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Influences on The Band:

Blues Artists

[Peter Viney]  by Peter Viney

Copyright © Peter Viney 1999.

Every previous article has generated comments and corrections which I'm happy to incorporate in a revision. Please post in the guestbook, or e-mail me directly at

I've been strict (which necessarily means arbitary) in missing out soul singers (Homer Banks, Marvin Gaye), R&B / rock crossover singers ( Little Richard, Chuck Willis) and rock and roll bands like The Johnny Otis Show. Chuck Berry, Ray Charles and Elvis Presley are covered in separate articles. Articles on the influences of soul, rock & roll and country will follow.

By "blues" I mean what I'd be likely to find in the blues section of an average record store. A lot of younger blues singers cheerfully veer into soul, and the line between R&B, soul and blues is fuzzy at best. I'm listing composers as on the record sleeve without entering the controversies of who actually wrote what. With blues records this is a minefield. I've just been listening to a Slim Harpo collection on which he does the classic Eyesight To the Blind at least three times with different lyrics. And he claims to have written it.

Bobby 'Blue' Bland

Greil Marcus made much of the Bobby Bland connection in Mystery Train. Bland doesn't exactly fit the blues singer profile. Further on Up The Road is straight blues, while Share Your Love is on the borders between R&B and soul.

Further On Up The Road (Medwick / Veasey / Robey)
Original: (#5 R&B, 1957). CD Bobby 'Blue' Bland, The "3B" Blues Boy, The Blues Years: 1952-1959 (Ace CDCHD 302) (1991)
Band version: The Last Waltz, with Eric Clapton, on which Robbie proves who's who (Clapton's broken strap being no excuse). Robbie's wins on The Complete Last Waltz, but is better still on the overdubbed Last Waltz.
The Hawks had previously recorded a version of this generic blues on Mojo Man before leaving Ronnie Hawkins in 1963 with Levon on vocals. Now available on The Roulette Years, it's a cracking surprisingly heavy performance for 1961. It's the best of the three versions.

Share Your Love With Me (Braggs / Malone)
Original: 1964 single (US #42, July 1964) then 1968. On CD The Voice: Duke Recordings 1959-1969 (Ace CDCHD 323) (1992)
Band version: Moondog Matinee plus bootlegs from Bob Dylan tour, Chicago, 3 January 1974. Also collectors' tape of Hawkins and The Hawks from February 1964.
Aretha Franklin followed her hit with The Weight with an even more successful version of Share Your Love as her subsequent single in 1968. Both can be found on 30 Greatest Hits (Atlantic double CD, USA) and on the boxed set Queen of Soul (1992).

(Do the) Honky Tonk (Don Robey)
Original version: ?
Levon & The Hawks version: Across The Great Divide (recorded live July 12 1964)
Don Robey was a Houston impresario who managed Bland and Junior Parker. The Guinness Encylopeadia of Popular Music says of another Bland title: 'Despite credits to the contrary, many such works were written by (Bland's) bandleader / arranger Joe Scott.'

Don't Cry No More
Original: single 1961, 1965
Done by Levon & The Hawks on the Dallas 1965 collectors' tape

Turn On Your Love Light
Original: single (US #28, January 1962)
Done by Levon & The Hawks on the Dallas 1965 collectors' tape

Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup

My Baby Left Me (Arthur Crudup)
This numbers appears on Danko-Butterfield collectors' tapes, though the influence has to be Elvis Presley rather than the song's original writer.

The Delmore Brothers

Blues Stay Away From Me (A. Delmore,. R. Delmore, W.Raney, H.Glover)
The Delmore Brothers are hardly blues by any stretch of the imagination, but this was co-written by Henry Glover and sounds like a blues once it got into the hands of The Band.
Original version: King single Recorded May 1949 (King 803), US country #1, US #2 Radio & Retail chart. Original produced by Henry Glover, who later produced The Canadian Squires, Levon & The Hawks & Levon Helm. Available on Freight Train Boogie (Ace CDCHD 455) (1995) Band versions: on Jericho and Levon Helm on Drums and Drumming . Presumably it was part of Levon & The Hawks stage act as they played it on their first Toronto rehearsal with Dylan in September 1965 It also features on collector's tapes of Danko / Helm dating from 1983, and reappears on a Band tape in 1990, so it's an old favourite.

