The Band

In 1958, Arkansas rocker Ronnie Hawkins decided to seek greener pastures in Canada and departed for Toronto, taking his drummer, Levon Helm, with him. Once there, he started recruiting local musicians, ending up with a lineup that included Helm, Robbie Robertson on rhythm guitar, Richard Manuel on piano, Rick Danko on bass, and classically-trained Garth Hudson on keyboards. By 1963 the bandmembers decided they had better chemistry with each other than they did with Hawkins, and parted company with him. In New York, they made a fateful connection with Bob Dylan, for whom they would serve as backup band off and on for several years, and were soon under the management of Dylan's own manager, Albert Grossman, who got them a recording contract. Their debut album, Music From Big Pink, was rootsy, soulful, mysterious, and generally unlike anything that had come before it. Most of the bandmembers wrote songs, all of them were versatile musicians, and their subsequent work continued to reflect unusual depth and creativity. By 1976, burned out on recording and touring, they announced they were breaking up after a final concert at San Francisco's Winterland. This extravaganza, immortalized in Martin Scorsese's "The Last Waltz," featured guest performances by a host of the band's friends and associates, including Dylan, Hawkins, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and others. By the early '80s Helm, Manuel, Hudson and Danko had a change of heart and regrouped for more tours and records, but Robertson was having none of it. Even after Manuel's death in 1986, the other three continued to record and perform periodically, but Danko's death in 1999 made further reunions unlikely.

Written by: Mary Eisenhart


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