The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth
An Interview with John Simon
by Lee GabitesCopyright © 1999, 2000 Lee Gabites. All rights reserved.
I spoke with John a number of times and he is a gracious and patient interviewee who in my opinion should have his say and write his memoirs. I have to be honest and say that John has probably never been asked some of the questions I put forward, which may be why the answers seem a little shakey. But in John's defense he has written to me on occasion when he's recalled something from an early session. This information is included as a postscript with some other notes. I have also had the opportunity of speaking to certain individuals since interviewing John and this information is also included. Also, we have to take into account that people can be very guarded when talking about particular relationships that are still ongoing. With this in mind please read on...
What kind of a guy is Robbie Robertson really, what kind of a guy is Levon Helm. Is it that kind of question?Er, no.
Good.What I'd like to do is document the tracks they've recorded and collate them in some way. Some sessions I've heard rumours of which I'm trying to substantiate. Lets start at the beginning. You were the musical director for You Are What You Eat.
Yeah. Sort of. A composer really. Do you know the story about...? Well, it goes back to Albert Grossman, and then it goes back to Peter Yarrow and Peter Yarrow's mother. Do you know that story? You want me to reiterate that story for you?Yes.
Peter Yarrow's mother was an artist and Woodstock was an artists colony. So when Grossman came from Chicago to New York he wanted a place to live that wasn't in the city, and Peter said, 'How about Woodstock!' He went to Woodstock and that's how he got into Woodstock. Then I met Peter Yarrow in the first-class lounge of United Airlines or something like that, in San Francisco, during the Monterey Pop Festival. I'd been recommended by two different people to do the music for this documentary he was doing about the '60s called You Are What You Eat. I'd done this Marshall McLuhan record for CBS called The Medium Is The Message and that's what I played for him. It was sort of a Dada-esque kind of record, which he liked and went along with his ideas. On my first visit to Woodstock he stuck me and Howard Alk in this house with two movieolas, which was the old editing machine, and reels and reels of film to make a movie. Out of that came "My Name Is Jack" which was a hit for Manfred Mann, I think. He would sit there and try to make segways from piece to piece and I would try to make songs based on pieces of the movie. I found this footage shot at a crashpad called the Greta Garbo Home For Wayward Boys & Girls in San Francisco and I said, What can I do with this? Then I started seeing this little kid in the shots who was three or four and running around. All these people were so weird to a regular straight audience - this is acid freakout time - but to this kid, they were the only people he knew. So I wrote that song from his perspective, then Howard cut the film around the song. And one night (Halloween), it was Howard Alk's birthday and there was this Godawful sound coming from outside, and there were the guys from The Band - not Levon because he wasn't there on the scene yet - in funny costumes playing instruments that they really couldn't play, serenading Howard for his birthday. Howard had been on the road with the last Bob Dylan tour and they were buddies. So that was how I first met them. And Howard said the only thing that he knew of theirs was a tape called "Even If Its A Pig Part Two" which hasn't really surfaced. It had Garth singing vocals. It was really a send up, you know. He knew that of theirs and The Medium Is The Message of mine, which was not musical, it was just a comedy kind of montage. So he thought we would be good for each other and we were good for each other.You have answered one of my next questions by saying that Levon wasn't around. Nobody seems to know when Levon arrived in Woodstock. This was the Basement Tapes period.
Yeah. He arrived after the Basement Tapes and just right before we went into NYC to cut the first tracks for Music from Big Pink. He was on an oil rig with Kirby Pennick.Rick has mentioned that he travelled up to Woodstock in February of '67 with Richard to do some filming with Tiny Tim. And there's 4 tracks that The Hawks are supposed to have backed Tiny Tim for You Are What You Eat, only two of them are on the album. Do you know when and where those tracks were recorded?
I don't really know. New York City I would imagine. Do you have any idea who the drummer was?No I don't. I have the original album but there are no credits.
I think the drummer was Gary Chester. That's my guess. You could run that name by Rick or Robbie. I think Gary Chester was the drummer. (1)After you had met the guys and Robbie asked you to come back up to Woodstock, what can you remember about that first rehearsal you attended at Big Pink?
