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The Band's Rick Danko
by John Cardiff

"Rick Danko, bassist and singer with The Band ... one of the most naturally gifted and quietly influential musicans in North American rock 'n roll, died in his sleep at his home near Woodstock, N.Y. yesterday..."
-- Toronto Star obituary, December 11, 2022

Rick was born 9 Dec 1943 in Simcoe, Ontario, Canada.

In his mid-teens, Rick worked in Stan Makepeace's Simcoe Meat Market (butcher shop) next to my father's drug store at 56 Robinson Street in Simcoe, Ontario. This was back in the late 1950s, pre-Beatles, when Elvis was every rock musician's role model.

Rick, Tony Zdriluk, Norm Timpson, and Mike Scheel from the butcher shop were always dropping into Cardiff Pharmacy for cigarettes, notepads, pencils, band-aids, to tease the girls who worked there, browse the magazine rack, or pursue any other excuse which allowed them to stretch their legs for a minute when business was slow. Rick's parents were tobacco farmers just west of Simcoe and shopped at Dad's store.

One day, just at store closing, Rick asked Dad if they could talk.  Rick, who was forever working music into every conversation, had a chance to join a rock and roll band, and wanted to bounce the idea off Dad.  To this day I suspect what Rick really wanted was a chance to practice telling his folks that farming and butchering weren't for him; that he was off to the big city (Toronto) to seek his fame and fortune as a musican.

What happened next has been well-documented over the years, on million-selling records, in movies, several books, and countless newspaper and magazine articles.  One Rolling Stone summary.

For those not into rock, Rick joined Ronnie Hawkins as one of the Hawks.  The Hawks left Hawkins, were Bob Dylan's back up band when Dylan went electric (1965-1966), then went on to sell "a record or two" on their own, primarily between 1968 and 1976, under the name The Band.

The Band performed at Woodstock in 1969. One of their early hits, "The Weight," was featured in the Easy Rider soundtrack. At last count Band songs have soundtracked over a dozen movies.

The Band, Rolling Stone magazine's "Band of the Decade," was, to quote Toronto Star's Greg Quill, "the seminal American folk-rock troupe of the late 1960s and early 1970s."

Another critic called The Band: "The Smithsonian of American rock and roll." To quote record producer John Simon: "It's simple: The Band changed popular music. It was never the same." 

The Band was also one of the most bootlegged groups of its time. Several illegal recordings of concerts found their way into stores and were readily available. Today they are prized by collectors. Fans used to say they sounded even better live.

As a member of The Band, Rick became the only Norfolk County native ever featured on the cover of Time magazine (1970). Ditto the cover of Rolling Stone (1968).

The Band was "arguably the best rock band in the world" after the Beatles broke up (the other being the Rolling Stones) until they retired in style in 1976.

Martin Scorsese's movie of their farewell concert, The Last Waltz, remains "the best film of its type ever made."

The Band was inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

Rick continued to play and record, as a solo artist, and with various combinations of friends, including a new group which toured and recorded as "The Band."

He appeared in The Who's 1979 movie The Kids Are Alright, played the father of a kidnapped boy in the 1986 movie Man Outside, and appeared with Band-mates Garth Hudson and Levon Helm in Pink Floyd's The Wall.

While touring Japan in 1997 Rick was convicted of colluding with his wife to smuggle heroin into that country. He received a suspended sentence.

Rick, 56, died December 10, 1999, the day after his birthday, having last performed at a benefit concert with Band-mate Garth Hudson and others, November 28, 1999.

Predeceased by son Eli in 1989 (who would have been 29 when Rick died), his father Maurice Danko Sr. in 1983 and his mother, Leola Danko in 1987, Rick was survived by wife Elizabeth, children Lisa, 30, and Justin, 28, and brothers Maurice Jr. of Walsh, Ontario, Terry of Pefferlaw, Ontario, and Dennis of Hamilton, Ontario.

Over 500 of the Woodstock generation, including former Band-mate Jamie "Robbie" Robertson and Lovin' Spoonful leader John Sebastian attended Rick's music and tribute filled funeral at The Bearsville Theatre (just west of Woodstock, NY) December 16, 1999.

Rick's Rolling Stone obituary

Rick at The Last Waltz
At Last Waltz '76

1976-lw-rd-rr-lh-140.jpg (6552 bytes)
The Band, 1976

The Hawks, 1964
The Hawks, 1964
(Rick second left)

Rick with Ronnie Hawkins, 1963
Rick, Hawkins 1963

Rick Danko, 1999
Rick 1942-99
Portrait of Rick

Rick in 1997

External Links: 
The Band: Then & Now and
Rock's Hall of Fame

Rick Making Music