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Out Of The Vault: The Band – July 20, 2013

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Celebrating Robbie Robertson’s Birthday - July 5th

 

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' 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, but the remaining three members continued to tour and record albums with a revolving door of musicians filling Manuel's 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 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 as 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 Band – JAM (THEME) – Written by The Band and taken from their “Live in Watkins Glen” CD, 1995.  Recorded July 8,1973.

The Band - I SHALL BE RELEASED - "I Shall Be Released" is a 1967 song written by Bob Dylan.  The Band played it on their debut album, Music from Big Pink (1968), with Richard Manuel singing lead vocals, and Rick Danko and Levon Helm harmonizing in the chorus. The song was performed near the end of The Band's farewell concert, The Last Waltz, in which all the night's performers (with the exception of Muddy Waters) plus Ringo Starr and Ronnie Wood appeared on the same stage.  Dylan recorded two primary versions. The first is the Basement Tapes initial recording, recorded in 1967 and released on Bootleg Series 1-3 in 1991. Of the initial demo, Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner had said, "Curiously enough the music in this song and the high pleading sound of Dylan's voice reminds one of the Bee Gees."  Dylan recorded the song a second time in 1971, releasing this new recording on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II.  This versionis taken from their compilation CD “To Kingdom Come”, 1989.

The Band – STAGE FRIGHT - "Stage Fright" is the title track of the Band's third album, “Stage Fright”. It features Rick Danko on lead vocals and was written by Robbie Robertson. It was also performed at The Last Waltz.  Taken from their compilation CD “To Kingdom Come”, 1989.

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The Band – ATLANTIC CITY - "Atlantic City" is a song written and recorded by Bruce Springsteen, which first appeared on Springsteen's 1982 solo album Nebraska, considered to be one of Springsteen's most dour albums in tone. It has since often been heard in a full band arrangement in concert.  The song depicts a young couple's romantic escape to the New Jersey city Atlantic City, but it also wrestles with the inevitability of death, as the man in the relationship intends to take a job in organized crime upon arriving in the city. The opening lines of "Atlantic City" refer to mafia violence in nearby Philadelphia, with Springsteen singing: "Well they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night, now they blew up his house too" (the "chicken man" was mafia boss Philip Testa, who was killed by a bomb planted at his Philadelphia house in March 1981). The song evokes the widespread uncertainty regarding gambling during its early years in Atlantic City and its promises to resurrect the city, as well as the young man's uncertainty about taking the less-than-savory job: "Everything dies, baby, that's a fact, but maybe everything that dies someday comes back."  From The Band CD “Jericho”, 1993.

The Band – UP ON CRIPPLE CREEK - "Up on Cripple Creek" is the fifth song on The Band's eponymous second album, The Band. It was released as a single in November 1969 and reached #25 on the Billboard Hot 100.  "Up on Cripple Creek" was written by Band guitarist and principal songwriter Robbie Robertson, with drummer Levon Helm singing lead vocal.  A live performance of "Up on Cripple Creek" appears in The Band's live concert film The Last Waltz, as well as on the accompanying soundtrack album. In addition, a live version of the song appears on Before the Flood; a live album of The Band's various concerts and shows with Bob Dylan while touring together in 1974.  "Up on Cripple Creek" is notable as it is one of the first instances of a Hohner Clavinet being played with a wah-wah pedal. The riff can be heard after each chorus of the song. The Clavinet, especially in tandem with a wah pedal was a sound that became famous in the early to mid '70s especially in funk music, and continues to be popular to this day.  Taken fromthe CD compliation  “Let There Be Drums – Vol. 2”, 1994.