Bo Diddley

Hawkins and The Hawks (like The Rolling Stones) notably covered several Bo Diddley numbers, confusing Bo Diddley / Hey Bo Diddley somewhat in the process.

Bo Diddley (McDaniel)
Original: recorded 1955. Hit onBo Diddley album (UK #11, November 1963),
The original starts 'Bo Diddley buy baby a diamond ring…'
Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks: on The Best of Ronnie Hawkins 1964
Ronnie Hawkins hit US single July 1963 #117, Canada #5

Who Do You Love (McDaniel)
Original: single July 1956, re-released July 1963, LP Roadrunner (1964)
Ronnie Hawkins version: on The Best of Ronnie Hawkins 1964, twinned with Bo Diddley as a single (#5 in Canada). This features the young Robertson at the peak of his "play anyone else into the ground" period.
Also recorded by: The Doors, Bob Seger, The Yardbirds (x 3)
Band version: Features notably on the Last Waltz by The Band with Hawkins.
John Hammond version: on So Many Roads, 1965, with Robbie, Levon and Garth. The Robertson guitar part on the Hawkins version was so well-known, and blindingly good, that it's amazing that Hammond had the nerve to ask Robbie to play on this lame version.

Hey Bo Diddley (McDaniel)
Original: single 1957 (with The Flamingoes and Peggy Jones on backing vocals). The original starts 'Bo Diddley had a farm …' and is his version of Old MacDonald
Ron Hawkins Quartet single 1958

Bossman (McDaniel)
Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks: on The Best of Ronnie Hawkins 1964

The Hawks classic 1963 version of Bo Diddley is an amalgam of Bo Diddley / Hey Bo Diddley with the chorus of Hey! Bo Diddley and the precise words of neither. It begins with the last line of the original 'Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley have you heard …' and changes the narrative viewpoint. The Hawks had appeared on bills with Bo Diddley, who was a master of improvisation.

The Hawks appear on one of the later batch of Basement Tapes performing Bring It To Jerome (McDaniel) (single September 1956) with Bob Dylan - though they altered the words - and therefore bootleggers altered the title - to Bring It On Home. Jerome was Diddley's maraccas player. Robertson, Helm and Hudson backed John Hammond on O Yea!, Who Do You Love? and You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover (The original Diddley single was US #48 in October 1962)

Robertson & Danko also backed John Hammond on I Can Tell (Samuel Smith) on I Can Tell It's arguable that Bo Diddley's I'm A Man (R&B #1 1955) was the inspiration / basis for Muddy Waters Mannish Boy - see below. Another, even more peripheral link is that Van Morrison got the idea for "Turn up your radio" (in Caravan) from You Can't Judge a Book By The Cover.

Willie Dixon

As well as writing much of the other blues artists' stuff, Dixon duets on Country Delight with Robbie Robertson on From The Band to the R & R Hall of Fame. The Band have associations with an extraordinary number of his compositions (listed elsewhere):

The Same Thing
Original by Muddy Waters. Band version: Jericho

Voodoo Music
Written with J.B. Lenoir, The Japan Tour video

Country Delight
Willie Dixon, Robbie Robertson From The Band to the R & R Hall of Fame

Spoonful, Little Red Rooster
Originals by Howlin' Wolf.
Danko solo shows on collectors' tapes
Band live versions in 1990 / 1991 with Sredni Vollmer sitting in.

