|History | Profile | Music Making Photos | Albums/CDs: 1 2 3 4 5
| Rick's Rolling Stone
The Band's Rick Danko Dead At Fifty-Six
by Richard Skanse (December 10, 2022)
Rick Danko, bassist for the Band and solo artist, found dead morning after his birthday
Founding member of the Band, solo artist and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Rick Danko passed away Friday morning in his Woodstock, N.Y., home. His wife, Elizabeth, found him in his bed, where he'd apparently died peacefully in his sleep. He was fifty-six.
Although no cause of death was known by Friday afternoon, Danko's publicist, Carol Caffin, said that she spoke to him Thursday and that he had been in good spirits.
"I just spoke to him yesterday, and he was in a great mood," said Caffin. "I told him I had some interviews lined up, and he said, 'Sure, we'll do them tomorrow afternoon.' And then I hear this morning. We all loved him very much -- he was a great, wonderful person."
Caffin said Danko had just returned from a short tour, including stops in Chicago and Ann Arbor, Mich. He had also just taped a performance for Acoustic Caf�. In August, he performed with fellow Band member Garth Hudson at the "Day in the Garden" festival at Max Yasgur's farm, the site of the original Woodstock, at which the Band performed in 1969.
Danko's last solo album, Live on Breeze Hill, was released in September. The mostly live album featured one studio track, "Sip the Wine," which was recorded twenty years ago. A portion of the proceeds from the album were earmarked to benefit Greenpeace. Danko hadn't released a solo album since his 1977 self-titled solo debut, though he recorded two albums in the Nineties with singer/songwriters Eric Anderson and Jonas Fjeld: 1993's Danko/Anderson/Fjeld and 1997's Riding on the Blinds. He also joined fellow Band members Hudson and Levon Helm for the group's recent comeback albums Jericho (1993), High on the Hog (1996) and last year's Jubilation. (Original guitarist Robbie Robertson chose not to participate in the reunion records; pianist Richard Manuel committed suicide after a show in 1986.)
Danko was a key member of the Band from the very beginning, when the group backed Ronnie Hawkins as the Hawks. His signature vocal style was a hallmark of the Band's sound, and his songwriting credits included the enduring "This Wheel's on Fire," which he co-wrote with Bob Dylan. The song appeared on Dylan's famous collaboration with the Band, The Basement Tapes.
"He was one of the most distinctive voices in one of the most distinctive sounding groups in rock & roll," commented longtime friend Richard Fusco, chief creative officer of the online radio station RadioWoodstock. "He stayed here in Woodstock -- he made this his home, and was one of the true landmark people in town. He was the type of guy that would always go out of his way to help somebody; if there was ever a benefit in town to help somebody locally, he was always there playing. He was a real giving person, besides being an incredible talent and a real fun guy to be with."
John Simon, who produced the Band's Music From the Big Pink, The Band and The Last Waltz, said he will best remember Danko for his positive attitude.
"Rick was always a very positive, uplifting and uplifted guy," Simon said. "He would always be the first guy there for rehearsals and recordings sessions. He was always very encouraging to other musicians; when other people in the world might not give somebody the time of day, Rick would be very patient, encouraging and loving to those people. He had a great sense of humor, and he was a natural musician.
"When he first started out as a teenager, up in Ontario, he used to be a one-man band leader," continued Simon. "He'd go into a town and put up posters saying 'dance coming up,' and then put a band together for the dance and put the money in a cigar box. All the guys in The Band were natural musicians -- and this was before it was popular and cool to be a musician. After the Beatles, everybody wanted to be a musician, whether they had a natural calling for it or not, but prior to that time, it was not so glamorous. You only did it when you had nothing else to do or when you were really good at it, and he was one of those guys who was really good at it. That's why the Band was so phenomenal -- every one of them were really good musicians; there weren't any slackers in that group."
In 1997, Danko was found guilty of colluding to smuggle heroin into Japan. He told the judge that he used the drug -- along with prescription morphine -- to help fight persistent pain from a 1968 automobile accident. When asked about Danko's history with the drug in relationship to his death, however, Fusco said that the musician had appeared to be in robust health.
"He'd gained a little weight, but he didn't seem unhealthy," said Fusco. "You can tell a junkie when you see a junkie, and he was nothing like that at all. He seemed strong."
"We were looking forward to doing lots of live performances with him here from our studio," Fusco said sadly. "God bless him, we won't be doing that."