Biography All Music GuideWikipedia
Group Members: Levon Helm & The Crowmatix, Jim Weider and The HonkyTonk Gurus, Levon Helm and The RCO All Stars, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Garth and Maud Hudson, Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson, Blondie Chaplin, Rick Danko Band, Rick Danko, Rick Danko, Jonas Fjeld & Eric Andersen, Jim Weider, Jim Weider Band, The Levon Helm Band
All Music Guide:
For roughly half a decade, 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. Although the Band retired from touring after The Last Waltz and disbanded several years later, their legacy thrived for decades, perpetuated by the bandmates' respective solo careers as well as the enduring strength of the Band's catalog.
The group's history dates back to 1958, just about the time that the formative Beatles gave up skiffle for rock & roll. Ronnie Hawkins, an Arkansas-born rock & roller who aspired to a real career, assembled a backing band that included his fellow Arkansan Levon Helm, who played drums (as well as credible guitar) and had led his own band, the Jungle Bush Beaters. The new outfit, Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks, began recording during the spring of 1958 and gigged throughout the American south; they also played shows in Ontario, Canada, where the money was better than in their native south. When pianist Willard Jones left the lineup one year later, Hawkins began looking at some of the local music talent in Toronto in late 1959. He approached a musician named Scott Cushnie about joining the Hawks on keyboards. Cushnie was already playing in a band with Robbie Robertson, however, and would only join Hawkins if the latter musician could come along.
After some resistance from Hawkins, Robertson entered the lineup on bass, replacing a departing Jimmy Evans. Additional lineup switches took place over the next few years, with Robbie Robertson shifting to rhythm guitar behind Fred Carter's (and, briefly, Roy Buchanan's) lead playing. Rick Danko (born December 9, 1943) came in on bass in 1961, followed by Richard Manuel (born April 3, 1944) on piano and backing vocals. Around that same time, Garth Hudson (born August 2, 1937), a classically trained musician who could read music, became the last piece of the initial puzzle as organ player.
From 1959 through 1963, Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks were one of the hottest rock & roll bands on the circuit, a special honor during a time in which rock & roll was supposedly dead. Hawkins himself was practically Toronto's answer to Elvis Presley, and he remained true to the music even as Presley himself softened and broadened his sound. The mix of personalities within the group meshed well, better than they did with Hawkins, who, unbeknownst to him, was soon the odd man out in his own group. As new members Danko, Manuel, and Hudson came aboard -- all Canadian, and replacing Hawkins' fellow southerners -- Hawkins lost control of the group, to some extent, as they began working together more closely.
Finally, the Hawks parted company with Ronnie Hawkins during the summer of 1963, the singer's at times overbearing personality and ego getting the better of the relationship. The Hawks decided to stay together with their oldest member, Levon Helm, out in front, variously renaming themselves Levon & the Hawks and the Canadian Squires and cutting records under both names. A hook-up with a young John Hammond, Jr. for a series of recording sessions in New York led to the group's being introduced to Bob Dylan, who was then preparing to pump up his sound in concert. Robertson and Helm played behind Dylan at his Forest Hills concert in New York in 1965 (a bootleg tape of which survives, and can be heard), and he ultimately signed up the entire group.
The hook-up with Dylan changed the Hawks, but it wasn't always an easy collaboration. In their five years backing Ronnie Hawkins, the group had played R&B-based rock & roll, heavily influenced by the sound of Chess Records in Chicago and Sun Records in Memphis. Additionally, they'd learned to play tightly and precisely and were accustomed to performing in front of audiences that were interested primarily in having a good time and dancing. Now Dylan had them playing electric adaptations of folk music, with lots of strumming and lacking the kind of edge they were accustomed to putting on their work. His sound was traceable to the music of Big Bill Broonzy and Josh White, while they'd spent years playing the music of Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley. As it happens, all of those influences are related, but not directly, and not in ways that were obvious to the players in 1964.
Ironically, in the spring of 1965, the group had just missed their chance at what could have been a legendary meeting on record with a musician they did understand. They'd met Arkansas-based blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson II, and jammed with the singer/blues harpist one day, hoping to cut some records with him. They hadn't realized it at the time, but Williamson was a dying man -- by the time the Hawks were ready to return and try to cut some records with him, he had passed on.
Another problem for the group about working with Dylan concerned his audience. The Hawks had played in front of a lot of different audiences in the previous four years, but almost all of them were people primarily interested in enjoying themselves and having a good time. Dylan, however, was playing for crowds that seemed ready to reject him over principle. The Hawks weren't accustomed to confronting the kinds of passions that drove the folk audience, any more than they were initially prepared for the freewheeling nature of Dylan's performances -- he liked to make changes in the way he did songs on the spot, and the group was often hard put to keep up with him, at least at first, although the experience did make them a more flexible ensemble on-stage.
