of it, thinking he would go on to follow it up. But he didn’t.” It’s tempting to wonder if The Shape I’m In was one of those songs. It was certainly written about the pianist’s physical and psychological deterioration, and not withstanding the mischievous twinkle in its eye or the Stax beat in its step, the lyrics – “Out of nine lives, I’ve spent seven / Now, how in the world do you get to heaven?” – have the air of an intervention. Manuel sings it with a gruff, haggard charm, but the real stinger comes close to the end, when he lays out the dilemma his bandmates were wrestling with: “Save your neck, or save your brother / Looks like it’s one or the other.” Manuel took his life in a Florida hotel room 16 years later.

When I Paint My Masterpiece

Cahoots, the group’s misfiring fourth album, brought to an end to one of rock’n’roll’s most febrile creative streaks, containing what Rolling Stone would later (and to these ears unfairly) call “Robertson’s first truly awful song”, the unloved The Moon Struck One. Yet it still had its moments, principally this one – a song written by their former paymaster Bob Dylan, but which belongs, in the broader sense of the word, to the Band, and to Levon Helm in particular. The drummer’s characterful vocal captures the essence of a Yankee outsider’s odyssey through Europe – romancing “a pretty little girl from Greece,” dodging lions in the Coliseum, navigating a near-riot in Brussels – far better than Dylan’s own sub-par version, released a couple of months later. Special mention must also go to Garth Hudson’s sparkling turn on the accordion, which lends the song a discombobulating layer of faux-continental sleaze.

It Makes No Difference

Though it might seem like the kind of song more suited to Richard Manuel’s wheelhouse, Robertson wrote It Makes No Difference with Rick Danko in mind, and the bassist knocked it out of the park, out of the neighbourhood, and several area-codes down the road. Simply put, this is one of the rawest, most devastating vocal performances committed to tape, by this band or any other: a seemingly straightforward torch song about the void left by an absent lover, Danko’s high, keening delivery amplifies it to levels of hurt and desperation that are almost as uncomfortable for the listener to hear as they were for Danko. It’s a song that you can’t turn away from, an apocalypse-by-melancholy, whose heartsick protagonist is ceaselessly pursued by low-hanging storm clouds, torrential rains and – just when you think things couldn’t possibly get any worse – a herd of stampeding cattle.

Acadian Driftwood

This list concludes in 1975 with the release of Northern Lights – Southern Cross, after which the original lineup would record only one more studio album, the contractually obligated (and how it showed) Islands. Yet their penultimate effort – discounting those of their latter-day iterations, which featured neither Robertson nor Manuel  was a welcome return to form, and even fitful greatness. Acadian Driftwood, the album’s big moment, tells the story of the Great Upheaval of the 1750s, when tens of thousands of Acadian colonists were forcibly deported from Canada by the British, who “signed a treaty and our homes were taken / Loved ones forsaken, they didn’t give a damn”. As a meticulously researched song of historical record, it shares some DNA with The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, but it’s arguably even more ambitious. Though it’s never made explicit, once Manuel, Helm and Danko start intuitively trading verses, there’s a sense that this story is not being told from a single perspective, but several, with each man expelled from his home into an uncertain future. It was the last time the group’s three lead vocalists would share a song between them, and they couldn’t have chosen a better or more quintessentially Bandish one for the occasion.

  • Rick Danko – bass, vocals, double bass, fiddle, trombone
  • Levon Helm – drums, vocals, mandolin, guitar, percussion
  • Garth Hudson – organ, keyboards, saxophone, accordion, pedalboard, woodwinds, brass
  • Richard Manuel – piano, organ, vocals, lap steel guitar, drums
  • Robbie Robertson – guitars, vocals, percussion

The band

In the midst of the country’s turbulence in 1968, five musicians later named simply The Band hunkered down in a salmon-colored house in upstate New York to craft Music From Big Pinkan album that brought the rural folk Americana sound to popular music and to the classic album canon.