Well, I was used to hearing songs pretty quickly, but Robbie made me hang around for a long time just to absorb the Woodstock vibe, which was a lot slower than the NYC vibe. So I was up there for days before I even heard anything. Then I went to the Big Pink basement which was a tiny little room, maybe 12 x 12 ft. And Garth had a little primitive reel-to-reel machine set up there, and they played me some things they had done on the machine and they played me some things live. Richard was playing drums sometimes and sometimes there was no drums. I said I liked it and I worked with them a little bit. I helped them rearrange things like "Tears Of Rage" and "Chest Fever." And then Albert got some seed money from Capitol to go and do a session in the city. Then Levon showed up.There's a credit on the Boxed Set of September 5, 1967 for some Grossman demos cut at Columbia Studio E. was you involved with that session?
Jeez, you know. I think I'm on trial here! (Laughs) I have no idea. I know that the first session that I recorded with The Band were at the old Columbia Records Studio which was bought by A&R Recording. The R in A&R Recording was Phil Ramone. He was an engineer at the time. Let me see...it was at 799 & Seventh Avenue, on the top floor, buildings since been torn down. It was a big studio in which the Lovin' Spoonful cut a lot of their songs and Simon & Garfunkle. I mean, I knew the studio very well because it was a Columbia Records house studio before they sold it. When CBS bought Columbia Records they got rid of all the good studios in their corporate wisdom. And that's where we recorded the first sessions, which were: "The Weight," "We Can Talk," "Chest Fever," "Tears Of Rage" and "Lonesome Suzie."I recall reading an interview with Dan Loggins, who put The Band Boxed Set together, and he mentions things that didn't go on the boxed set like "Lonesome Suzie" with horns. (2)
Yeah. Mmm...I had that and he asked me where it was and I couldn't find it. And I don't have it now. I maybe just had a cassette of it.That's always how I'd imagined it. People would have tapes of these things if they can't be found on reel.
Actually, when he asked me about that I told him to ask Robbie because Robbie had told me years later that he had listened to it again. But I guess Robbie has lost it.There was a lot of experimentation before cutting the tracks. Some songs were cut with different lead vocals to the eventual release.
Yes, the songs were tried out with different peoples voices in some cases.And they were actually recorded as well?
Yeah, but nothing was saved.Have you seen The Byrds re-releases?
No.Well, they've been released with alternate takes and outtakes. At one time Columbia Records claimed they didn't exist and now years later it all comes out of the works.
Well, I don't think we saved anything. Capitol would not have erased the tape - I heard Rick say that - they don't. If anyone erased the tapes, we had. A company would not erase the tapes.Rick has said that the preproduction for Music From Big Pink they barely touched on from what was released. The way he's stated that I don't really understand if he meant the songs with Dylan as The Basement Tapes, which were all released in 1975. And then there's the Hawks/Band songs on that album like "Katies Been Gone," "Yazoo Street Scandal."
That was before Levon showed up, I think. That was produced by Mickey Stephenson who was a Motown producer. And they weren't preproduction for Big Pink, that was just a first time to get something happening that didn't work. (3)There's a track I have called "If I Lose" by the Stanley Brothers. (4)
Sure. (Sings) "If I lose a hundred dollars..."Do you think that track might be from that particular session?
The session with Mickey Stephenson? I don't know! Does it sound pretty primitive or does it sound like a studio recording?It's definitely a studio recording.
I don't know. That was a song that kept coming up that Rick and Levon liked to sing because of the Stanley Brothers harmony. So I don't know when that could have been recorded. We might have tossed it off in California later on.Did The Band have a lot of warm-up tracks that they'd use in the studio?
No. You'll hear that from Rick a lot. Rick will tell you that there are secret tracks hidden here and there, but I don't believe it. I know for a fact that some of the ones he talks about don't really exist.What about the Goldstar Studio Recordings? Apparently there were 4 tracks recorded. "Key To The Highway" was one and nobody knows what the other three were.
That's all it was, "Key To The Highway," that we did.Oh really.
Yeah.So you're correct then, because Rick had it figured that there was another three tracks there.