Don't Tell Me Nothin'
Written by Willie Dixon & Robbie Robertson, The Color of Money

Howlin' For My Baby
Original by Howlin' Wolf. The Hawks, London Ontario tape 1964

Mannish Boy
Original by Muddy Waters. With Muddy Waters, The Last Waltz

Spoonful, My Baby Is Sweeter, Down in the Bottom,
With John Hammond

You Can't Judge A Book
Original by Bo Diddley. With John Hammond

You'll Be Mine, I Want To Be Loved
Richard Bell appears on Colin Linden's versions

John Lee Hooker

I'm In The Mood (Hooker)
Original: 1951
Bob Dylan & The Hawks version: The Genuine Basement Tapes Vol 4
John Hammond version (backed by Robertson & Danko): I Can Tell album 1965

Tupelo (Hooker)
Original: 1959
Marcus points out that The Big Flood aka Mississippi Flood on The Genuine Basement Tapes is this song
Robertson & Danko also backed John Hammond on Five Long Years (Hooker) on I Can tell

Howlin' Wolf

Howlin' Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin was a major influence on Robertson.

Spoonful (Willie Dixon)
Original: 1960
Featured on Danko solo shows
John Hammond with Robertson & Danko: I Can Tell 1965

Little Red Rooster (Willie Dixon)
Original: 1961. Huge hit for The Rolling Stones, 1964.
Originals by Howlin' Wolf.
According to Greil Marcus, The Hawks did this on the rare Transfusion album, but the latest information is that this was done by the post-Levon & The Hawks line-up of Hawkins' Hawks.
Danko solo shows on collectors' tapes from 1992
Band live versions during 1990 / 1991 with Sredni Vollmer sitting in.

Sittin' On Top of The World (C. Burnett = Howlin' Wolf)
Original: Chicago 1957
Appears on early 80s Levon Helm shows.

Howlin' For My Baby (Willie Dixon)
Original: Chicago 1959
Appears on a Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks tape from London, Ontario, February 1964 with Levon Helm vocals (listed as both the 14th and 24th and titled wrongly on copies as I Ain't Got You). Levon announces the group as Levon Helm and The Helmet(te)s.

300 lbs of Joy
Original: Real Folk Blues 1966
Levon Helm & The Crowmatix version: Souvenir (1997)

Robertson, and Danko also backed John Hammond on Smokestack Lightning (C.Burnett) in 1965 on I Can Tell

Robertson, Helm & Hudson backed Hammond on Down In The Bottom (Willie Dixon) in 1965 on So Many Roads

Mississippi John Hurt

Richland Woman Blues (Mississippi John Hurt)
Levon Helm and The Woodstock All Stars used to cover this in 1985

Robert Johnson

Johnson only left a few complete recordings which have been issued many times in various guises.

Milk Cow Boogie (Trad)
This is another song that Levon likes to perform as often as possible.
Band version: Japan Tour video, Band is Back video
Levon Helm solo: Levon Helm & The RCO All-Stars, On Drums and Drumming video
Levon Helm & The Crowmatix version: Souvenir (1997)

Hell Hound on My Trail (Johnson)
The Hawks perform a fragment in The Authorized Video Biography

Sweet Home Chicago (Johnson)
Band versions. This much-covered Johnson classic was performed 21 June 1996 in Dublin after Danko had left the stage. It has featured on solo shows. The Band version owes more to the Junior Parker version which is credited to Roosevelt Sykes. Luther Allison did an interesting cover.

It appears on tapes from Chicago (obviously) in July 1995

Walkin' Blues (Johnson)
This was an amalgamation of two Son House songs, Walkin' Blues lyrics to the tune of My Black Mama and began with that quintessential blues line: 'Well, I woke up this morning ...' (There is a different Lightning Hopkins song with the same title). Rick Danko regularly featured it on 1990s solo shows. It was also a Hot Tuna favourite, and Jorma Kaukonen has played with Danko; and Casady has played it with The Band (Woodstock 94). It was also a single for Paul Butterfield's Better Days, as New Walkin' Blues in 1972 (later available on The Bearsville Box Set) The Band performed it in Kingston, NY in August 1991 with Billy Preston.

Robertson, Helm & Hudson backed John Hammond on Judgement Day (Robert Johnson) and Ramblin' Blues (Robert Johnson) on So Many Roads 1965

Louis Jordan

Jordan is really jump-band stuff rather than straight blues.