Eventually the group did get together with Dylan as his backup band on his 1966 tour, although Levon Helm left soon after the tour began at the end of 1965. 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).
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 phenomenon 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.
Following the release of the second album, things changed somewhat within the group. Partly owing to the pressures of touring and the public's expectations of "genius," and also to the growing press fixation on Robbie Robertson at the expense of the rest of the group, the other group members remained familiar enough that their names and personalities were well-known to the public. The Band was still a great working ensemble, as represented on their brilliant third album, Stage Fright, but gradually exhaustion and personal pressures took their toll. Additionally, the huge amounts of money that the members started collecting, against hundreds of thousands and ultimately millions of record sales, led to instances of irresponsible behavior by individual members and their spouses and raised the pressure on the group to perform. The members had always engaged in a certain amount of casual drug use, mostly involving marijuana, but now they had access to more serious and expensive chemical diversions. Some private resentments also began manifesting themselves about Robertson's dominance of the songwriting (some reality of which was questioned openly in Levon Helm's autobiography years later), and the fact that the group was now constantly in the public eye didn't help.
By the time of the fourth album, Cahoots, some of the glow of experimentation and easygoing camaraderie was gone, though ironically, the album was still one of the best released in 1971. The problem for the group became fulfilling all of the commitments involved in success, including touring and writing new material to record. By the end of 1971, they'd decided to take a break, cutting a live album, Rock of Ages, that was all fans had to content themselves with in 1972. The fact that their next album, issued in 1973, was a collection of studio versions of the oldies that the group used to do on-stage, and numbers that they knew from their days as the Hawks, should have been a warning sign that not everything was well within the group. More troubling still was the fact that the renditions were so plain and flat sounding compared to the music they'd cut on every prior album; it simply wasn't up to the standard that one expected of the group and the fact that they didn't tour behind the record seemed to indicate that they were marking time with Moondog Matinee. The group did play one major show that year, at the race track at Watkins Glen, NY, before the largest audience ever assembled for a rock concert -- it was a demonstration of their place in the rock pantheon that the Band was booked alongside the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band.
The year 1973 was also where they let the other shoe drop on their association with Bob Dylan, cutting the Planet Waves album with him and preparing for a huge national tour together in 1974. That tour, in retrospect, seemed more a basis for cashing in on their association with Dylan than for any new music-making of any significance. In many critics' eyes, the Band was superior to Dylan in their performances, an idea borne out on much of the live LP Before the Flood that was distilled down from the two February 14, 1974, performances. Everyone made a fortune from it, but the tour with Dylan also thrust the group right into the middle of the most decadent part of the rock world. A lot of the simplicity and directness of their music and lives succumbed to the easy availability of sex, drugs, and other diversions and the expensive lifestyles they were all starting to maintain.
By the end of 1974, the Band had expended much of the good will they'd built up from their first four albums. Another album, Northern Lights -- Southern Cross released in late 1975, was a major comeback and restored some of the group's reputation as a cutting-edge ensemble, even encompassing elements of synthesizer music into its writing and production. Around this same time, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson made a belated contribution to the history of Chess Records (in light of their near-miss with Sonny Boy Williamson a decade earlier) when they worked with Muddy Waters, cutting an entire album with the blues legend at Helm's studio in Woodstock, NY. The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album, although ignored at the time by everyone but the critics, was the last great album cut by the label or by Waters at the label, and his best album in at least five years.
It was too late to save the Band as a working ensemble, however; the members were all involved in their own interests and lives and the group stopped touring. The inevitable best-of album in 1976, ahead of what proved to be their final tour, marked the unofficial end of the original lineup's history. One last new album, Islands, fulfilled the group's contract and had some fine moments, but they never toured behind it and it was clear to one and all that the Band was finished as a going concern. The group marked the end of their days as an active unit with the release of the film (and accompanying soundtrack LP set) The Last Waltz, directed by Martin Scorsese, of their farewell concert, which was an all-star performing affair pulling together the talents of Ronnie Hawkins, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Van Morrison, and a dozen other luminaries drawn from the ranks of old friends, admirers, and idols of theirs. Robertson and Helm pursued musical and film careers, while Danko tried to start a solo career of his own.
Capitol Records kept repackaging their music on vinyl with an Anthology collection and a second best-of LP, as well as a pair of CD recompilations, To Kingdom Come and Across the Great Divide, in the '90s. As it turned out the members, apart from Robertson, weren't quite as ready or willing to close the book on the group, in part because they saw no reason to and also because several of them proved unable to sustain profitable solo careers (Robertson, having written most of the songs, had a steady income from the publishing as well as the record sales). The other members of the group reunited at various times -- in 1983, four members of the Band, with Robertson replaced by Earl Cate of the Cate Brothers on guitar, reunited for a tour that yielded a full-length concert video and a healthy audience response. 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").