Yeah, it deems reality. That's to my memory, Lee. And we also tried out Capitol Studios in NYC at one point. We did "Key To The Highway" there too. So you never know which one it comes from.I've never heard that. That track has never surfaced. I think a lot of this debate about what does and doesn't exist is down to the Boxed Set, because it was originally going to be 4CDs and there were quotes at the time from Robbie and everyone mentioning different tracks for inclusion. Robbie was quoted as saying Capitol Records threw out some cuts, which I find very difficult to believe.
I do too.I mean, there's tracks like "Bacon Fat" which is credited to Garth and Robbie. Levon told me they definitely recorded that. (5)
"Bacon Fat" went along with "Orange Juice Blues."It was part of the same session for that, was it?
I'm not sure, Lee. But both the songs were around the same time. I can't relate which sessions.It's just rare that Garth got a credit on it and all it is is a simple blues track.
Yeah. (Sings) "Baby, why do you bacon fat".Music From Big Pink was really a critical success, successful as a musicians album.
Huge critical success. Every musician and every pop musician in the world wanted to meet The Band and come to Woodstock and check it out, and talk to us. It was groundbreaking. I mean, it changed people careers. People like Elton John. If you listen to Elton John's first album -and then came Music From Big Pink- and Elton's second album is such a total influence by them, by The Band.And that actually led to some poeple coming up to Woodstock, George Harrison and Eric Clapton.
Sure, the pilgrimage. They wanted to meet the guys and see how this music was put together.That brings to mind the Classic Albums documentary which has recently been broadcast in the UK, which you were involved in. How did it feel going over the tracks with Levon?
Yeah, that was fun. But oh, man, I wished they'd cut in some other stuff of Garth improvising. Garth set up his complete rig and sat down and played, and was singing. It was great. But they cut that out of the version I saw. They talked about releasing a longer version for public sale.Yes. It's been released in the UK.
Have you seen it? Is it a longer version?Yeah, it includes footage of Garth improvising and Rick performing "When You Awake." There's a few things that weren't in the original broadcast. I'll send you a copy.
You spent some time in Hawai with Robertson, working on your own tracks before going into the sessions at Sammy Davis Jnr's poolhouse in LA.
Yeah, that's correct. That was for the second album not Music From Big Pink. Big Pink was done half in New York and half in Los Angeles. The New York stuff was done on 4-track and the LA stuff on 8-track. In LA we did "Caledonia Mission," "In A Station," "I Shall Be Released." They were the California sounding tunes.Were all the tracks prepared for The Band album? Did Robertson have them down or did he work on them at Sammy Davis' place?
No. They weren't, they weren't. It's usually the case with most first-time artists that they have enough material for the first album and the second album they don't have it all together. So, that's when Robbie and I went to Hawai, right before going to Sammy Davis Jr's house to do the second album. And Robbie had a few songs written. He had "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," for sure, and I think "Look Out Cleveland" and "Get Up Jake." But I know he didn't have "King Harvest" written, and I know he didn't have "Whispering Pines" written. Those were the last songs.Fantastic songs.
Yeah.Did they feel as they were recording that album that it was going to be so succesful? I mean, they knew that we've really hit the jackpot here?
No. Not at all.Did you not get that feeling?
No. We were just making music. We were so young, Lee, we didn't really care about hitting any jackpots. We were just happy to be making music, you know.I suppose I picked up on that because in the Classic Albums video Levon mentioned that he could see "Rag Mama Rag" as a top ten hit. (6)
Oh yeah, yeah. Well, Levon's older than the rest of us.Was you involved with The Band's European tour in '71?
I was there for the Isle of Wight.No, that was '69 with Dylan. Didn't you go on tour with The Band in October '71?
I never went on tour with The Band, I don't know where that information came from. I've seen that pop up a few times.Yeah, it's in Levon's book as Oct. '71 and you played tuba and...
Never. Never, ever, ever, ever play with The Band. (laughs) I wanted to but I never did.That would have fitted-in with the story of you wanting to join The Band, but Robbie said there were enough keyboard players already.
That's exactly right, yeah.Well thats blown that one out the window.