Caldonia (Fleecie Moore)
Probably via the Muddy Waters 1975 version (see below)
Band version: Japan Tour; The Reunion Concert videos plus opener on 1994 tour (and on many 1990s collector's tapes). Live in New Orleans laserdisc.
Levon Helm version: Red Hot + Country video
Also by Danko / Helm as a duo on collectors' tapes from 1982 / 83,
Original: Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five, January 1945, now to be found on Let The Good Times Roll (Cool Note, 1995)

Let The Good Times Roll (Thead -Moore)
Is equally associated with Ray Charles. Jordan's version is on Let The Good Times Roll (Cool Note, 1995) Also written by Fleecie Moore.
Original: Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five, June 1946,
Robbie Robertson version: duet with Cassandra Wilson on theJimmy Hollywood soundtrack, 1994
Muddy Waters version: featuring Levon Helm and Garth Hudson on 1975's Muddy Water's Woodstock Album

Both also available on Louis Jordan: Five Guys Named Moe; later live version from Paris on Orbis / Blues Collection collection Caldonia . Jordan's 1940s hit Open The Door Richard inspired the Basement tapes'song title Open The Door Homer

B.B. King

The connection is indirect. B.B. King is a guitar player's choice. Robbie chose Standing On The Edge of Love for the Color of Money OST. This seems to be a special recording done in 1986. It was produced by Ira Newborn. He also selected The Thrill Is Gone for Casino.


Goodnight Irene (Ledbetter)
This has been an encore number for various acoustic combinations of Band members. Van Morrison has also essayed various renditions.

In the Pines (Trad / Ledbetter)
Levon has said this was part of their early act. It's unusually country for a blues. Also known as Black Girl (a UK hit by The Four Pennies in the mid-60s) and recently prominent by Kurt Cobain on Nirvana's Unplugged session, with 'Ma' girl' replacing 'Black girl'. Given the sort of stuff they have performed in small acoustic gigs, it's a shame they never did anything with this song.

C.C. Rider (Trad.)
Leadbelly - like Ray Charles, Chuck Willis and LaVerne Baker - also recorded this standard.
Frequently appears on 80s collectors' tapes of The Band and solo efforts too.

Ain't No More Cane on the Brazos (Trad)
An Internet reference says that the arrangement of this much performed traditional holler in The Band version (The Basement Tapes ) owes most to the Leadbelly version. There are a lot of versions though. Levon Helm says they reached their vocal blend perfectly for the first time on this number, which Bob Dylan had also done in 1961. Dylan's early version appears on the semi-bootleg The Gaslight Tapes . J.B. Lenoir Voodoo Music (Willie Dixon / J.B. Lenoir)
J.B. Lenoir version: on Vietnam Blues (Evidence 1995)
Band version: The Japan Tour video

Taj Mahal

This is a cover version. Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson wrote Bacon Fat and a short basement fragment circulates. Taj Mahal covered it on Giant Step in 1968. Jesse Ed Davis was Taj's guitarist, and used to watch The Hawks. I'm intrigued by the connection and the unique Robertson-Hudson credits. The Hawks live version appears on the 1965 Dallas tape, from two different shows.

Taj Mahal covered Homer Banks' A Lot of Love long before The Band did it on Islands, and did it better too. The best version of all of this song was by The Spencer Davis Group who changed all the lyrics, and all the writing credits.

John Mayall / Eric Clapton

Steppin' Out (Memphis Slim)
Original: John Mayall's Bluesbreakers; Eric Clapton - The Early Years. The original was by Memphis Slim, but this is the version that counts.
Band version: Live throughout the 80s on collectors' tapes of The Band, Levon Helm.
Levon Helm / Jim Weider: on The Authorized Video Biography.
Covered by many, including Michelle Shocked on The Texas Campfire Tapes

Jimmy McCracklin

Jimmy McCracklin is most famous for The Walk. Three numbers feature in Helm / Band live shows. I'm told that Levon is a great fan of McCracklin.