This was as close as the guitarist would get to a Band reunion, however, which became a bone of contention among onlookers and the members. Robertson publicly questioned what the meaning of The Last Waltz had been and would never participate. And as the group's major songwriter and principal guitarist, he was their most famous member, but he almost never sang significant vocal parts on their recordings (indeed, it is said that one reason their set from Woodstock was never issued was because his mic was live and his voice too prominent). Other guitarists could build on his work well enough, and the rest of the group had made significant contributions to virtually every song they ever did, so the reunions made sense. In 1993, the Band released Jericho, their first new album in 16 years, which received surprisingly good reviews. High on the Hog followed in 1996 and two years later, they celebrated their 30th anniversary with Jubilation. The death of Rick Danko in his sleep at his home in Woodstock on December 10, 1999, the day after his 56th birthday, called an end to future activities by any version of the Band, even when they received the Grammys' Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. Levon Helm, whose solo career had accelerated during the 2000s (including the well-received Vanguard album Dirt Farmer), contracted cancer and died in April 2012.
The Band was a Canadian-American roots rock group that originally consisted of Rick Danko (bass guitar, double bass, fiddle, trombone, vocals), Levon Helm (drums, mandolin, guitar, vocals), Garth Hudson (keyboard instruments, saxophones, trumpet), Richard Manuel (piano, drums, baritone saxophone, vocals) and Robbie Robertson (guitar, 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. Following the 1966 tour, the group moved with Dylan to Saugerties, New York, where they made the informal 1967 recordings that became The Basement Tapes, which forged the basis for their 1968 debut album Music from Big Pink. Because they were always "the band" to various frontmen, Helm said the name "The Band" worked well when the group came into its own. The group began performing officially as The Band in 1968, and went on to release ten studio albums. Dylan continued to collaborate with The Band over the course of their career, including a joint 1974 tour.
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 Band recommenced touring in 1983 without guitarist Robbie Robertson, who had found success with a solo career and as a Hollywood music producer. Following a 1986 show, Richard Manuel was found dead of suicide; despite this, the remaining three members continued to tour and record albums with a revolving door of musicians filling Manuel and Robertson's respective roles, before finally settling on Richard Bell, Randy Ciarlante and Jim Weider. Rick Danko died of heart failure in 1999, after which the group broke up for good. Levon Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998, and after a series of treatments was able to regain use of his voice. He continued to perform and released several successful albums until he succumbed to the disease in 2012.
The group was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked them No. 50 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and in 2008, they received the Grammy's Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2004, "The Weight" was ranked the 41st best song of all time in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.
The Band's music fused many elements: primarily old country music and early rock and roll, though the rhythm section often was reminiscent of Stax or Motown, and Robertson cites Curtis Mayfield and the Staple Singers as major influences, resulting in a synthesis of many musical genres. As to the group's songwriting, very few of their early compositions were based on conventional blues and doo-wop chord changes. Singers Manuel, Danko, and Helm each brought a distinctive voice to The Band: Helm's southern voice had more than a hint of country, Danko sang in a tenor, and Manuel alternated between falsetto and baritone. The singers regularly blended in harmonies. Though the singing was more or less evenly shared among the three men, both Danko and Helm have stated that they saw Manuel as the Band's "lead" singer.
Every member, with the exception of Robertson, was a multi-instrumentalist. There was little instrument-switching when they played live, but when recording, the musicians could make up different configurations in service of the songs. Hudson in particular was able to coax a wide range of timbres from his Lowrey organ; on the choruses of "Tears of Rage", for example, it sounds like a mellotron. Helm's drumming was often praised: critic Jon Carroll declared that Helm was "the only drummer who can make you cry," while prolific session drummer Jim Keltner admits to appropriating several of Helm's techniques. Producer John Simon is often cited as a "sixth member" of the Band for producing and playing on Music from Big Pink, co-producing and playing on The Band, and playing on other songs up through the Band's 1993 reunion album Jericho.
Robertson is credited as writer or co-writer for the majority of The Band's songs, but sang lead vocals on only three of their studio recordings ("To Kingdom Come", "Knockin' Lost John" and "Out Of The Blue"). This role, along with Robertson's resulting claim to the copyright of most of the compositions, would become a point of contention, especially that directed towards Robertson by Helm. In his 1993 autobiography This Wheel's on Fire – Levon Helm and the Story of The Band, Helm disputes the validity of the official songwriting credits as listed on the albums, and explains that The Band's songs were often honed and recorded through collaboration between all members. Danko concurred with Helm:: "I think Levon's book hits the nail on the head about where Robbie and Albert Grossman and some of those people went wrong and when The Band stopped being The Band." ... "I'm truly friends with everybody but, hey—it could happen to Levon, too. When people take themselves too seriously and believe too much in their own bullshit, they usually get in trouble." Robertson for his part denied that Helm had written any of the songs attributed to Robertson and his daughter later remarked in a letter to the Los Angeles Times that Levon Helm's solo work consists almost entirely of songs written by others.
