For Rick, with love
Steve Forbert Talks about Wild as the Wind
(and the verse that didn't make it into the song)
by Carol CaffinBandBites, Volume I, No. 3, March 15, 2007.
Copyright © 2007 by Carol Caffin. All Rights Reserved.
When I first read the lyrics to Steve Forbert's Wild As the Wind, the singer/songwriter's 2004 tribute to Rick Danko, I was shocked. Not to mention hurt and angry. How could anyone write something so scathing about someone so beautiful and so genuine and call it a tribute? I hated Steve Forbert for it and thought he had some balls exploiting Rick like that. One day, I would tell him so.
I kinda knew where Forbert was coming from with his lyrics. Rick, particularly the carefree, youthful Rick of rock & roll folklore, in some ways, was as wild as the wind. He'd garnered a bit of a reputation for his freewheelin' lifestyle back in the day -- but that reputation was, in keeping with Forbert's fondness for similes, as old as the hills. The Rick Danko I knew was, at times, as crazy as a loon. But he also was as gentle as the rain, as sharp as a tack, as clever as a fox, and as sweet as honey. I guess perspective is everything.
Many months after I'd first read the lyrics (I'd refused to listen to the song), I revisited Wild As the Wind. By then, the grief wasn't quite as raw. I listened to it intently, with an open mind and an open heart, to the poignant chorus -- "Hey Mister, got a minute?" -- to the stark and somehow lonesome vocals, to the rough-hewn harmonica strains that seemed to mirror Rick's wounded tenor. And, for the first time, I heard it as the tribute it was meant to be.
CC: Steve, how did you come to know The Band? Both The Band's music and The Band members?
SF: Well, I came to know the Band's music about the way the rest of the world did, [with] the release of Music From Big Pink and, I imagine, through the rock press, as that record didn't get a lot of airplay. So I would have read about it and it was all very alluring; there was a lot to say about The Band before they even released a record. I bought a copy of Big Pink and liked it a lot. And then the second one [The Band] seemed to come so quickly after that. The second one was a little different but certainly just as good, some would say better. So, just like everybody else, I thought it was great stuff and I spent a lot of time with that music. It was such an interesting thing -- the country elements they had in the music. They even covered Long Black Veil. Obviously they were a rock & roll band but with all kinds of influences, and it just made a lot of sense to me.
CC: How old were you when you first heard them? What place were you at in your life at the time?
SF: I was just a kid. I was a rock fan and I probably wasn't but about 15.
CC: So you were just listening to all kinds of music then?
SF: Yeah. Just soaking it all up. Anything from Johnny Winter to Charles Mingus. Anything.
CC: Did you have a relationship with all the guys or just with Rick? How did you come to know The Band members?
SF: I started going up to Woodstock a lot because I was working with some musicians up there, Shane Fontaine and later Frank Campbell and Gary Burke, so I'd go up to Woodstock on weekends and all, and I suppose if Rick wasn't working, I'd very likely run into him and maybe Richard and Levon. And I got to know them a little bit and visited some with Levon, and I think that's where I got to know Rick. And we wound up doing some shows together. They played the Lone Star a lot in those days, as you know, in the early 80s.
I would be booked on the same bill with Rick and maybe Roger McGuinn. I would go see the shows at the Lone Star and go backstage with a lot of other people and visit, you know. Everybody was always interested in them, even in all the various configurations, however it broke down. Sometimes it was just Rick and Levon.
CC: Musically, as a bass player and as an acoustic guitarist, anything that stands out to you about Rick?
SF: Well, he was certainly a good guitarist. He could go anywhere and do a show with just him and a guitar. It surprised a lot of people when he first started doing that, 'cause they knew him as a bass player. But Rick's best known as a singer and his bass playing's up there with the best of them. I think Paul McCartney would have a lot of respect for Rick's bass playing -- I'm sure of it. But also fitting in with The Band, not going off on a tangent. He was excellent.
