The Band was a Canadian-American roots rock group, originally consisting of Rick Danko (bass guitar, double bass, fiddle, vocals), Levon Helm (drums, mandolin, guitar, vocals), Garth Hudson (keyboards, saxophones, trumpet), Richard Manuel (piano, drums, vocals) and Robbie Robertson (guitar, percussion, vocals). The members of the Band first came together as they joined rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins's backing group, the Hawks, one by one between 1958 and 1963.
In 1964, they separated from Hawkins, after which they toured and released a few singles as Levon and the Hawks and the Canadian Squires. The next year, Bob Dylan hired them for his U.S. tour in 1965 and world tour in 1966. The group ultimately fell under the management orbit of Dylan's own manager, Albert Grossman, who persuaded the four core members (sans Helm) to join Dylan in Woodstock, NY, working on the sessions that ultimately became the Basement Tapes in their various configurations, none of which would be heard officially for almost a decade. (Indeed, up to this time, only a single song, "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," done live from the tour just ended, on a 45 B-side, had surfaced representing the group playing with Dylan).
There's Room For Us All
I Shall Be Released
Jam the Jazzfest
Baby Stop Crying
Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience - Across The Parish Line
Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience - Live! Worldwide
2007 - Live
Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience - Dockside Sessions
You Ain't Going Nowhere
If Not For You
Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I'll Go Mine) (as You Go Your Way)
Brief History (ctd.)
Finally, a recording contract for the group -- rechristened the Band -- was secured by Grossman from Capitol Records. Levon Helm returned the fold, and the result was Music From Big Pink, an indirect outgrowth of the "Basement Tapes". This album, enigmatically named and packaged, sounded like nothing else being done by anybody in music when it was released in July of 1968. It was as though psychedelia, and the so-called British Invasion, had never happened; the group played and sang like five distinct individuals working toward the same goal, not mixing together smoothly. There was a collective sound to "the band," but it made up five distinct individual voices and instruments mixing folk, blues, gospel, R&B, classical, and rock & roll.
The press latched on to the album before the public did, but over the next year, the Band became one of the most talked about phenemenon in rock music and Music From Big Pink acquired a mystique and significance akin to such albums as Beggars Banquet. The group and album ran counter to the so-called counterculture, and took a little getting used to, if only for their lack of a smooth, easily categorizable sound. Their music was steeped in Americana and historical and mythic American imagery, despite the fact that all of the members except Helm came from Canada (which, in fact, may have helped them appreciate the culture they were dealing with, as outsiders). Robertson, Manuel, and Danko all wrote, and everyone but Robertson and Hudson sang; their vocals didn't mesh sweetly but simply flowed together in an informal manner. Classical organ flourishes meshed with a big (yet lean), raw rock & roll sound and the whole was so far removed from the self-indulgent virtuosity and political and cultural posturing going on around them that the Band seemed to be operating in a different reality, to different rules.
During this same period, the group's past association with Bob Dylan -- whose name at the time had an almost mystical resonance with audiences -- was mentioned in the rock press and also put right in the faces of listeners through a new phenomenon. Only a single track from the group's 1966 tour with Dylan had ever surfaced, and that was an out-of-print B-side to an old single. But in 1969, the first widely distributed bootleg LP, The Great White Wonder, featuring the then-unreleased Basement Tapes>, started turning up on college campuses and record collectors' outlets. The quality was limited, the labels were blank, and there was no "promotion" as such of this patently illegal release, but it got around to hundreds of thousands of listeners and only heightened the mystique surrounding the Band.
Music From Big Pink, which featured a painting by Bob Dylan on its cover, began selling -- slowly at first and then better -- and the group played a few select shows. A second album, simply titled The Band, was every bit as good as the first. Dominated by Robertson's writing, it was released in September of 1969, and with it, the group's reputation exploded; moreover, they began their climb out of the shadow of Bob Dylan with songwriting of their own that was every bit a match for anything he was releasing at the time. A pair of songs, "Up on Cripple Creek" and "The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down," captured the public imagination, the former getting them onto The Ed Sullivan Show in an appearance that's fascinating to watch on the official Ed Sullivan video release; the host comes out to embrace and congratulate them, obviously thrilled after the psychedelic and hard rock acts that he usually booked, to see a group whose words and music he understood. Meanwhile, "The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down" became a popular radio track and yielded a hit cover version in the guise of an unaccountably corrupted rendition by Joan Baez (in which, for reasons that only Baez may be able to explain, Robert E. Lee is transformed into a steamboat) that made the Top Five.
For about six years, from 1968 through 1975, the Band was one of the most popular and influential rock groups in the world, their music embraced by critics (and, to a somewhat lesser degree, the public) as seriously as the music of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Their albums were analyzed and reviewed as intensely as any records by their one-time employer and sometime mentor Bob Dylan. And for a long time, their personalities were as recognizable individually to the casual music public as the members of the Beatles.
The original configuration of the Band ended its touring career in 1976 with an elaborate live ballroom performance featuring numerous musical celebrities. This performance was immortalized in Martin Scorsese's 1978 documentary The Last Waltz.
The death of Richard Manuel in 1986 cast a dark pall on any future reunions, of which there were several -- Robertson issued his first solo album a year later, which included a tribute to Manuel ("Fallen Angel"). Rick Danko died in his sleep at his home in Woodstock on December 10, 1999. Levon Helm passed away on april 19 2012 after fighting a battle with throat cancer since the nineties.