The Hawks 
The members of The Band gradually came together as a part of Toronto-based, rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins's backing group, the Hawks: Helm, an original Hawk who journeyed with Hawkins from Arkansas to Ontario, then Robertson who was told by Hawkins, "You won't make much money but you'll get more pussy than Frank Sinatra", Danko, Manuel and finally, Hudson. Hawkins' act was popular in and around Toronto, and he had an effective way of eliminating his musical competition: When a promising band appeared, Hawkins would often hire their best musicians for his own group; Robertson, Danko, and Manuel came under Hawkins' tutelage this way.
While most of the Hawks were eager to join Hawkins's group, getting Hudson to join was a different story. He had earned a college degree, planned on a career as a music teacher and was interested in playing rock music only as a hobby. The Hawks were in awe of his wild, full-bore organ sound and often begged him to join. Hudson finally relented, so long as the Hawks each paid him $10 per week to be their instructor; all music theory questions were directed to Hudson. While pocketing a little extra cash, Hudson was also able to mollify his family's fears that his education had gone to waste. The piano-organ combination was uncommon in rock music, and for all his aggressive playing, Hudson also brought a level of musical sophistication.There is a view that jazz is 'evil' because it comes from evil people, but actually the greatest priests on 52nd Street, and on the streets of New York City were the musicians. They were doing the greatest healing work. And they knew how to punch through music which would cure and make people feel good.—Garth Hudson, The Last Waltz
With Hawkins, they recorded a few singles in this period and became well known as the best rock group in the thriving Toronto music scene. Hawkins regularly convened all-night rehearsals following long club shows, with the result that the young musicians quickly developed great technical prowess on their instruments.
In 1963, Levon Helm met the groupie Cathy Smith, with whom he and other members of the Band would have a long association.
By 1964, the group had split from Hawkins over personal differences. They were tiring of playing the same songs so often and wanted to perform original material, and they were weary of Hawkins's somewhat dictatorial leadership. He would fine the Hawks if they brought their girlfriends to the clubs, fearing it might reduce the numbers of available girls who came to performances, or if they smoked marijuana. Alcohol and pills were acceptable but Canada then had stiff penalties against marijuana possession.
Robertson later said, "Eventually, [Hawkins] built us up to the point where we outgrew his music and had to leave. He shot himself in the foot, really, bless his heart, by sharpening us into such a crackerjack band that we had to go on out into the world, because we knew what his vision was for himself, and we were all younger and more ambitious musically."
Upon leaving Hawkins in 1964, they were briefly known as the Levon Helm Sextet with sax player Jerry Penfound being the sixth member, then Levon and the Hawks after Penfound's departure. In 1965, they released a single on Ware Records under the name Canadian Squires, but returned as Levon and the Hawks for a recording session for Atco later in 1965. Also that year, Helm and the band met blues singer and harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson. They wanted to record with him, offering to become his backing band, but Williamson died not long after their meeting.
With Bob Dylan 
In late summer 1965, Bob Dylan was looking for a backup band for his first U.S. "electric" tour. Levon and the Hawks were recommended by blues singer John Hammond, who earlier that year had used Helm, Hudson and Robertson on his Vanguard album So Many Roads. Around the same time, one of their friends from Toronto was working as secretary to Dylan's manager Albert Grossman. Mary Martin told Dylan to visit the group at the Yonge Street club called the Le Coq d'Or Tavern – though Robbie Robertson recollects it was the Friar's Tavern, just down the street. Her advice to Dylan: "You gotta see these guys."
After hearing the band play and meeting with Robertson, Dylan invited Helm and Robertson to join his backing band. After two concerts backing Dylan, Helm and Robertson told Dylan of their loyalty to their bandmates, and told him that they would only continue with him if he hired all of the Hawks. Dylan accepted and invited Levon and the Hawks to tour with him. The group was receptive to the offer, knowing it could give them the wider exposure they craved, but they simultaneously feared that their music was too different from his. They thought of themselves as a tightly rehearsed rock and rhythm and blues group and knew Dylan mostly from his early acoustic folk and protest music. Furthermore, they had little inkling of how internationally popular Dylan had become.