Before finding their footing with this debut album, Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel played as backing musicians for Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan. After the 1966 Dylan tour, the group hunkered down in the Big Pink house in West Saugerties, N.Y.

You likely know the rest of the story. To mark the 50th anniversary of its release, Music From Big Pink is getting a reissue worthy of one of the greatest albums ever recorded. On August. 31st, the record will receive a new stereo mix on CD and digital, with five outtakes, alternative recordings and an unreleased a cappella version of “I Shall Be Released.” including the new stereo mix of the album’s historic single “The Weight” .

The Band will also release a double-LP vinyl box set of the album, which includes the CD, digital access and a high-res surround mix on Blu-Ray. It also includes a reproduction of the 7-inch single “The Weight” b/w “I Shall Be Released,” and a hardback book with an essay by music journalist David Fricke and photos by Elliott Landy.

The box set of Music from Big Pink’s reissue includes two LPs, CD, Blu-Ray, 7-inch vinyl and a hardback book. And yes, there are limited-edition versions with pink vinyl.

This beautifully packaged 50th-anniversary box set offers a brighter, sharper mix than past reissues, so you can really hear the lust in “Chest Fever,” the sorrow in “Long Black Veil” and the half-past-dead blues in “The Weight.” There’s also an insightful essay by Rolling Stone‘s David Fricke, and a new a cappellaedit of “I Shall Be Released” that shines a lovely spotlight on Richard Manuel’s falling-angel falsetto. If you love the Band, it’s mostly nothing you haven’t heard a couple thousand times before, but little else is needed. A half-century later, the brotherhood of Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Manuel and Garth Hudson still makes you want to join the party. Listen to “Tears of Rage” and you’re right there in the dream: Someone’s delivering a darkly significant monologue (“We carried you in our arms/On Independence Day…”) while your hosts offer you a drink and a seat by the fire. How could you not accept, if only to find out what happens next?

In his 1993 memoir, titled This Wheel’s On Fire, the dearly departed Levon Helm wrote, “We wanted Music From Big Pinkto sound like nothing anyone else was doing. This was our music, honed in isolation from the radio and contemporary trends.”

Although the album was not immediately popular on its release, Music From Big Pink is now widely recognized as one of the most influential albums of all time. July 1st marks Music From Big Pink’s 50th anniversary.

[cover art]

This was a film that covered Bob Dylan on his 1966 European tour backed up by the Hawks that eventually became The Band minus, Levon Helm. The film was to be shown on ABC television but ABC rejected and saying it was “incomprehensible” because Dylan himself was one of the editors and wanted the film to have more of an artistic feel.  It was shot under Dylan’s direction by D. A. Pennebaker, whose groundbreaking documentary Dont Look Back chronicled Dylan’s tour the previous year 1965 British tour.

It was filmed by D.A. Pennebaker who filmed Dylan’s 65′ European tour when he played acoustically called Don’t Look Back. Don’t Look Back is terrific. This film is very disjointed. This is the Dylan period that probably is my favorite. The Hawks are raw and powerful and Dylan was

There are some highlights to this odd film. A spontaneous piano duet with Dylan and Johnny Cash, John Lennon and Bob Dylan very high riding around in a cab, and the famous concert footage from the  infamous Manchester Free Trade Hall concert, wherein an audience  member yells out “Judas” because of Dylan’s conversion to electric music. After the Judas remark, he proceeds to tell Robbie Robertson to play it loud and they kick off in a vicious “Like a Rolling Stone.” My favorite live version of that song. Those folk music fans were harsh.

The film is disjointed and frustrating to watch because some of the songs you want to see and hear are there…but only partly. You will be seeing Dylan performing something and then flash away to something else. Some of the concert footage and film from this ended up in the Martin Scorsese movie No Direction Home…I would recommend No Direction Home to be seen by everyone. Other scenes include Dylan and Robbie Robertson in hotel rooms writing and working through new songs, most of which remain unreleased and unpublished. Among these songs are “I Can’t Leave Her Behind”, which was later covered by Stephen Malkmus for the I’m Not There soundtrack.