The Band – THE NIGHT THEY DROVE OLD DIXIE DOWN - "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is a song by The Band, recorded in 1969 and released on their self-titled second album.  The song was written by Robbie Robertson with Levon Helm.  The lyrics tell of the last days of the American Civil War and the suffering of the South.  Dixie is a nickname for the Southern Confederate states. Confederate soldier Virgil Caine "served on the Danville train" (the Richmond and Danville Railroad, a main supply line into the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia from Danville, Virginia, and by connection, the rest of the South). Union cavalry regularly tore up Confederate rail lines to prevent the movement of men and materiel to the front where Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was besieged at the Siege of Petersburg. As part of the offensive campaign, Union Army General George Stoneman's forces "tore up the track again".  The song's lyric refers to conditions in the Southern states in the winter of early 1865 ("We were hungry / Just barely alive"); the Confederacy is starving and on the verge of defeat. Reference is made to the date May 10, 1865, by which time the Confederate capital of Richmond had long since fallen (in April); May 10 marked the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and the definitive end of the Confederacy.  Robertson claimed that he had the music to the song in his head but had no idea what it was to be about: "At some point [the concept] blurted out to me. Then I went and I did some research and I wrote the lyrics to the song." Robertson continued:  When I first went down South, I remember that a quite common expression would be, "Well don't worry, the South's gonna rise again." At one point when I heard it I thought it was kind of a funny statement and then I heard it another time and I was really touched by it. I thought, "God, because I keep hearing this, there's pain here, there is a sadness here." In Americana land, it's a kind of a beautiful sadness.  From their compilation CD “To Kingdom Come”, 1989.

The Band – SHAPE I’M IN - "The Shape I'm In" is a song by The Band, first released on their 1970 album Stage Fright. It was written by Robbie Robertson, who did little to disguise the fact that the song's sense of dread and dissolution was about Richard Manuel, the song's principal singer.  It became a regular feature in their concert repertoire, appearing on their live albums Rock of Ages, Before the Flood, and The Last Waltz. Along with "The Weight," it is one of the Band's songs most performed by other artists.  It has been recorded by Bo Diddley, The Good Brothers, The Mekons, The Pointer Sisters, She & Him, and Marty Stuart.  From the soundtrack of “The Last Waltz”, 1978.

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The Band – WHEN I PAINT MY MASTERPIECE - "When I Paint My Masterpiece" is a 1971 song written by Bob Dylan. It was first recorded by The Band, who would release their version on Cahoots. Dylan subsequently recorded the song for Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II, on which it is segued back-to-back with "Tomorrow is a Long Time". Dylan and The Band performed the song together at a New Year's Eve concert later that year, a recording of which was released as a bonus track on the 2001 CD reissue of The Band's live album Rock of Ages.  When I Paint My Masterpiece" was frequently performed by the Grateful Dead throughout their career; the song was sometimes added to setlists alongside several other Dylan songs. Though Dead Guitar/Vocalist Bob Weir sang lead on the song when it was played by the band, Garcia had played the song as early as 1972 with Merl Saunders and John Kahn, both of whom would become members of the Jerry Garcia Band.  From the double CD “Bob Dylan – The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration”, 1993.

The Band w/Neil Young  – HELPLESS - "Helpless" is a song written by Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young, most famously recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on their 1970 album Déjà Vu.  "Helpless" was originally recorded with Young's band Crazy Horse in early 1969, before Young's new CSNY bandmates (he had joined the then-trio in mid-1969) convinced him it would suit them better. The group found difficulty deciding on an arrangement and many different versions of the song were recorded before the group finally decided on the slow-paced version that appeared on the album. On this final version Young was in the foreground, singing the verses and the chorus with his bandmates providing the "helpless" refrain, while the instrumentation came in the form of acoustic guitar, electric guitar (with volume pedal and tremolo), piano, bass and drums. It became one of the most revered songs from the Déjà Vu album (Q magazine's Peter Doggett regards it as "one of (the album's) showpieces"), and has remained a live favorite of Young's for over thirty years. An alternate mix of the CSNY version was released on Neil Young's "Archives Vol. 1." It features Young playing harmonica prominently in the mix.  From the soundtrack of “The Last Waltz”, 1978.