With Dylan, The Hawks played a series of concerts from September 1965 through May 1966, billed as Bob Dylan and the Band. The tours were marked by Dylan's reportedly copious use of amphetamines. Some, though not all, of the Hawks joined in the excesses. Most of the concerts were met with the heckling and disapproval of folk music purists. Helm was so affected by the negative reception that he left the tour within three months and sat out the rest of that year's concerts, as well as the world tour in 1966. Helm spent much of this period working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
During and between tours, Dylan and the Hawks attempted several recording sessions, but with less than satisfying results. Sessions in October and November yielded just one usable single ("Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window"), and two days of recording in January 1966 for what was intended to be Dylan's next album, Blonde on Blonde resulted in "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)", which was released as a single a few weeks later and was subsequently selected for the album. On "One Of Us Must Know". Dylan was backed by drummer Bobby Gregg, bassist Rick Danko (or Bill Lee), guitarist Robbie Robertson, pianist Paul Griffin, and Al Kooper on organ. Frustrated by the slow progress in the New York studio, Dylan accepted the suggestion of producer Bob Johnston and moved the recording sessions to Nashville. In Nashville, Robertson's guitar was prominent on the Blonde on Blonde recordings, especially "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat", but the other members of the Hawks did not attend the sessions.
During the European leg of their 1966 tour, Mickey Jones replaced Sandy Konikoff on drums. (Levon Helm had departed in October 1965, depressed by the booing which greeted their live performances.) Dylan and the Hawks played at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester on May 17, 1966. The gig became legendary when, near the end of Dylan's electric set, an audience member shouted "Judas!". After a pause, Dylan replied, "I don't believe you. You're a liar!" He then turned to the Hawks and said "Play it fucking loud!" With that, they launched into an acidic version of "Like a Rolling Stone".
The Manchester performance was widely bootlegged (and mistakenly placed at the Royal Albert Hall). The recording of this gig became one of the most famous of Dylan's career, often inspiring a rapturous response in those who heard it. A 1971 review from Creem stated "My response is that crystallization of everything that is rock'n'roll music, at its finest, was to allow my jaw to drop, my body to move, to leap out of the chair ... It is an experience that one desires simply to share, to play over and over again for those he knows thirst for such pleasure. If I speak in an almost worshipful sense about this music, it is not because I have lost perspective, it is precisely because I have found it, within music, yes, that was made five years ago. But it is there and unignorable." When it finally saw official release in 1998, critic Richie Unterberger declared the record "an important document of rock history."
On July 29, 1966, while on a break from touring, Dylan was injured in a motorcycle accident, and retired into semi-seclusion in Woodstock, New York. For a while, the Hawks returned to the bar and roadhouse touring circuit, sometimes backing other singers (including a brief stint with Tiny Tim). Dylan invited the Hawks to join him in Woodstock, where they recorded a much-bootlegged and influential series of demos, some of which were subsequently released on LP as The Basement Tapes.
Music from Big Pink and The Band 
Reunited with Helm, the Hawks began writing their own songs in a rented large pink house, which they affectionately named "Big Pink", in West Saugerties (near Woodstock). When they went into the recording studio, they still did not have a name for themselves. Stories vary as to the manner in which they ultimately adopted the name "The Band." In The Last Waltz, Manuel claimed that they wanted to call themselves either "The Honkies" or "The Crackers" (which they used when backing Dylan for a January 1968 concert tribute to Woody Guthrie), but these names were vetoed by their record label; Robertson suggests that during their time with Dylan everyone just referred to them as "the band" and it stuck. Initially, they disliked the moniker, but eventually grew to like it, thinking it both humble and presumptuous. Rolling Stone referred to them as "The band from Big Pink."
Their first album, Music from Big Pink (1968) was widely acclaimed. The album included three songs written or co-written by Dylan ("This Wheel's on Fire", "Tears of Rage", and "I Shall Be Released") as well as "The Weight", the use of which in the film Easy Rider would make it probably their best known song. While a continuity certainly ran through the music, there were stylistic leanings in a number of directions. Never a specifically "psychedelic" group, the Band's first record did contain at least one song ("Chest Fever") demonstrating some similarities with that genre. In contrast to his wild guitar playing with Hawkins and Dylan, Robertson opted for a more subdued, riff-oriented approach, often mixed low down in the song.
After the success of Music from Big Pink, the band went on tour. Their first live appearance was at Stony Brook University in the spring of 1969 several weeks preceding a performance at the Woodstock Festival (which was not included in the famed Woodstock film due to legal complications) and an appearance with Dylan at the UK Isle of Wight Festival (several songs from which were subsequently included on Dylan's Self Portrait album). That same year, they left for Los Angeles to record their follow-up, The Band (1969). From their deliberately rustic appearance on the cover, to the songs and arrangements within, the album stood in contrast to other popular music of the day. Although it should be noted that, by this point, several acts, notably Dylan on John Wesley Harding (written during The Basement Tapes sessions) and The Byrds on Sweetheart of the Rodeo (featuring two Basement Tapes covers), had made similar stylistic moves. The Band featured songs that evoked oldtime rural America, from the Civil War in "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" to unionization of farm workers in "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)".
