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View Full Version : Not Just Any Band….THE BAND



Michael Jefferson
3.22.08, 2:52 PM
Written for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
http://rcm-images.amazon.com/images/P/B00004W510.01.TZZZZZZZ.jpg (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004W510/w3pgcoffeeroomss) In the late 60s, nearly every group was concerned with its look as it was its music. Mark Farner of Grand Funk was instantly recognizable because of his bare chest and lion’s mane of hair – ditto Led Zep’s Robert Plant. David Crosby had his walrus moustache and Buffalo Bill Cody jacket; Arthur Brown, singer of the incendiary hit “Fire,” wore outfits that were flame retardant; and Paul Revere and the Raiders played up their name by dressing up as colonial soldiers. As for David Bowie…Well, we’re still not quite sure what the alien look was all about…
Then there was “The Band,” comprised of four scruffy Canadians (Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson) and the son of a dirt poor Arkansas farmer (Levon Helm). They were multi instrumentalists: Manuel played piano, drums, organ, and sax; Helm drums, mandolin, guitar, and bass; Danko bass, guitar, trombone and fiddle; Robertson, guitar and piano, and Hudson was adept at organ, piano, sax, synthesizer, and accordion. They looked like their music – rustic and grizzled, like some faded sepia photo taken by Matthew Brady. They may have been 4/5 Canadian, but their music embraced the roots of the American South – folk, country, blues, rock and R& B. They sang songs about the Depression, the Civil War, and sitting on the back porch with the kinfolk. In an age when songs were drenched with seven minute guitar solos and overt drug references, these guys told stories. There was nothing like them on the airwaves; their closet contemporary was storyteller Gordon Lightfoot – another Canadian. How ironic that Americans were learning about their country from musicians born north of the border.
The Band had the pedigree too. They’d started out in the early 60s in Toronto as the back up group for rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins, who’d charted with a raucous cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love.” Hudson, the oldest and most experienced performer, was reluctant to join the band of hellions because his parents wanted him to be a music teacher. The group solved its predicament by paying Hudson ten bucks a week to serve as their music teacher. By 1963 the group had tired of backing Hawkins, a tough task master who disdained marijuana (it was after all, illegal), but seemed to have no problem with excessive alcohol and speed. Striking out on their own as Levon and The Hawks, they happened upon Bob Dylan, who was itching to give his folk act a harder edge. The Band electrified the stage, but many of Dylan’s fans revolted, booing their joint performances and calling the nasal one “Judas” for forsaking his roots. Levon was so bummed by the experience he temporarily quit the group, giving the drum seat up to Mickey Jones, who later became the time keeper for Kenny Rogers and The First Edition. Levon eventually returned to the fold, and The Band played on…
We have a motorcycle to thank for the emergence of The Band in July 1966. Bob Dylan was badly injured in a motorcycle accident, and spent his convalescence in Woodstock, New York, fooling around with The Hawks in the basement of his home. (The tapes from their sessions would be released as the overrated “Basement Tapes.”) Rehearsing without Dylan, his employees quickly realized they were better off without their vocally challenged leader. They entered the studio to record their own material but still didn’t have a name. Feeling they’d outgrown the Levon and The Hawks moniker they considered names they felt reflected their democratic brotherhood. They toyed with “The Honkies” and “The Crackers,” but Capitol, their record label, wisely rejected the names. Memories are foggy now as to how the group picked its name. It may have been the suits at Capitol or it may have been Richard Manuel, who when asked what his group was called replied in jest, “The Band…Just The Band.”
Released in 1968, The Band’s first album, “Music From Big Pink (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004W50T/w3pgcoffeeroomss),” (named in honor of the house they rehearsed and lived in), was a critically acclaimed success, containing staples such as “The Weight,” “I Shall Be Released,” and “This Wheel’s On Fire.” It was influential enough to put a stake in the heart of psychedelia and convinced Eric Clapton to quit Cream and go on tour with roots rockers Delaney and Bonnie. Clapton was so enamored of The Band’s rural sound he wanted to join the group. With the release of their self-titled second album in 1969, The Band went from curiosities to bona fide backwoods stars.
The Band (Self-titled 2nd Album) (4 ½ out of 5 stars) (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004W510/w3pgcoffeeroomss)
Nearly every cut on the “brown” album is a Band classic. Sure, there’s a much better version of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” on the “Rock of Ages” album, but at this point no one even knew there was going to be a live Band album. Levon sings “Dixie” with a bit too much nose and throat, resembling an Arkansas Dylan, which ain’t that pleasing to the ear. Bless his drumsticks it’s a tone he seldom used.
The album is as rich with images of flim flam men, carnies, droughts, floods, grifters, drifters, loose women and the hard drinking men that love them. “The Band” is a forty minute history lesson -- America set to music.
As with the first album, Richard Manuel is the first and last voice you hear. He opens with “Across the Great Divide,” a tale of no nonsense, pistol packin’ Molly and her man, who remains optimistic their luck will change (“Try and understand your man the best you can.”) Typical of the band’s most memorable songs, it features Manuel’s pounding Fats Domino piano as part of its underpinnings, robust horns from Garth Hudson and producer John Simon, and a descriptive, easy-to-sing-along chorus: “Across the great divide, just grab your hat and take that ride. Get yourself a bride, and bring your children down to the riverside.”
The most astonishing performance comes from the already troubled Manuel, who nearly cries his way through “Whispering Pines.” A deceptively talented pianist, early in the band’s career Manuel was every bit the composer Robbie Robertson was. He just wasn’t as prolific and that seemed to gnaw at him, as did his inability to express himself in words. By the second album, he was already relying on Robertson to help him draft his lyrics. His frustrations as a songwriter would lead him to shut down completely by the time “Cahoots,” their fourth album, came out.



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