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The History of The Band

[Prev: 1975's Miracle and the Last Waltz] [History Index]


by Jeff Tamarkin

From the article "Life Is A Carnival", Goldmine magazine, July 26, 1991, Vol.17, No.15, Issue 287.
© Jeff Tamarkin and Goldmine magazine. Reprinted with permission.
Some additions have been done, as this article was written in 1991. Information added to the original text are enclosed in brackets.

The quintet known as the Band never did get back together in that same, familiar aggregation. To this day, however, there is a band called the Band, with a new album due on a new label, Sony Music (formerly CBS), this fall. [This article was written in 1991. The album mentioned here didn't show up until the fall of 1993, when Jericho was released on Pyramid records.] None of the five original members exactly disappeared from sight following the Last Waltz in 1976, but neither have they made many headlines - with the exception of one tragic event, the 1986 apparent suicide of keyboardist [and silverthroated singer] Richard Manuel.

The first members of the Band to release solo albums were Rick Danko who released a self-titled effort on Arista in 1977, his only solo disc to date [the posthumous solo album Times Like These was released in 2000,] and Levon Helm, who teamed up with such notables as Paul Butterfield, Dr. John, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn and Booker T. Jones as Levon Helm and the RCO All-Stars. Their one album, also released at the end of 1977, on ABC, stalled at #142, while Danko's landed at #119. Helm would go on to cut three further solo albums, for ABC (Levon Helm, 1978), MCA (American Son, 1980) and Capitol (Levon Helm, 1982), none of which made the charts. [In 1997 the CD Souvenir with Levon Helm & the Crowmatix was released on the small label Woodstock Records. An Australian Levon Helm compilation album came in 1999. Levon has been playing with his blues band the Barn Burners and his daughter Amy since 1999.]

As early as 1978 there were signs that some of the musicians would continue to work together. Four of the five - all except Robbie Robertson - played at what began as a Rick Danko gig at L.A.'s Roxy club in March 1978. Although that was the only occasion until 1983 that the whole quartet played together as a whole, there were subsequent dates which featured the members in pairs or trios (Danko with Helm, Danko with Manuel and Hudson), and by July 1983 all except Robertson were performing together as the Band, an act some critics consider blasphemous, but which nonetheless filled small halls and clubs with enthusiastic fans.

To date, Robbie Robertson has never reunited with any of his ex-Band mates (although Rick Danko and Garth Hudson appear on Robertson's solo albums). No less than a quartet, the Cate Brothers Band, was used to replace Robertson by augmenting the four Band members on many of their live gigs. Guitarist Jim Weider later joined the four originals as Robertson's replacement on guitar, after the departure of the Cates. [the last line-up of The Band in the '90s also included pianist Richard Bell (ex. Janis Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie Band) and drummer/vocalist Randy Ciarlante.]

There were outside solo projects as well. Helm took to acting, appearing in a co-starring role in the 1980 film bio of country singer Loretta Lynn, Coal Miner's Daughter. Helm also appeared in The Right Stuff in 1983 [and several other films.]

Garth Hudson remained more or less out of the public eye, surfacing in 1993 to produce and occasionally perform with a California new wave band called the Call. He later served with vocalist Marianne Faihtful's touring band and can be heard on her 1990 live album Blazing Away on Island Records. He played a series of shows with Cajun musician Jo-El-Sonnier between 1983 and '85 (joined by David Lindley, Albert Lee, Sid Page and Ian Wallace) and in 1991 formed something called the Garth Hudson Band [Other appearances includes the "solo album" Our Lady Queen of the Angels. Hudson's version of the tune "Free the Birds" from the Disney film-music album Stay Awake and his contributions to both of the CDs released by Rick Danko with Jonas Fjeld and Eric Andersen. Hudson's first proper solo album, titled Sea to the North, was released on the Breeze Hill Records label in 2001.]

The post-breakup story of Richard Manuel is the most tragic. After touring with others in the reunited group for three years, Manuel was found dead in a Florida motel room on March 4, 1986. Reportedly suffering from depression, Manuel hanged himself following a gig. His fellow musicians reported that he had shown no signs that evening of anything bothering him.

Rick Dank, in addition to playing with the reformed Band, has been teaming up with '60s folk singer Eric Andersen and Norwegian roots artist Jonas Fjeld, for both shows and recording. The album Danko/Fjeld/Andersen was cut by the trio in Norway, and released in the U.S. in the fall of 1991. [It received very good reviews in Rolling Stone and elsewhere.] At a showcase in June '91 at New York's Bottom Line, Danko and Andersen was joined by songwriter Jules Shear for a couple of numbers whose vocal harmonies sounded eerily close to that of the Band in their heyday. [A second album by the trio of Danko, Fjeld and Andersen, titled Ridin' On The Blinds, was released in Norway in 1994 and in the US in 1997, and a re-release of Danko/Fjeld/Andersen, titled One More Shot and including a bonus disc with live D/F/A material, came in 2001. Live albums from Danko were released in 1997 (In Concert) and in 1999 (Live on Breeze Hill.) Rick Danko died on December 10th, 1999, at the age of 56. He had been working on a studio album, that was released in August 2000 under the title Times Like These.]

Robbie Robertson, from whom most Band fans would have expected great things in the years following the Band's split, has kept disappointingly quiet. He spent most of the following decade out of the limelight, abandoning pop music and preferring to concentrate on film work. [With a few exceptions, one of them beeing his touching song "Between Trains" from the sound track to The King of Comedy.] He co-wrote, produced and starred in the 1980 film Carny, scored Martin Scorsese's King of Comedy and contributed music to 1986's The Color Of Money. [Robertson continued working in the movie industry in the '90s and into the new millenium, composing film music, scoring films, and manning a position as "creative consultant" in film and music with the Dreamworks company.]

It wasn't until 1987 that Robertson recorded his first solo album, a self-titled effort on Geffen Records, featuring guests such as U2, Peter Gabriel, the BoDeans and horn arrangements by Gil Evans. The album reached #38 and received critical praise. Robertson's second album, Storyville, recorded in New Orleans, was released in 1991. It was kind of a "concept album based on a short story", and had, like its 1987 predecessor, an impressing list of guests, including Hudson and Danko. It was no commercial success, though. [Robertson's latest release is '95s Music For The Native Americans, a compilation of music Robertson made for a TV-series about the American Indians. Robbie here plays with the Red Road ensemble, a traditional-music group of native Americans. A follow-up with the title Contact from the Underworld of Red Boy was released in March 1998.]

[The other three original members of the Band, Danko, Helm and Hudson, continued touring in the '90s (Woodstock, the Bob Dylan jubilee, European Tour '94) and the '93 album Jericho received good critics. They started working on a follow-up in the summer of '95, which was released under the title High on the Hog in February 1996. The Band's wonderful, accoustic and laid-back album Jubilation was released in September 1998.]

Robbie Robertson had no involvement in any of the work done by the reformed Band. It would appear that the "Last Waltz" truly was what it said was for the original five-piece institution known as the Band.

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