I Finally Got You (Jimmy McCracklin)
Original: 1971 on the Al Jackson / Willie Mitchell produced Stax album Yesterday Is Gone (Stax 1047), re-released with bonus tracks in 1992 as High On The Blues (Is this where they got the inspiration for the title High on The Hog? ). 1992 Fantasy, USA. Then in the UK as (Ace CDSXE 072).
Levon Helm & The Crowmatix version: Souvenir (1997)
Levon Helm / The Band: 80s / 90s live number. e.g. The Band, Santa Rosa, 14 November 1990

Think (Jimmy McCracklin)
Original: single (Imperial 12297) 1965. (US #95, US R&B #7, 1965)Album Think, 1965 (Imperial LP9297)
Updated version from 1971 on the Al Jackson / Willie Mitchell produced Stax album Yesterday Is Gone (Stax 1047).
Levon Helm & The Cate Bros - live shows 1986, Levon Helm All-Stars - live shows - 1988. This is listed as Just In Case We Both Were Wrong on collectors' tapes

Every Night and Every Day (Jimmy McCracklin)
Original: single (Imperial 66094)1966 on My Answer Also on The Walk: Jimmy McCracklin At His Best (Razor Tie RE 2124-2) (1997) (US #91, 1965, US R&B #19, 1965
Levon Helm / The Band: frequent 80s / 90s live number, e.g. Levon Helm & The Woodstock All-Stars 1984-1986; The Band, Lone Star Café, New York, 27 November 1986

I haven't heard it, but a live 1986 Band track is listed by collectors as Look Like A Monkey which might be McCracklin's Stay Away From That Monkey, also from High on The Blues). There are rumours of Levon Helm performing I Got Somebody (which was a bonus track on reissues of High on The Blues), The Band backed McCracklin at the King Biscuit Blues Festival and may have heard it early.

Memphis Slim

Steppin' Out (Memphis Slim)
Best known in John Mayall / Eric Clapton version above.
Band version: Live throughout the 80s on collectors' tapes of The Band, Levon Helm.
Levon Helm / Jim Weider: on The Authorized Video Biography.
Covered by many, including Michelle Shocked on The Texas Campfire Tapes

Junior Parker

Like Bobby Bland (whose musicians backed him on record), Little Junior Parker (1927 - 1971) recorded for the Duke label between 1954 and 1966, which was owned by Don Robey. He was also Bland's regular support act. The Band shared an enthusiasm for Bland and Parker.

Mystery Train (S.Phillips / H. Parker Jnr)
Originally by Junior Parker.
Band version: Moondog Matinee. Also on collectors' tapes from 1980s and Tokyo in 1994. Robertson added a verse.
Danko solo version: Bring It On Home Vol. 1. A regular number on solo gigs, in which the Robertson addition is usually deleted. However, The Neville Brothers version on Brother's Keeper utilises the Robertson addition.
Elvis version: single August 1955 and onThe Sun Sessions, The Complete 50s Masters

Sweet Home Chicago (Roosevelt Sykes)
Alternatively credited To Robert Johnson (see above). The Band version owes more to this reading. It has appeared in Dublin in 1996, Chicago in 1965 and on solo shows.

Jimmy Reed

Big Boss Man (Luther Dixon & Al Smith)
Ronnie Hawkins had covered this.
Levon Helm & The RCO All Stars featured it in 1977 (e.g. Philadelphia collectors' tape)
John Hammond version with Robertson, Helm & Hudson: So Many Roads 1965

Honest I Do (Reed)
Original: single, 1957
Famous also for The Rolling Stones version on their first album
Covered by Danko, Hudson & Manuel in concert, 6 January 1985, where Jaco Pastorius (ex-Weather Report) joined them on stage for a long version.

Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee (?)

Fighting A Losing Battle (?)
I was told that The Battle Is Over was a Brownie McGhee song. It doesn't sound like it. I've never found a copy, but a song which I've never heard on Blues From Everywhere (1959) is called Fighting A Losing Battle.
Levon Helm / The Band: frequent 80s / 90s live number. It also appears on the Los Lobos demos from 1991 and may have been planned for the aborted Sony album by The Band, usually listed on collectors' tapes as The Battle Is Over (The War Goes On) but occasionally as 8 o'clock Whistle

Tommy Tucker

Hi Heel Sneakers (Higginbotham)
Original: single (US #11, UK #23, February 1964)
This was done live by Levon and The Hawks circa 1964 to 65 and by everyone else at the same time. Tucker was a two-hit wonder (the other being Long Tall Shorty) who received airplay after George Harrison gave this great record rave reviews. The original has a slower, bluesey B-side, I Don't Want Cha which made it an essential two-sided purchase in 1964.