These first two records were produced by John Simon, who was practically a group member: he aided in arrangements, and played occasional instruments (piano or tuba). Simon reported that he was often asked about the distinctive horn sections featured so effectively on the first two albums: people wanted to know how they had achieved such memorable sounds. Simon stated that, besides Hudson (an accomplished saxophonist), the others had only rudimentary horn skills, and achieved their sound simply by creatively utilizing their limited technique.
Rolling Stone lavished praise on the Band in this era, giving them more attention than perhaps any other group in the magazine's history; Greil Marcus's articles in particular contributed greatly to the Band's mystique. The Band was also featured on the cover of Time's January 12, 1970 issue.
A critical and commercial triumph, The Band, along with works by The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers, established a musical template (sometimes dubbed country rock) that later would be taken to even greater levels of commercial success by such artists as the Eagles. Both Big Pink and The Band also influenced their musical contemporaries, with both Eric Clapton and George Harrison citing the Band as a major influence on their musical direction in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Indeed, Clapton later revealed that he had wanted to join the group.
Stage Fright, Cahoots and Rock of Ages 
Following their second album, the Band embarked on their first tour as a headlining act. The resulting anxiety from fame and its hang-ups was especially evidenced by the group as its songs turned to darker themes of fear and alienation: the influence on their next work is self-explanatory. Stage Fright (1970) was engineered by musician/engineer/producer Todd Rundgren and recorded on a theatre stage in Woodstock, New York, but the fraying of the group's once-fabled unity was beginning to show. As was the case with their previous, self-titled record, Robertson is credited with the majority of the songwriting. However, the trademark vocal style of the Band's three lead singers was much less prominent on this work.
After recording Stage Fright, the Band was among the acts participating in the Festival Express, an all-star rock concert tour of Canada by train that also included Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and future Band member Richard Bell (at the time he was a member of Joplin's band). In the concert documentary film, released in 2003, Danko can be seen intoxicated participating in a drunken jam session with Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Joplin while singing "Ain't No More Cane."
At about this time, Robertson began exerting greater control over the Band. This has become a point of antipathy, especially between Helm and Robertson. Helm charges Robertson with authoritarianism and greed, while Robertson suggests his increased efforts in guiding the group were due largely to some of the other members being unreliable. In particular, Robertson insists he did his best to coax Manuel into writing or co-writing more songs, only to see Manuel's talents overtaken by addiction.
Despite mounting problems between the musicians, the Band forged ahead with their next album, Cahoots (1971). Cahoots included tunes such as Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece," "4% Pantomime" (with Van Morrison), and "Life Is A Carnival," the last featuring a horn arrangement from Allen Toussaint. Toussaint's contribution was a critical addition to the Band's next project, and the group would later record two songs written by Toussaint: "Holy Cow" (on Moondog Matinee) and "You See Me" (on Jubilation).
In late December 1971, The Band recorded the live album Rock of Ages, which was released in the summer of 1972. On Rock of Ages, they were bolstered by the addition of a horn section, with arrangements written by Allen Toussaint. Bob Dylan appeared on stage on New Year's Eve and performed four songs with the group, including a version of "When I Paint My Masterpiece".
Moondog Matinee, 1974 tour and Northern Lights – Southern Cross 
In 1973, The Band released Moondog Matinee, an album of cover songs. There was no tour in support of the album, which garnered mixed reviews. However, they did open for the Grateful Dead for two summer shows at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, New Jersey. They also played at the legendary Summer Jam at Watkins Glen. This massive concert took place at the Grand Prix Raceway outside Watkins Glen, New York on July 28, 1973. The event, which was attended by over 600,000 music fans, also featured the Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers Band. Next, The Band reunited with Dylan, first in recording Dylan's album Planet Waves, released in January 1974, and then for a joint 1974 tour, which played 40 shows in North America during January and February 1974. Later that year, the live album Before the Flood was released, which documents the tour.
In 1975, now having relocated to California and built their own studio, Shangri-La, The Band released Northern Lights – Southern Cross, their first album of all-new material since 1971's Cahoots. All eight songs were written exclusively by Robertson. Despite poor record sales (due to the elongated period of inactivity by the band) the album is favored by critics and fans alike. Levon Helm regards this album highly in his book, This Wheel's on Fire: "It was the best album we had done since The Band." The album also produced more experimentation from Hudson switching to synthesizers, heavily showcased on "Jupiter Hollow."