The Band w/Bob Dylan  – BABY LET ME FOLLOW YOU DOWN - "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down" is a traditional folk song popularised in the late 1950s by blues guitarist Eric Von Schmidt. The song is best known from its appearance on Bob Dylan's debut album Bob Dylan.  The song was first recorded as "Don't Tear My Clothes" in January 1935 by the State Street Boys, a group that included Big Bill Broonzy and Jazz Gillum.  The next few years saw several more versions, including "Don't Tear My Clothes" by Washboard Sam in June 1936,  "Baby Don't You Tear My Clothes" by the Harlem Hamfats in May 1937, "Let Your Linen Hang Low" by Rosetta Howard with the Harlem Hamfats in October 1937 and "Mama Let Me Lay It On You" by Blind Boy Fuller in April 1938.  The song was adapted by Eric Von Schmidt, a blues-guitarist and singer-songwriter of the folk revival in the late 1950s. Von Schmidt was a well-known face in the east coast folk scene and was reasonably well-known across the United States. Von Schmidt credits Reverend Gary Davis for writing "three quarters" of his version of the song  (the melody is very similar to Davis's "Please Baby"). Dave Van Ronk's version became a feature in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village in the early 1960s. The song was later picked up by the young, up and coming folk singer Bob Dylan, who made it famous on his Columbia Records debut.  From the soundtrack of “The Last Waltz”, 1978.
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Country Blues Revue – OPHIELIA – Originally recorded by The Band on “Northern Lights – Southern Cross”, the sixth studio album by The Band released in 1975. It was the first album to be recorded at their new California studio, Shangri-La and the first album of all-new material since 1971's Cahoots. All eight songs are credited as compositions of guitarist Robbie Robertson.  This version by Santa Fe Band - Country Blues Revue comes from their CD “A Minor bit Blue”, 2012.

Widespread Panic – CHEST FEVER - "Chest Fever" is a song recorded by The Band on its 1968 debut, Music from Big Pink. It is, according to Peter Viney, a historian of the group, “the Big Pink track that has appeared on most subsequent live albums and compilations,” second only to The Weight.  The music for the piece was written by Robbie Robertson, guitarist and vocalist. Total authorship is typically credited solely to Robertson, although the lyrics, according to Levon Helm, were originally improvised by Levon Helm and Richard Manuel, telling the story of a man who becomes sick when he is spurned by the woman he loves. Robertson has since said the lyrics were nonsensical, used only while the instrumental tracks were recorded. "I'm not sure that I know the words to 'Chest Fever'; I'm not even so sure there are words to 'Chest Fever'." He has also stated the entirety of the song does not make sense.  At the Woodstock Festival in 1969, The Band performed on the final day, between Ten Years After and Blood, Sweat, and Tears. They opened the set with "Chest Fever".  The song featured a dramatic solo organ intro played by Garth Hudson. The introduction is based on Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. In live performances, this solo evolved into an improvisation drawing from numerous musical styles and lasting several minutes. "When Levon Helm has complained about the share out of royalties at this period, this is the song he quotes," states Viney. "His theme is that Garth's contribution was always grossly under-estimated and under-credited. As he says, 'what do you remember about 'Chest Fever' - the lyrics or the organ part?'"  This version was taken from “Endless highway – The Music of The Band”, 2007.

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Marty Stuart w/The Stapes Singers – THE WEIGHT – “The Weight" is a song originally by the Canadian-American group The Band that was released as Capitol Records single 2269 in 1968 and on the group's debut album Music from Big Pink. Credited to Band member Robbie Robertson, the song is about a visitor's experiences in a town called Nazareth. "The Weight" has significantly influenced American popular music, having been listed as #41 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time published in 2004.  Pitchfork Media named it the 13th best song of the Sixties,  and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame named it one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.  PBS, which broadcast performances of the song in "Ramble at the Ryman" (2011), "Austin City Limits" (2012),  and "Quick Hits" (2012), describes it as "a masterpiece of Biblical allusions, enigmatic lines and iconic characters" and notes its enduring popularity as "an essential part of the American songbook."  Taken from the CD Compilation “The Marty Party Hit Pack”, 1995.