The Band, a popular band in the 70’s, made its way into the spotlight from homegrown country roots to Americana rock stardom, with the help of their mentor and once employer, Bob Dylan. Under their singularly aloof moniker, they complied together to form a quintet of multi-versed musicians creating music that synthesized all flavors of music, rock, blues, funk, country and soul. The Canadian-American group included Rick Danko (bass, guitar, vocals, fiddle), Garth Hudson (keyboard, accordion, saxophone), Levon Helms (drums, mandolin, guitar, vocals), Robbie Robertson (guitar, vocals), and Richard Manuel (keyboard drums, vocals).
What makes The Band more seductive than other bands in era of rock, is their sense of brotherhood. They push back against the predisposed paradigm that a band has to operate on authority from a sole leader, but instead The Band focuses on the comradery between them and the music they create. They embody the sort of egalitarianism utopian society that rock bands so desperately wanted to procure at the time.
The group first came together thanks to rockabilly singer, Ronnie Hawkins. Hawkins hand selected each of the musicians to play back-up on tour. The Band, at this time known as the Hawks, were then found by Bob Dylan. In the band’s 1968 interview with Rolling Stone Levon Helms stated, “we had never heard of Bob Dylan, but he had heard of us. He said, “You wanna play Hollywood Bowl?’ So, we asked him who else was gonna be on the show. ‘Just us,’ he said.” And it was as simple as that.
CATSKILLS, NEW YORK - With Woodstock dust still on their boots and heavy influence weighing on their minds from their shows on the road, The Band settled in to a place they found through Bob Dylan. A suburban pink ranch-style home, to which they coined as their beloved “Big Pink.” Here, in the basement, is where The Band created their revolutionary album, Music from Big Pink, and also The Basement Tapes. The idea was to seclude themselves, focus on their music, and really indulge into the communal hippie anti- consumerism philosophy of that era. The Band was encouraged to evolve away from Bob Dylan’s shadow, actually with the help of Dylan, a now neighbor in the Catskills. Allegedly, Dylan co-wrote several songs in Music from Big Pink and can be heard in a couple songs as well. The Band started emulating the vibrations of the time, and the gritty sounds of the mountains and the soul of rock reverberated in their music. The moniker, “The Band,” was actually coined by locals when they stopped by the house to hear them play. In a Rolling Stone interview Robbie explains it, “You know, for one thing, there aren’t many bands around Woodstock and our friends and neighbors just call us the band and that’s the way we think of ourselves. And then, we just don’t think a name means anything. It’s gotten out of hand — the name thing. We don’t want to get into a fixed bag like that.” This is really where the band, turned into “The Band.”
Following the release of the second album titled The Band, The Band began to face the pressures of fame as rock star predecessors have before them and have continued after them. After two revolutionary albums, fans expected nothing more than genius from the band. The pressure to produce was nothing like the once “basement band” had experienced before. The public fixation on Robbie Robertson as the leader, also caused rifts between the band members. Some resentment began to form amongst other band members towards Robertson as disclosed in Levon Helm’s autobiography. With the new influx of money and fame the once precious comradery between them gradually began to crumble and The Band members began delving into heavier drugs and alcohol use than before.
The Band produced multiple albums after The Band, but the toll of fame continued cause friction between the band members. The group marked the end of their days as The Band with the release of The Last Waltz, a film directed by Martin Scorsese, which was an astronomical farewell concert that included talents and friends such as Van Morrison, Ronnie Hawkins, Eric Clapton, and Neil Young.
After 16 years of silence from The Band, they came back to produce an album in 1993, Jericho, then following, High on the Hog in 1996. But with the death of Rick Danko in his home in Woodstock questions of The Band officially making a comeback ceased and The Band officially disbanded.
The Band leaves us with their albums, an entombment preserving their comradery and the warm synthetic blues sounds of the rock and roll era.
Written by Danessa Goulston