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The Band
Copyright 1983, 1995 Rolling Stone Press

With its rock-ribbed, austerely precise arrangements and a catalogue of songs that link American folklore to primal myths, the Band -- four Canadians and a Southerner -- made music that was both earthy and mystical, still unsurpassed in its depth and originality.

The group had been playing together for most of a decade before it recorded its first album in 1968.  Beginning with Levon Helm, the five members joined rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins� Hawks one by one, and by 1960 the future Band had all been with Hawkins on and off, an association that continued until 1963.  They then began working on their own, variously as Levon and the Hawks, or the Crackers, or the Canadian Squires.  Singer John Hammond Jr. (John Paul Hammond) heard them in a Canadian club in 1964 and asked them to perform and record with him in New York City, Chicago, and Texas.

Once active in Greenwich Village they attracted Bob Dylan�s attention.  Helm and Robbie Robertson were in the electrified backup band at Dylan�s controversial Forest Hills concert of August 28, 1965.  Despite a falling out between Dylan and Helm, Dylan hired the Hawks -- with drummer Mickey Jones in lieu of Helm -- for his 1965-66 world tour inaugurating a longtime collaboration.

After Dylan�s 1966 motorcycle accident, the group settled near the suddenly reclusive star in the Woodstock, New York, area.  Helm rejoined, and while recording extensively with Dylan (the much-bootlegged sessions were released in 1975 as The Basement Tapes), they began working on their own material, most of it written by Robertson and Richard Manuel.  Recorded in a basement studio in their house (Big Pink) in West Saugerties, the material made up the Band�s debut album. With its unflashy sound and enigmatic lyrics, Music from Big Pink was a revolutionary album; although its long-term influence was enormous, it has yet to be certified gold.

The group moved to Hollywood, but its second album, The Band, was a celebration of rural life and the past.  It was the group�s masterpiece and commercial breakthrough, and the quintet undertook its first headlining tour to support it.  Robertson was emerging as chief songwriter as well as producer, and his impressions of the road inspired the Band�s third album, Stage Fright.  After 1971�s Cahoots (with an appearance by Van Morrison) the Band recorded a double live LP, Rock of Ages, followed in 1973 by a tribute to early rock & roll (Moondog Matinee, named after Alan Freed�s radio show).

With the exception of a joint appearance in 1969 at the Isle of Wight Festival in Britain, the Band rarely worked with Dylan in the early Seventies.  But shortly after the group played at the Watkins Glen concert in July 1973 (documented on a 1995 live album), it joined Dylan in the studio for his Planet Waves.  The next year, they toured together and did the live album Before the Flood.  The Band�s output continued to slow through the Seventies.  In November 1975 the group released its first new material in four years, Northern Lights-Southern Cross, followed two years later by Islands.  Robertson produced an album for Neil Diamond, Beautiful Noise, in 1976.  After 16 years together, the Band called it quits with a gala concert on Thanksgiving Day 1976.  The Band and guests (including Dylan, Morrison, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Diamond) performed at San Francisco�s Winterland (the site of its first concert as the Band in 1969) for The Last Waltz, filmed by Martin Scorsese.

After the breakup, Helm continued to record and tour, with the RCO All-Stars, an aggregation that included Dr. John, Paul Butterfield, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, and Booker T. Jones; the Cate Brothers; and Danko.  He made his acting debut in 1980 in Coal Miner�s Daughter and has since appeared in several other films.  Robertson starred in and composed part of the score for 1980�s Carny and wrote music for Scorsese�s The King of Comedy before releasing his first solo album in 1987.  Robbie Robertson, produced by Daniel Lanois, received tremendous media attention and went gold; 1991�s Storyville, however, fared poorly.  In 1994 Robertson, whose mother was of Mohawk Indian descent, composed the soundtrack to a six-hour television documentary, The Native Americans, which featured Native American musicians collectively dubbed the Red Road Ensemble.  Danko, too, recorded on his own.

The Band regrouped in 1983 with guitarist Jimmy Weider replacing Robertson, who�d declined an invitation to join.  On March 4, 1986, following an appearance at the Cheek to Cheek Lounge in Winter Park, Florida, Manuel returned to his room and hanged himself with a belt.  His body contained traces of cocaine and alcohol.  The three remaining originals carried on with a variety of backing musicians.  In 1993 they released the Band�s first album of new material in 16 years, Jericho, which included interpretations of Bruce Springsteen�s "Atlantic City" and Bob Dylan�s "Blind Willie McTell," as well as their own compositions.

In 1994 the Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Robertson turned out for the ceremony, but Helm stayed home.  As he made abundantly clear in his 1993 autobiography, This Wheel�s on Fire, the drummer bitterly resented Robertson for allegedly having claimed sole writing credit for collaborative efforts.

Formed 1967, Woodstock, New York
James Robbie Robertson (b. July 5, 1943, Toronto, Can.), gtr.;
Richard Manuel (b. Apr. 3, 1945, Stratford, Can.; d. Mar. 4, 1986, Winter Park, Fla.), piano, voc.;
Garth Hudson (b. Aug. 2, ca. 1943, London, Can.), organ, sax;
Rick Danko (b. Dec. 9, 1943, Simcoe, Can.), bass, viola, voc.;
Levon Helm (b. May 26, 1940, Marvell, Ark.), drums, voc., mandolin.

1968 -- Music from Big Pink (Capitol)
1969 -- The Band
1970 -- Stage Fright
1971 -- Cahoots
1972 -- Rock of Ages
1973 -- Moondog Matinee
1975 -- Northern Lights-Southern Cross
1976 -- The Best of the Band
1977 -- Islands
1978 -- The Last Waltz (Warner Bros.);  Anthology (Capitol)
1993 -- Jericho (Pyramid)
1994 -- Across the Great Divide (Capitol)
1995 -- Live at Watkins Glen

Robbie Robertson solo:
1987 -- Robbie Robertson (Geffen)
1991 -- Storyville

Robbie Robertson and the Red Road Ensemble:
1994 -- Music for "The Native Americans" (Capitol)

Levon Helm solo:
1977 -- Levon Helm and the RCO All-Stars (ABC)
1978 -- Levon Helm
1980 -- American Son (MCA)
1982 -- Levon Helm (Capitol)

Rick Danko:
1977 -- Rick Danko (Arista)
1993 -- Danko/Fjeld/Andersen (Rykodisc)

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