Muddy Waters

Caldonia (Louis Jordan)
The old Louis Jordan song Caldonia was a Levon & The Hawks standby. Levon Helm later produced a Muddy Waters version of it on The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album, Muddy also played Caldonia with The Band at The Last Waltz , though it was not released until The Complete Last Waltz bootleg appeared.
A version by The Band / Cate Bros. line up is on the video The Band Japan Tour.
Band version: New Orleans video / laser disc, 1994
Levon Helm version: Red Hot + Country video
It was also the standard opener on The Band's American 1994 tour, and is thus on many collectors' tapes. Levon seems to have sung it nearly every time he got on stage in the 80s and 90s.

19 Years Old aka She's 19 (McKinley Morganfield)
Original: B-side of single Close To You (1958), then onMuddy Waters (September 1964), new version on Mississippi Muddy Waters live in January 1979
Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks: Mojo Man , vocals by Levon. It was mistitled then by Hawkins as What a Party. Now available on The Roulette Years in a stunning performance.

Mannish Boy (Willie Dixon)
Original: single 1955 which was #5 R &B, but later in many different versions including the 'Levi 501' version with Johnny Winter from Hard Again
This is essentially a rewrite of Bo Diddley's I'm A Man (R&B #1) - both were in the R&B chart at the same time in 1955
The Band backed Muddy Waters performing this on The Last Waltz. Helm's autobiography suggests that Robertson was luke-warm about Waters' appearance, possibly wanting someone more commercial. Whatever, Scorsese and Robertson turned this into one of the outstanding performances at the concert, and Robbie looks as if he was enjoying Muddy Waters as much as anyone.

The Same Thing (Willie Dixon)
Original: The best version is on The Real Folk Blues September 1966, it then appears again on Electric Mud (January 1969), and on Fathers and Sons (with Bloomfield & Kooper) October 1969 (US #70)
Appears on The Band's Jericho album in 1993.

Stuff You Gotta Watch (McKinley Morganfield)
Original: 1951 recording
Also appears on Jericho, andRobocop-The Series Soundtrack . Notes to The King of The Chicago Blues say this is a revival of 'the old Buddy Johnson / Wynonie Harris stormer'(so wrongly credited?)

Muddy Waters 4 CD set The King of The Chicago Blues (Charly 1995) contains all of them - Mannish Boy (1955 version), The Same Thing (1968 version), Stuff You Gotta Watch (1951 version), She's 19 Years Old (1958 version) as well as two tracks from The Woodstock Album , Going Down to Main Street and Born with Nothing.

Then there's the rest of the Levon Helm produced Woodstock Album, which also includes Why Are People Like That?, Caldonia, Funny Sounds, Love Deep As The Ocean, Let The Good Times Roll, Kansas City and as a CD bonus track in 1995 Fox Squirrel. Levon claims that it's his all-time favourite album.

Robertson, Helm and Hudson backed John Hammond on Long Distance Call - the original is also on The King of The Chicago Blues and I Want You To Love Me.

Since his death, Muddy Waters compilations abound, recycling the same tracks again and again.

Robbie Robertson produced the Casino soundtrack in 1996 and included Waters' version of Hoochie Coochie Man. One reviewer said there were a 'number of Waters tracks' on the soundtrack, but there was one only!

Sonny Boy Williamson

The story of The Hawks session with Sonny Boy Williamson II in Helena is told in The Last Waltz, and repeated in both LaserDisc biographies.

Don't Start Me Talkin' (Williamson)
Original version: recorded 1955 with Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Jimmie Rogers. It became better known on the Down and Out Blues album in 1962
Levon Helm /Jim Weider version: acoustic on The Authorized Video Biography

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