Yeah, you might set that straight if you like.When you were next involved with The Band would have been the Rock of Ages album?
Well, I was around for Stage Fright. I would just check-in every once in awhile and see how they were doing because I was very interested.Oh, wait a minute. You get special thanks and you're quoted as saying ' I knew I wasn't going to be on the next one.' Again, whether this is correct or not. I presume you play piano on that album somewhere?
No. I didn't have anything to do with Stage Fright except that I lived a mile from where it was recorded, so I dropped in once in awhile and listened to the progress of things. I didn't play on anything.It's amazing that both of those books are so incorrect.
Well, one person makes a mistake and everybody else thinks that its gospel and copies it, you know. Levon's book was a great read but you have to remember that the book was written by Levon Helm and Stephen Davis. Stephen Davis interviewed everyone and then put it in a pot and mixed it up a little. Just a little.I can tell you exactly what instruments I played for The Band and on which cuts, at the very least. On the first album I played on "Caledonia Mission." I played the piano on "Caledonia Mission." On the second album I played the electric piano on "King Harvest." On both those albums I played all the baritone horn parts. And that sound that's on "Tears Of Rage" is Garth on soprano sax and me on baritone horn. That became sort of the nucleus of The Band horn sound that we worked with. I also played tuba on "Rag Mama Rag," the first time I ever played tuba. And thats about it. Maybe an occasional tambourine, but I doubt it. Maybe that tambourine on "Tears of Rage" might have been me, but it wasn't consequential.What was the reason for you going over to the Isle of Wight?
Free trip. I just got a free ride. I don't know exactly where we were in the course of things, but we working on something together and the Isle of Wight Festival came up and, 'Do you wanna come? Sure.' That's all.Were you at Forlands Farm when all the rehearsals went down and the Beatles turned up to jam with The Band and Dylan?
It didn't happen. I don't think so. We just flew right from New York to the Isle of Wight. Where's Forlands Farm?In the Isle of Wight.
Oh, it is in the Isle of Wight. Okay. Well then, yeah. Yeah, I was around for that. But it wasn't any distinct special event, you have to rehearse someplace if you can't rehearse on stage, you know.Sure, but I guess its fair to say that the Beatles didn't turn up to just jam with anyone.
Yeah, yeah. A lot of jamming. But what consequent is it? They're playing the blues and someone picks up a guitar and starts playing along. It wasn't any big deal. (Laughs) George says, 'Golly, I'm playing with Levon Helm.' And Robbie says, 'Golly, I'm playing with George Harrison.' Big deal.The Band went into London for a few days after that, but I presume there wasn't any recording going on there?
I don't recall. Things I remember happening around that time were the London Howlin' Wolf sessions. I don't know what the date was but I participated on them. I don't know if this was the same trip. Then Rock Of Ages which was Allen Toussaint horns at the Academy of Music in NYC. (7)Phil Ramone made some quote about the music on the record actually coming from the soundcheck or something.
Probably had to be patched-up. I'm not so clear on that one because we had to patch-up The Last Waltz to some extent.I presume The Band recorded all three nights?
I imagine so. There were nice arrangements by Allen Touissaint. He used things like a small e-flat clarinet, which was really unusual, played by J.D.Parron. A good concert. I think it was mostly recorded on stage with some fixes in the studio. The Last Waltz was mostly studio.It was all overdubbed?
Except for Levon.There's a period just before The Last Waltz where you had asked Robertson for some royalties that weren't coming to you. (8
Yeah, I was just curious. I was told that there weren't any. Then Robbie asked me to do The Last Waltz and all of a sudden they just materialized. Those are the facts, but you can put it together any way you want.What are your feelings about The Last Waltz because Levon is against the whole show?
Levon is angry about The Last Waltz because that was a time when he and Robbie and the friction really began. And that's when the break up really began. He wasn't happy and he can find faults with it.For me, its a real shame that Richard's performance of "Georgia On My Mind" didn't make it. And numerous tracks with Richard singing. I know this is one of Levon's criticisms of the film.
Isn't "Georgia" on the CD or anything? I think it is because I played piano on it and I remember being critical of my piano playing.You were down as musical director.