CC: How did you hear that Rick had died?
SF: Somebody had heard it on the news and called me. That's the kind of thing I would know about immediately. More than one person called me.
CC: When was the last time you saw him?
SF: I'm not sure. I think it was a concert in Nashville in the 90s with The Band.
CC: It seems that everybody who's met them has a story, either a funny story or a poignant story. Do you have any memories you'd like to share with The Band's fans about any of the guys?
SF: The thing about Rick is that I thought he was a terrific person who was always very nice and this song [Wild As the Wind] just started coming into my mind about Rick because I thought he was so special and appreciated him always being so nice to me -- and he was consistently that way, you know? So it just kind of went through my mind that he was oddly down to earth and just as wild as the wind -- maybe you didn't know him but he probably was your friend. You know Rick could really be like that. I never saw him be on some kind of weird ego trip or anything with people. And people loved him for that. And after I wrote the song, people kept coming up to me, and come up to me until this day, saying the same thing: 'Oh the Rick Danko song, I like it a lot. It's the same Rick that I encountered.' And they'll have stories of staying up 'til four in the morning with Rick and then the next morning, he's off and gone -- while they're still recuperating for two days.
Rick seemed to have the constitution of an ox. I was really surprised when it finally happened that he'd worn himself out because it seemed sometimes that he could go on for so long. But then again, as I said in the song, when you think about Rick, there's a certain kind of free heart that's never bought and sold. There's a certain kind of wild child that never should get old. Who'd picture Rick getting old? These things all went through my mind.
There's another verse. Like I say, people keep telling me the same story of how much they liked him and how much they loved hanging out with him. Rick was a beloved American musician.
CC: He never made anybody feel small.
SF: No, just the opposite. He made you feel good. And people really appreciated his friendliness.
CC: Yes, and it was genuine. One of the lines I loved in your song, though it made me sad, was 'Who'd picture Rick getting old?' He was still a boy. So that line really struck a chord with me.
SF: There was one other verse. I heard a story from a promoter in Davis, California, and I put it in one of the verses I didn't use in the song:
The crowd was lined up waiting just outside the bar
The club [The Palms] owner Dave said Rick arrived kinda late in a rental car, pulled up beside all the people and just started changing clothes. The promoter said 'Rick, you know we have a dressing room.' And Rick was like 'yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.' [laughs]
CC: And he just got changed outside?
SF: Yeah! Who knows what he had on his mind but everybody just sorta said 'Uh... um... O-kay!' I mean they're in line to go see Rick singing, and there he was... So that verse just didn't wind up in the song because I had the information I wanted.
CC: That's totally Rick. His philosophy, as you know, was 'less is more.'
SF: I'll never forget that story and I... I believe it.
CC: Oh, I believe it too. I can definitely see it. Well, this is a little difficult. I believe in being truthful and I think Rick would want to be portrayed the way he was, warts and all. But I know some people were hurt by some parts of Wild As the Wind and I was, too. What do you say to friends and fans of Rick's who feel hurt or who feel that maybe certain lines shouldn't have been in the song?
SF: They didn't know Rick Danko then. Or they just want to have some particular memory that's censored or something. I just couldn't do my portrait of Rick in the song without it. I've seen him do that. I've seen him do it more than once. That's kinda like discussing 20th Century Spain and not mentioning the Spanish Civil War, you know?
CC: How did the song come about? What prompted it? You wrote it soon after he died, right?
SF: The song just sort of germinated with me in the couple of months after he died. I realized I've got a song about Rick here. It wasn't hard to write it because it was just my thoughts about him and how much we'd all miss him. It just came into those verses and it became a picture of him, so I just said "I'm gonna try and do a tribute song to him" But I couldn't not mention the drug use. I think it would be a little bit suspicious not to mention it. So I can say that I don't have any apologies about it. I wouldn't have written a song to create anything less than, you know... we loved him and we miss him and we're gonna miss him. He was one of a kind.