The Last Waltz and Islands 
By 1976, Robbie Robertson was weary of touring. After having to cancel tour dates due to Richard Manuel suffering a severe neck injury in a boating accident in Texas, Robertson urged The Band to retire from touring, and conceived of a massive "farewell concert" known as The Last Waltz. The event was held, following an appearance on Saturday Night Live on October 30, on Thanksgiving Day of 1976 at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, California, and featured a horn section with arrangements by Allen Toussaint and a stellar list of guests, including other Canadian acts Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. Two of the guests were fundamental to The Band's existence and growth: Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan. Other guests they admired (and in most cases had worked with before) included Muddy Waters, Dr. John, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Ronnie Wood, Bobby Charles, Neil Diamond, and Paul Butterfield. The concert was recorded by Robertson's friend, filmmaker Martin Scorsese.
In 1977, The Band recorded their seventh studio album Islands, which fulfilled their record contract with Capitol so that a planned Last Waltz film and album could be released on the Warner Bros. label. Islands contained a mix of originals and covers, and was the last with The Band's original lineup. That same year, the group recorded soundstage performances with country singer Emmylou Harris ("Evangeline") and gospel-soul group The Staple Singers ("The Weight"); Scorsese combined these new performances, as well as interviews he had conducted with the group, with the 1976 concert footage. The resulting concert film-documentary was released in 1978, along with a triple-LP soundtrack.
Levon Helm later wrote about The Last Waltz in his autobiography This Wheel's on Fire; in the book he makes the case that The Last Waltz was primarily Robbie Robertson's project, and that he had forced The Band's break-up onto the rest of the group. Robertson offered a different take in a 1986 interview: "I made my big statement. I did the movie, I made a three-record album about it—and if this is only my statement, not theirs, I'll accept that. They're saying, 'Well, that was really his trip, not our trip.' Well, fine. I'll take the best music film that's ever been made, and make it my statement. I don't have any problems with that. None at all."
In 1983, The Band recommenced touring, though without Robertson. Several musicians, mostly from the group's Ronnie Hawkins days, were recruited as touring personnel to replace Robertson and to fill out the group. The reunited Band was generally well-received, but found themselves playing in smaller venues than during the peak of their popularity.
After a performance in Florida on March 4, 1986, Richard Manuel committed suicide, aged 42, in his motel room. It was later revealed that he had suffered for many years from chronic alcoholism and drug addiction. According to Levon Helm's autobiography, in the later stages of his illness, Manuel was consuming eight bottles of Grand Marnier per day. Manuel's position as pianist was filled by old friend Stan Szelest (who died not long after), then by Richard Bell. Bell had played with Ronnie Hawkins after the departure of the original Hawks, and was best known from his days as a member of Janis Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie Band.
The Band was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the 1989 Juno Awards, where Robertson was reunited with original members Danko and Hudson. That same year saw Robertson win three awards for his eponymous debut solo album. With Canadian country rock superstars Blue Rodeo as a back-up band, Music Express called the 1989 Juno appearance a symbolic "passing of the torch" from The Band to Blue Rodeo.
The Band appeared at Bob Dylan's 30th anniversary concert celebration in New York City in October 1992, where they performed their version of Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece". In 1993, the group released their eighth studio album, Jericho. Without Robbie Robertson as primary lyricist, much of the songwriting for the album came from outside of the group. Also that year, The Band, along with Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan and other performers, appeared at former US President Bill Clinton's 1993 "Blue Jean Bash" inauguration party.
In 1994, The Band performed at Woodstock '94. Later that year Robertson appeared with Danko and Hudson as The Band for the second time since the original group broke up. The occasion was the induction of The Band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Helm, who had been at odds with Robertson for years over accusations of stolen songwriting credits, did not attend. In February 1996, The Band with The Crickets recorded "Not Fade Away", released on the tribute album 'Not Fade Away (Remembering Buddy Holly). The Band released two more albums after Jericho: High on the Hog (1996) and Jubilation (1998), the latter of which included guest appearances by Eric Clapton and John Hiatt.
The final song the group recorded together was their 1999 cover of Bob Dylan's "One Too Many Mornings", which they contributed to the Dylan tribute album Tangled Up in Blues. On December 10, 1999, Rick Danko died in his sleep at the age of 56. Following his death, The Band broke up for good. In 2002, Robertson bought all other former members' financial interests in the group, with the exception of Helm, giving him major control of the presentation of the group's material, including latter-day compilations. Richard Bell died of multiple myeloma in June 2007. The Band received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award on February 9, 2008 but there was no reunion of all three living members. In honor of the event, Helm held a Midnight Ramble in Woodstock, NY. On April 17, 2012, it was announced via Helm's official website that he was in the "final stages of cancer"; he died two days later.
Members' other endeavors 
In 1977, Rick Danko released his eponymous debut solo album, which featured the other four members of The Band on various tracks. In 1984, Danko joined members of the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers and others in the huge touring company that made up "The Byrds Twenty-Year Celebration." Several members of the band performed solo songs to start the show including Danko who performed "Mystery Train". Danko also released a number of additional solo albums.