I was the ringmaster of the circus. I just sort of kept everything together.What about rehearsals. Were there a lot of rehearsals or just a day or two?
There was a week of rehearsals with The Band, and the individual people would show up and work out their songs. And then there was one day of dress rehearsal which was really fun - where everybody showed up - even some people who hadn't rehearsed prior to that. And this was a period of time... Well, I don't want to get into drugs. I'll just say that... (laughs) I won't even say anything, Lee.Okay, I think most people would like to know what your most enjoyable part of the concert was.
My most enjoyable part was the day of rehearsal before we actually did the show.Rick and Levon always say it was The End! (laughs)
It was my most enjoyable part because it was just free and the musicians were all having a good time playing for themselves, they didn't have to put on the extra veneer of showbusiness for the audience, it was just for themselves.Were the rehearsals with The Band done at Shangri La?
Yeah.Here's a question I forgot to ask you with regard to appearing on the albums. We never spoke about Islands which was the last album they did.
I had nothing to do with that album.Really, you're credited on that album.
Am I (laughs).You played on one track.
Oh, I must have, I must have.Must have been recorded during all the activity at Shangri La for the rehearsals.
Yeah, they were finishing up that album at the time that I went out there to start on The Last Waltz.What's your take on the way the songwriting credits came down?
Oh, I have a finely honed opinion on that.Robbie Robertson says that he tried to get Richard involved and he was also fair when it came to giving credit to whoever was in the room at the time of writing.
Robbie was fair, yes indeed. Robbie was fair based on an old system. I don't know if you have the new math in England. Mathematics. It's like two different systems, the old math and the new one. The old system of contributing songwriting credits was very distinct - there were people who wrote songs and people who performed songs. And they were different people. You know, Frank Sinatra on very few occasions wrote a song, he was the singer. Sammy Cahn and Johnny Mercer were the writers and not the performers. So, that kind of thing. Like the Gershwins and the Rogers & Hart. All of those people were just songwriters. And that's the system under which Robbie determined that he would be songwriter of those songs. And its true, Robbie was the one who wrote the lyrics and wrote the music. Wrote the lyrics on legal paper, or whatever he wrote it on, and figured out the chords to the song and dictated the melody and chords to the other players. Okay. But in the new system you'll see that when a song is written its a much more co-operative thing in a band. You'll see five or six writers on a song that'll say, on a band song on an album, it'll list everybody who's in the band on the song, you know. And you know that, or you may suspect that the bass player and the drummer or somebody - the keyboard player, one of them just had nothing to do with the song. But they're on it because its a sort of democracy and they just happend to be around. Or the band decided ahead of time that that's the way its going to be. Sort of like the Lennon and McCartney deal when they never really divided... Well, 27% of this song is yours and 73% of it is mine. They all just say Lennon & McCartney and you can only figure out by the style of the song who wrote it. So, Robbie was working in the old system. And he's absolutley right in working with the old system. Levon is pissed about that and wishes that Robbie had been working in the new system. But if they hadn't agreed on that ahead of time, you know.There's an argument against though.
Yeah, but on the other hand a good deal of the inspiration on the songs that Robbie wrote came from Levon's personal experience.A lot of them were his stories.
Yes. Exactly. So if Robbie had been... It was Robbie's option.One of the best albums to come out of the 70s was the Bobby Charles album, which you were involved with. It's one of my all-time favourite albums and the instrumentation is remarkable, from John Till and Mac Rebbenack.
Yeah, Mac just played on one song or two.If I were to name a song could you remember the instrumentation for it?
I can remember pretty much of it."Street People"
The bass player was Jim Colegrove. A lot of those guys were in Ian & Sylvia's band, Jim Colegrove and Norman Smart. N. D. Smart.Yeah, a lot of those guys are also on the Borderline record with Jim Rooney.
We all lived in Woodstock at the time and we would jam at each others houses and have fun. So, I know that he played on that. And the drummer on all these things was usually Billy Mundi, who was from The Mothers Of Invention actually, and lived in Woodstock at the time. And sometimes Norman Smart.Did you play piano on some of the tracks?
