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The History of The Band

[Prev: Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks] [Next: Playing with Bob Dylan] [History Index]

The Pre-Band Groups

by Rob Bowman

From 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.

The five members of what was to be the Band plus sax player Jerry Penfound and singer Bruce Bruno (who himself recorded two singles for Roulette) collectively left Hawkins early in 1964. Danko remembers being fired by Hawkins after refusing to pay a $50 fine he incurred for bringing his girlfriend to the club. The Hawks had already been dissatisfied with the money Hawkins was paying them, especially considering that he often didn't show up for the first three or four night of the week. That, combined with the altercation between he and Danko, was enough. The next night, according to Danko, "We collectively gave him two weeks notice".

They started out as the Levon Helm Sextet, making more money in the first two weeks than they made individually in two months with Hawkins. Levon and the Hawks (the name change was quick in coming) proceeded to traipse its way through familiar stomping grounds for the next year and a half, playing the Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas circuit of fraternity houses, college gigs and blood-letting bars in the spring and fall while working southern Ontario for the rest of the year.

Two singles were recorded in this period, "Leave Me Alone" and "Uh-Uh-Uh", produced by former Hawks producer Henry Glover for the New York-based Ware label in 1964 (also released in Canada in 1965 on the Apex label), and "The Stones I Throw" and "He Don't Love You (And He'll Break Your Heart)" for Atco, in the summer of 1965. Danko thought that Phil Ramone might have been involved in the last one. Glover would later work with the Band one more time, providing the horn charts for their performance of "Tura-Tura-Lural (That's An Irish Lullaby)" with Van Morrison at the Last Waltz.

The former was released under the name the Canadian Squires while the latter was credited to Levon and the Hawks. (By the time of the recordings, Bruno and Penfound had already departed.) All four sides were written by Robbie Robertson, who had been writing from the outset, composing two songs, "Hey Boba Lou" and "Someone Like You", recorded for the Mr. Dynamo LP by Hawkins when Robertson was just 15 and had yet to join the Hawks.

Upon leaving Hawkins, the Hawks' repertoire had progressively become more and more black-influenced. This was also reflected in Robertson's writing. All but "The Stones I Throw" are hard-edged R&B numbers, surprising in their vitality, guts and gumption. They still sound great to this day. "The Stones I Throw", on the other hand, is interesting because it doesn't really fit. It seems the first indication of what the Band might become on Music From Big Pink.

"This was a song that I wrote for the Staple Singers in my mind", recalled Robertson. "One of my favourite vocalists is Pop [Staples]. He sounds like a train when he sings. He has a quality in his voice, this whispering, haunting thing that always killed me. I didn't like us doing it. I didn't like the way it came off. I had to think of something to write (for the recording session) and because I was listening to the Staple Singers all the time this is what came to mind. It was out of context for us to do this song. But if you imagine the Staple Singers doing it, it's right in context."

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