Bob was pale and nervous and there is no secret he was doing drugs heavily through this movie. After the tour, Dylan had his motorcycle wreck heard around the world and after he recovered he didn’t tour for years.

The cab ride with John Lennon is historical now. Both of them in sunglasses and Lennon trying to inject humor into the situation and Dylan is ok at first and then starts getting sick as the filming stops. As Dylan shows signs of fatigue, Lennon urges him to get a grip on himself: “Do you suffer from sore eyes, groovy forehead, or curly hair? Take Zimdawn!…Come, come, boy, it’s only a film. Pull yourself together.”

Lennon would later recall in an interview with Rolling Stone that he and Dylan who were “both in shades, and both on fucking junk, and all these freaks around us.

If you are a Dylan fan it’s worth a watch. I’m glad we have “No Direction Home” to see some clear film segments on that tour. Eat The Document has not been officially released but you can get a bootleg of it or watch most of it on youtube.

 Thanks to PowerPop… An Eclectic Collection of Pop Culture

Very quietly, for six years, a band had been brewing. Recruited as the Hawks by Arkansas rockabilly veteran Ronnie Hawkins, the quintet had notched years as road warriors playing Canadian and U.S. clubs and casinos, further seasoned by combat duty on Bob Dylan’s tumultuous 1966 tour, Still in their 20s (save for keyboard polymath Garth Hudson), they looked and sounded decades older; the black and white portrait on the album jacket. It was sort of hip to know who they were outside of Toronto.

Few game-changing albums open as quietly as Music From Big Pink, the 1968 debut for The Band. A languid but brief motif of single Telecaster notes wheezing through a Leslie speaker staggers in on top of weary, muffled drum beats, anchored by gospel piano chords. And then Richard Manuel begins singing, his soulful, broken-hearted voice breaking as it climbs:

“We carried you in our arms on Independence Day
And now you’d throw us all aside, and put us all away
Oh what dear daughter ’neath the sun, would treat a father so
To wait upon him, hand and foot, and always tell him ‘no’?”

The antithesis of a conventional, radio-friendly earworm, “Tears of Rage,” written by Manuel and his erstwhile boss, Bob Dylan, was a lagging dirge of inventoried betrayal and lost innocence against brooding organ. A mournful duet of soprano and baritone saxophones punctuated later verses,

They came home to Woodstock with Dylan and put down firm roots for two-years. It was Dylan’s “out of touch” year and they began to spawn this music, this hybrid that took its seeds in the strange pink house. Whereas the Dylan “sound” on recording was filled with Bloom-fielding guitar, Kooper hunt and peck organ and tinkly country-gospelish piano, a fortunate blending of the right people in the right place etc., the Big Pink sound has matured throughout six years picking up favorites along the way and is only basically influenced by the former.

The Dylan tracks on Big Pink already carried the Band’s DNA from their gestation in the Saugerties, N.Y., house that conferred the album’s title, an acknowledgement that the very essence of the group’s ensemble style had been pared away and rebuilt from its foundations as a result of the collaboration.

On “The Weight,” Levon Helm, the group’s lone American, recounted a journey that seemed part pilgrimage, part parable, part shaggy dog story written by guitarist Robbie Robertson. The music itself was at once plainspoken and deliberate, Hearing three distinctive voices build the vocal harmonies on the choruses evoked a brotherhood that itself emerged as part of the album’s mystique and the Band’s identity.

Robbie Robertson makes an auspicious debut here as a composer and lyricist represented by four tunes. Two are stone knockouts: “The Weight” probably the most commercial item in the set with a most contagious chorus that addicts you into singing along… “take a load off Fanny, take a load for free, take a load off Fanny and… you put the load right on me…” “To Kingdom Come” starts out smashing you in the face with weird syncopations and cascading melody lines and then goes into that same groovy bring-it-on-home chorus that earmarks “Weight.”