On almost all of them. Yeah."Long Face"
That's Dr John on the organ."I Must Be In A Good Place Now"
That's something I'm really proud of. That's me on piano and Amos Garret on guitar. The thing I love about that is there weren't any overdubs on it, and me and Amos were playing fills. And in the second bridge (or the second middle eight, as you call it England) of the song, we both play a little fill. We both end up playing exactly the same lick at exactly the same tempo in total unison. It's amazing that it happend. It's an amazing coincidence. If you listen to it you can hear this one little lick, he says, 'It sounds like a good day to go fishing...' Da da da daa do do dewee dewee do. We do this dewee dewee do and then we both play exactly the same thing out of millions of combinations of notes that could have been chosen. So it just showed that there was something good happening."Save Me Jesus"
I can't remember much about that one. Is that the one with horns? I could put the record on but its really not worth it."He's Got All The Whisky"
That's got horns. Those horns are me, playing trombone, which I barely play; David Sanborn playing baritone saxophone which is in e-flat, like the alto saxophone that he's been playing for years and Garth playing tenor saxophone. There were three of us with three tracks, one track a piece. Then we did it three times, so actually there were nine tracks of us, three of each of us. Rick and Bobby were in the control room and said, 'Do it again, do it again.' They saved it all then they said to me, 'Okay, put it together.' So I went back and listened to it all and pulled out the best parts from each of the tracks and made some kind of a chart, of which to be used at one time, and then made a composit track of all three of us. Then we needed a trumpet at the end, to sort of lift it. So we went to New York City and put Joe Newman, who was one of Count Basie's trumpet players, on the top of it all for the last chorus. Just to lift it a little bit."Small Town Talk"
There's an alternate version of that I'd love to get which is with Rick and me playing a trombone part that I wrote. I thought it was going to be on the album. At the very end of it they decided that they didn't want to do it with the trombone, but I sort of like the trombone thing. I think that's Levon playing the drums on "Small Town Talk.""Let Yourself Go"
It's a waltz. I play piano. That's also the same as "I Must Be In A Good Place Now." The same session. Me and Amos Garret and I think Billy Mundi."Grow Too Old"
David Sanborn playing alto saxophone and me singing harmony to Bobby on 'Do a lot of things I know is wrong...'"I'm That Way"
That's me playing piano on that. It might be Rick on bass, I'm not sure, Lee."Tennessee Blues." We know Garth plays accordion on that.
He sure does. Amos Garret plays guitar.So, could we safely say that Amos plays most of the guitar?
You can hear his sound. And when it wasn't it was likely John Till.Okay, I'm going to jump right ahead now to when The Band reformed in 1983. The first session they did, I believe, was in 1985 and you went into the studio with them.
Right before Richard died.Yeah, and "Country Boy" comes from that session.
That's correct.What was recorded?
Okay, I'll reconstruct. We did "Rhumba Boy" by Jesse Winchester; we did "The Battle Is Over (The War Goes On)"; I think we did "She Knows," the one that's on the new Band album, High On The Hog.That was recorded at the Lone Star Cafe in New York City.
It was! Okay.I thought it might have been "You Don't Know Me."
That's what it was, "You Don't Know Me." Yeah. Right. That's what it was. Then Richard died, that really put the skids on that. That really floored them.And nobody saw that coming, did they?
I don't know. I guess that doesn't just come out of the blue.Was there no sessions after '85 and up to the Sony sessions in 1990 that you can recall?
That's correct, I believe.And you weren't involved with the Sony sessions?
I was not.So now we're jumping to the Jericho sessions in 1993. What was it like working with them then when you had some steady ground to work on?
Yeah, we did. But there were lots of tears with that process too. Because the record company, it was not the same as Capitol which was very stable, and all the processes had been done so many times and you'd know what to expect and they knew what to expect. And it was a normal situation. It was a small record company owned by an individual with a lot of money, so it was very different and very hard, and very difficult. It's amazing that we got what we did.What do you think of that album looking back on it now?
I have some mixes of some of the songs that I prefer to the ones that were released.Didn't you originally mix all of that album?