After he left The Band, Robbie Robertson became a music producer and wrote film soundtracks (including acting as music supervisor for several of Scorsese's films) before a highly praised comeback with a Daniel Lanois produced, eponymous solo album in 1987. He released a second solo album, Storyville, in 1991 and another album in 2011. He also released a newly remixed version of the already heavily overdubbed The Last Waltz.
Helm received many plaudits for his acting debut in Coal Miner's Daughter, a biographical film about Loretta Lynn, and for his narration and small supporting role opposite Sam Shepard in 1983's The Right Stuff. He has appeared in small roles in a number of other films. In the late 70s and 80s, Helm released several solo albums and toured with a band called Levon Helm and the RCO Allstars. In 2007 Helm released a new album, an homage to his southern roots called Dirt Farmer, which was awarded a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album on February 9, 2008. Electric Dirt followed in 2009 and won the inaugural Grammy Award for Best Americana Album. His 2011 live album Ramble at the Ryman was nominated in the same category and won. Helm regularly performed Midnight Ramble concerts at his home and studio in Woodstock, New York, and toured.
Hudson played keyboards on the first three albums by The Call. Hudson has released two acclaimed solo CDs, The Sea To The North in 2001, and LIVE at the WOLF in 2005, both featuring his wife, Maud, on vocals. He has also kept busy as an in-demand studio musician. He is featured extensively on recordings of Country/Indie star Neko Case. Hudson contributed an original electronic score to an Off-Broadway production of Dragon Slayers, written by Stanley Keyes and directed by Brad Mays in 1986 at the Union Square Theatre in New York, which was re-staged with a new cast in Los Angeles in 1990. In 2010, Hudson released Garth Hudson Presents: A Canadian Celebration of The Band featuring Canadian artists covering songs that were recorded by The Band. Participants included Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn, Blue Rodeo, Cowboy Junkies, The Trews, Great Big Sea, Hawksley Workman, Mary Margaret O'Hara, Chantal Kreviazuk, Raine Maida, Ian Thornley, The Sadies, Suzie McNeil, Kevin Hearn, Danny Brooks, Peter Katz and The Road Hammers.
The Band has influenced numerous bands, songwriters, and performers, from the Grateful Dead and The Beatles to Eric Clapton, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Led Zeppelin, Elvis Costello, Elton John, and Phish.
The album Music from Big Pink, in particular, is credited with contributing to Clapton's decision to leave the super group Cream. In his introduction of The Band during the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert, Clapton announced that in 1968 he'd heard the album, "and it changed my life." Guitarist Richard Thompson has openly acknowledged the album's influence on Fairport Convention's Liege and Lief, and journalist John Harris has suggested that The Band's debut also influenced the spirit of The Beatles' back-to-basics album Let It Be as well as The Rolling Stones' string of roots-infused albums that began with Beggars Banquet. Meanwhile, the Big Pink song "The Weight" has been covered numerous times, and in various musical styles. In a 1969 interview, Robbie Robertson remarked on the group's influence, "We certainly didnt want everybody to go out and get a banjo and a fiddle player. We were trying to calm things down a bit though. What we're going to do now is go to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and record four sides, four psychedelic songs. Total freak-me songs. Just to show that we have no hard feelings. Just pretty good rock and roll."
In the nineties, a new generation of bands influenced by The Band began to gain popularity, including Counting Crows, the Wallflowers, and The Black Crowes. Counting Crows indicated this influence with their tribute to the late Richard Manuel, "If I Could Give All My Love (Richard Manuel Is Dead)" from their album Hard Candy. The Black Crowes frequently cover Band songs during live performances, such as "The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down", which appears on their DVD Freak 'n' Roll into the Fog. They have also recorded at Helm's studio in Woodstock.
The inspiration for the classic rock-influenced band The Hold Steady came while members Craig Finn and Tad Kubler were watching The Last Waltz. Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson are namechecked in the lyrics of "The Swish" from The Hold Steady's 2004 debut album Almost Killed Me. Also that year, southern rock-revivalists Drive-By Truckers released the track "Danko/Manuel" on the album The Dirty South.
The Band also inspired Grace Potter, of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, to form the band in 2002. In an interview with The Montreal Gazette, Potter said, “The Band blew my mind. I thought if this is what Matt [Burr] meant when he said ‘Let’s start a rock ’n’ roll band,’ ... that was the kind of rock ’n’ roll band I could believe in.”
In January 2007, a tribute album, entitled Endless Highway: The Music of The Band, was released which included contributions by My Morning Jacket, Death Cab for Cutie, Gomez, Guster, Bruce Hornsby, Jack Johnson and ALO, Lee Ann Womack, The Allman Brothers Band, Blues Traveler, Jakob Dylan, and Rosanne Cash, amongst others.