by Jake NymanFrom Jake Nyman's 1979 A to Z based Finnish rock encyclopedia Rocktieto (published by Soundi-kirjat). Jake is a higly appreciated Finnish radio journalist and author of some rock books. The article has been translated from Finnish by Pasi Tuominen of the University of Jyvaskyla.
When the Canadian group The Band retired in 1976, also one of the most remarkable rock bands of all time was broken.
The Band's changing stages began in the turn of the 50's and the 60's, when it backed up a legendary rock singer Ronnie Hawkins, and during that time the group was known as Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks.
The real breakthrough came in 1968, when the group backed up Bob Dylan on his English tour. It is believed that Dylan invented the name 'The Band' but there are also some other stories. After Dylan's motorcycle accident, The Band started to prepare their first album in a Woodstock house, which was known as 'The Big Pink' (in the same house Dylan recorded The Basement Tapes with The Band and the tapes came out as an album no earlier than 1975).
The Band's first LP, 1968-published Music from Big Pink, was a sensation among the contemporary musicians. For example, it is told that Eric Clapton went berserk to that extent that he did not play anything for a lengthy period of time, as he 'did not know what can be played after this'.
Big Pink and its successor The Band are today real classics of pop music, and the critics mainly argue about which one is better. Anyway, songs like "The Weight", "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "Chest Fever" are some of the greatest moments of American rock music. Due to these records, Robbie Robertson became one of the most significant new songwriters. His songs written for The Band are miniature masterpieces, the ideas of which often derive from US history and the country's rich folklore tradition.
The Band's next album Stage Fright did not quite reach the standards of its predecessors, albeit it is by no means a bad album. Cahoots, for its part, was a minor disappointment, despite of some fine individual songs. The members of The Band realised the situation as well, and therefore, nothing new was done with the consequence that the next The Band album containing new material did not come out earlier than four years later. In the meantime, live album Rock of Ages was published as well as old rock songs compilation Moondog Matinee. Furthermore, Before the Flood - the material of which was recorded on Dylan tour and in which The Band had a few solo numbers - came out.
Only in the autumn of 1975 a new The Band album saw the light, but Northern Lights - Southern Cross was received quite unhappily. However, the album contained some really fine Robertson songs, like traditional jazz-based "Ophelia" and chillingly beautiful "It Makes No Difference".
In 1976 The Band finished their stage gigs, as in their opinion 16 years on the road is enough for anyone. Their last gig took place in San Fransisco Winterland on 6 December the same year. This concert - The Last Waltz as the members of The Band called it - was a magnificent rock celebration in which big names like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Paul Butterfield and Emmylou Harris performed in addition to The Band. Naturally, also Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan attended.
Although The Band had quit doing concerts, according to their record company contract, they had to make one more record. The guys did stick to the deal, but for understandable reasons the album Islands was made with a loose attitude.
The aim of The Band members is to publish solo albums, and at least the albums made by Danko and Helm have been very successful.