Yeah. Chris Andersen and I went down to Chattanooga, which is where the record company were and they had there own studio. We did what I would call penultimate mixes. Just short of the final mix. Because we had no references to what things sounded like. So we left some things for The Band to finish some details. And our intention was to bring it back to Woodstock and give it a listen. Let everybody else hear a little bit and then go back and do it right. Finish it up. Because they were all lodged in a computer anyway, it would have been easy to do. So that was our plan, but what happend was... The guys in The Band - don't ask me why - decided to fire me in a sense and finish it themselves. They added some elements to some of the songs and they cut a new song and just changed things around. I think it was a mistake.
Footnotes(1) Gary Chester was a famous session drummer who played for far too many people to mention through the 50s, 60s and onwards. He passed away a few years ago.
(2) Dan Loggins interview taken from Schwann Spectrum Spring 1994.
(3) William "Mickey" Stephenson was an A&R man at Motown Records. When Motown had thoughts of recording white rock groups Stephenson was the guy who looked for potential talent. He was involved in The Mynah Birds sessions with Neil Young and Rick James. After speaking with numerous Motown experts there are no recordings by The Hawks in their vaults. Nobody seems to remember a session with Stephenson and he was a very elusive character to try and track down. So, it looks like The Hawks didn't audition for Motown, but the demo mentioned in Levon's book (which he never heard) was recorded between Basement Tapes and Big Pink sessions may prove to be the Stephenson session. Inc. in a letter from, John: "If I Lose & Yazoo Street Scandal were recorded later (during Big Pink sessions) but never seriously considered for release, I don't think. I also don't think any of these are the Mickey Stephenson productions. I could be wrong. I don't know what they cut with him nor where. "Little Birds" I remember recording with Levon at some point. "I Don't Want To Be A Single Girl Again" doesn't ring a bell, yet. "Key To The Highway" was recorded between albums #1 & #2."
(4) If I Lose was written by Charlie Poole and recorded by the Stanley Brothers in 1960. See Riding That Midnight Train - The Starday-King Years 1958-61 (WESTSIDE WESA 820)
(5) "Bacon Fat" was recorded in October 1964 in Hallmark Studios, Toronto by Duff Roman. Duff was a D.J. who started Roman Records and recorded some of the early sessions for David Clayton Thomas. He is now a very important director of radio and television at CHUM. He does not want to speak of this session as he feels Levon and The Hawks shafted him, he thought he was recording an album, the Hawks needed some studio time. Other studio tracks recorded include "Biscuits & Taters," "Robbies Blues" and more. I also spoke to Garth Hudson about "Bacon Fat" and he told me that he stole the riff from an obscure R&B artist in the '50s. The artist was Andre Williams (Mr. Rhythm) & his New Group. "Bacon Fat"/ "Just Because Of A Kiss" (EPIC 9196). It's also possible the song was recorded during sessions for Big Pink.
(6) "Rag Mama Rag" was a top ten hit for The Band in the UK and US. I guess Levon was right.
(7) The London Howlin' Wolf sessions were recorded in 1971 and included Clapton, Jagger, Wyman, Watts, Winwood.
(8) Being interviewed by Vince Welneck for WXRK FM Radio in NYC (1994) - John had this to say on the subject: For years I wasn't getting any royalties for my work with The Band. And I would ask Albert (Grossman), he said ask Robbie's lawyer. I'd ask Robbie's lawyer and he'd ask Robbie's accountants and they said, There is no money due me! Then when Robbie called me to do The Last Waltz, all of a sudden there turned out to be a whole bunch of money that was due me. And when I did that he said, But, listen, there's no more money that's going to be due from those old albums, and sign this paper saying that you don't want to... that you won't accept any more money and you don't want any more money from the first couple of albums, from now on. Don't want any royalties. And like a fool I signed it and I shouldn't have signed it, but I shouldn't have been asked to sign it. I mean, thats just something I'd like to talk about. You haven't communicated in a number of years? I've bumped into Robbie a couple of times and been cordial and said hi. But I would still like that conversation to occur and it doesn't occur. I feel funny about saying this over the air to your listeners, but there it is.