Hudson’s pitch-bending Lowery organ and Manuel’s piano provided the ensemble’s foundation throughout, with Hudson and producer John Simon adding horns . Vocally, the arrangements highlighted Manuel’s lyrical growl, steeped in Ray Charles’ protean influence, Rick Danko’s buoyant yelp and Helm’s Arkansas drawl; gospel’s call-and-response interplay capped by wide intervals rather than the close harmonies of most bands. Robertson stepped up as a lead singer on just one of his compositions, “To Kingdom Come.”

Individually what makes up this album is Robbie Robertson whose past discography includes “Obviously Five Believers” on Blonde on Blonde, the “live” version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and the much ignored Dylan single, “Crawl Out Your Window.” Rick Danko, on bass and vocals, is one of the more outgoing people in the band, he can be depend upon to give you a lot of good matured shit whenever you see him; he of the new breed in bass players, the facile freaks like Harvey Brooks, Jim Fielder and Tim Bogert. He is only different from these three in his tasteful understating. Bassist Rick Danko also steps up with his own Dylan co-write on “This Wheel’s on Fire,” decorated with twinkling keyboard accents on a cheap Roxochord keyboard Hudson had hot-rodded with a telegraph key, while the set’s third Dylan contribution, “I Shall Be Released,” further extends the scriptural atmosphere.

Richard Manuel is affectionately called “Beak” or was at one time; a deft pianist with a strong feeling for country-gospel big pink music. A strong contributing composer: “Tears of Rage,” “In A Station,” “We Can Talk,” and “Lonesome Suzie.”  “We Can Talk” offers a hearty mid-tempo rocker framed between Manuel’s rollicking piano and Hudson’s organ arpeggios as the three singers traded overlapping lead vocal lines through lyrics that nodded to the era’s political turmoil with a playful allusion to the group’s Canadian majority. As impressive as that song remains, however, it’s as a balladeer that Manuel would be most compelling. “Lonesome Suzie” is a tender, sympathetic portrait of romantic rejection and abject loneliness that implies Manuel’s own inner pain, while “In a Station” is a hushed reverie that sonically and lyrically evokes a borderland between waking and dreaming.

Garth Hudson is one of the strangest people I ever met. If Harvey Brooks is the gentle grizzly bear of rock and roll then Garth is the gentle brown bear. He is the only person I know who can take a Hammond B3 organ apart and put it back together again or play like that if it’s called for. While backing Dylan on tour he received wide acclaim for his fourth dimensional work on “Ballad Of A Thin Man.”

Levon Helm is a solid rock for the band. He is an exciting drummer with many ideas to toss around. I worked with him in Dylan’s first band and he kept us together like an enormous iron metronome. Levon was the leader of the Hawks. If Big Pink consciously rode the throttle to focus on the quintet’s collective sound, they did flex their power on “Chest Fever,” a semi-nonsensical paean to a wild lover that builds upon Hudson’s formidable intro, itself a virtuosic goof on Bach’s Toccata in D minor that would metastasize over the years into a concert highlight.

John Simon, a brilliant producer-composer-musician, finally has this album as a testimonial to his talent. The reason the album sounds so good is Simon. He is a perfectionist and has had to suffer the critical rap in the past for what has not been his error, but now he’s vindicated.

Music From Big Pink set its hooks into fans gradually but deeply. Musicians, on the other hand, were stunned by the Band’s musicianship, songcraft and democratic spirit, inspiring artists from both sides of the pond to search such fellowship, with Eric Clapton and George Harrison just two of the more prominent acolytes. The rich roots music sensibility underpinning the album with folk, gospel, blues and country elements meanwhile planted vital seeds that buttressed the imminent rise of country-rock, as well as the subsequent emergence of Americana at the turn of the millennium.

These are fiery ingredients and results can be expected to be explosive. The chord changes are refreshing, the stories are told in a subtle yet taut way; country tales of real people you can relate to (the daughter in “Tears of Rage”) the singing sometimes loose as field-help but just right. The packaging, including Dylan’s non-Rembrandt cover art, is apropos and honest (there’s that word again). This album was recorded in approximately two weeks. There are people who will work their lives away in vain and not touch it.

Released: 1 July 1968