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Reissue of Band Catalog a Labor of Love

by Ray Waddell

Article copied from the Boston Globe Online. The story ran on page E07 of the Boston Globe on 6/6/2000. Copyright © 2000 Globe Newspaper Company. Please do not copy or redistribute this article.

NASHVILLE - Capitol/EMI Records hopes to do justice to one of rock's most influential and enigmatic bands with the reissue of the entire catalog of the Band, providing each CD with elaborate packaging and previously unreleased bonus tracks.

Original Band members Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Rick Danko first came together in the early 1960s as the Hawks, the backing band for rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins. The Band later rose to prominence as a backing band for Bob Dylan and released its first album on its own, ''Music From Big Pink,'' in 1968. Its last album with all the original members was ''Islands'' in 1977. Manuel and Danko are now deceased.

The first four reissues (''Music From Big Pink,'' ''The Band,'' ''Stage Fright,'' and ''Cahoots'') will come in mid-August. The second four (''Moondog Matinee,'' ''Rock of Ages,'' ''Northern Lights - Southern Cross,'' and ''Islands'') are expected in early 2001. Counting the two CDS on which Capitol will reissue the live-performance ''Rock of Ages,'' there will be a total of nine Band CDs released.

''This is not something we took very lightly,'' says Jimmy Edwards, project manager for Capitol on the Band reissues. ''There has been a lot of research done, and this project is very close to the people involved.''

Indeed, assembling the reissues appears to have been a labor of love. ''For a long time we wanted to redo the Band catalog, considering there have been a couple of titles deleted and others not sounding so great,'' says Cheryl Pawelski, director of artists and repertoire for Capitol/EMI Music special markets and catalog. ''We felt with the Band being such a seminal band of the 1960s-early '70s, some attention should be paid to it.''

Pawelski began working on the project three years ago, along with Andrew Sandoval, a coproducer responsible for overseeing mastering and tape research. ''We spent a lot of time tracking the absolute original masters, and we found all of them except `The Band,' where we used the production masters, which still sounded better than anything on CD before,'' she says. ''It was a difficult process. We went to [the studio in] Bearsville, N.Y., looking for additional bonus tracks and to get the masters.''

All surviving members of the Band were contacted regarding the project, says Pawelski. ''They have all given us their blessing,'' she says. ''Garth Hudson helped in looking for additional material, Robbie Robertson listened to the bonus tracks and gave us his comments, and Levon Helm will be most active in doing publicity.''

For his part, Helm appears to be less than overwhelmed by the project. ''That's company stuff,'' Helm says. ''I guess they figured out some way to re-box it up. I just hope [they] give me some royalties on it.''

Helm is, however, pleased with the legacy left behind by him and his former bandmates. ''We had a pretty good run of music there for a while, till reality reared its ugly head and it went away, as most things do,'' he says, adding that the Band wasn't concerned with making classics at the time.

''We always wanted to get what I thought were good cuts, good performances, and good hooks in the songs,'' Helm says. ''My aim was to find [a song] that could be played on the radio, but we never really got one. We did have a few that were interesting when you heard 'em on the jukebox or wherever. It was a lot of fun for a while.''

As for his favorites, Helm says he is most fond of Band songs with Danko or Manuel on vocals, even though he took his turn at the mike on many occasions, usually to great effect. Helm says his favorite Band song is probably ''King Harvest (Has Surely Come).''

As to why the songs have stood up so well, Helm says, ''I'd like to think we took the time to put them together right and get them recorded pretty good. We didn't use a lot of tricks. It sounds like what it was, with good clean miking. You just try to get good sounds on all the instruments as opposed to a lot of fancy electronic sounds. The things we found that worked we used more often, and the stuff that didn't work we quit doing.

''I'm proud of my part in it,'' Helm adds. ''Some of it I probably could've done better if I had another chance, but I was pretty lucky, and I'm happy with it.''

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