The History of The Band[Next: Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks] [History Index]
by Rob BowmanFrom the article "Life Is A Carnival", Goldmine magazine, July 26, 1991, Vol.17, No.15, Issue 287.
© Rob Bowman and Goldmine magazine. Reprinted with permission.
In the summer of 1968 North America had just experienced perhaps it most turbulent year since World War II. What was then known as the counterculture was being exposed to increasingly regular, direct and violent opposition from police forces and government agencies across the continent, culminating in Mayor Daley's troops rampage on peaceful protestors at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. The lines were clearly drawn. Rock and roll had become even more of a protest against parents, government, teachers and police: anything that smacked of authority. Many rock lyrics were increasingly set to a louder and flashier musical backdrop labeled psychedelia. Subtlety was not one of this music's longsuits.
Against this noise, quietly, unobtrusively, Music From Big Pink was released. The artists rather enigmatically referred to themselves simply as "The Band".Some music aficionados knew that this ensemble had a history with Bob Dylan. Fewer still knew of their connection to Ronnie Hawkins. But no one could know of the beauty and wonder that would be Music from Big Pink.
Everything about the album and the Band flew in the face of the current ethos of rock and roll at the time. The name of the group, the way the five members dressed, the full-panel picture of four generations of its kin among the liner notes, the lyrics and the music were as far removed from the conventions of that time as possible. The Band were then, and evermore, a wholly original and delightfully idiosyncratic ensemble that created some of the purest, most honest music known to man, woman or child.
As is often the case with the best stories, it might not have been that way. There is little in their background to suggest that this is how things would turn out. Four of the Band - Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson - were Canadian, while drummer/vocalist Levon Helm originated from Marvell, Arkansas. Danko, Manuel and Hudson hailed respectivly from Simcoe, Stratford and London, small Ontario towns all, while Robertson was raised in Toronto.
All had grown up fascinated with the music and consequently the people and traditions of the American South. Nashville's high-powered WLAC (with 50,000 watts WLAC could be heard clearly 1,000 miles north every evening) and Cleveland's WJW were the conduits. Late at night all of them independently grooved on the sounds and magic of Clarence "Frogman" Henry, Bobby "Blue" Bland and Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, spun by DJs John R., Hoss Allen and Gene Nobles in Nashville and Alan Freed in Cleveland.