Saturday, January 23, 2010

#3 Ladies and Gentlemen....... The Band

The world of rock has some of the craziest band names ever seen, but there was one band so infamous even at its inception that they decided on simply being known as 'THE BAND'.
The Band Consisted of Levon Helm (drums, mandolin, guitar, bass guitar, vocals); Robbie Robertson (guitar, piano, vocals); Richard Manuel (piano, harmonica, drums, saxophone, organ, vocals); Garth Hudson (organ, piano, clavinet, accordion, synthesizer, saxophone); and Rick Danko (bass guitar, violin, trombone, vocals).
Fusion is a word that describes them. The melting pot of all musical genres, the joining of American and Canadian musicians into musical harmony. Combining Old Country, Blues, and Early Rock sounds and mixing it all with a touch of Motown and adding their own brand new sounds to it, The Band got their start as backing bands for acts such as Ronnie Hawk, and later, Bob Dylan.

The Band were all extremely talented multi-instrumentalists often taking turns at the various positions on stage, but are definitely notable for being one of the first rock bands to have the drummer as the lead singer. Levon Helm the drummer of The Band, is what got me into their music. The only American in The Band, his Southern drawl and gruff country man voice adds perfect contrast to the rest of the groups vocals. This was relatively new to rock. Sure we had Ringo, but Levon takes singing lead while still drumming at a complex rhythm to a whole new level.
Critic Jon Carroll famously declared that Helm was "the only drummer who can make you cry."
Garth Hudson's mastery of the Lowrey Organ is one of the things that really gave The Band their sound. During that amazing organ intro to their hit 'Chest Fever' you can hear Hudson's primal mastery of his instrument. In each note, you can feel him reaching back to the ancient beginnings of music itself for inspiration. I have never heard anyone play the keys quite like Garth Hudson.
Robbie Robertson's fantastic guitar playing and knack for writing song lyrics full of ancient Americana and nostalgia is fully evident on tracks like 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down' and 'The Weight'.
Rick Danko started playing music from the time he was six years old and it. By seventeen he had already been performing for five years and he managed to get himself booked as the opening act for the Hawks. Levon and Ronnie Hawkins were so impressed by young Danko that Hawkins asked him to be their new rhythm guitarist. Soon after, Hawkins fired his current bassist and told Danko to learn bass so he could be their bass player. His percussive, melodic bass-playing style became an integral part of the group's sound as they grew and left the Hawks to become The Band.
Richard Manuel was the wild man of the group and was troubled with alcohol-related problems and chronic substance abuse. This aside, his Ray Charles-like vocals and complex keyboard rhythms gave the group the final tough that they needed to become The Band.

I had heard of The Band throughout my early life but my parents never gave them the airplay that was in the early days mostly devoted to bands like The Beatles; The Wailers; The Who; Pink Floyd; and The Clash. There were always the radio hits like 'The Weight' and 'Chest Fever' but I never seemed to get into them. This was probably because in my youth they might have seemed "Too Country". I would suppose that I got into The Band via the Grateful Dead. As I learned to appreciate the Dead, I really learned to appreciate that side of rock that contains folk, country and bluegrass. Since getting into the Dead, I have gotten into the actual genres of Folk, and Old Country and Old Bluegrass.

A turning point for me with The Band was seeing them in performances on the dvd release of 'Festival Express' which was a tour of the Dead, Janis Joplin and The Band among many others, across Canada on a train in 1970 (Fantastic dvd by the way I highly recommend it.) My total devotion to The Band occurred when I watched the Film of their final concert from 1976 called "The Last Waltz" Directed by Martin Scorsese. If you are on the fence about The Band, please check out the Last Waltz, it will blow your mind how tight of a band they were.

The Facts:
-The Grooves... They've got them in abundance!
-A Tight, fantastic Five piece band. They play like they have telepathic communication
-In 1989 The Band were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall Of Fame
-Only 6 studio albums exist from their 8 years as "The Band" but a GREAT 6!
-A partially re-united Band participated in former Pink Floyd leader Roger Waters ' The Wall Live in Berlin concert in 1990 (sans Robertson and Manuel)

My Fave Album:

-"Music From Big Pink" A Classic album 5 stars in my book
-Highlights for me include "The Weight", and "I shall be Released" (co-written by Dylan)

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