Remembering Rick -- Today and Always

by Carol Caffin

This tribute was written for a Rick Danko Memorial concert in Simcoe, Ontario. It was included in the concert program and read aloud in segments throughout the show on Friday, August 3, 2007.

Carol Caffin was Rick Danko's publicist in the '90s. She has written Rick's bio at this web site, and is currently working on BandBites, a series of The Band-related interviews. Copyright © 2007 by Carol Caffin. All Rights Reserved.

[Rick Danko, 1987]
When I sat down to write this, the hardest part was coming up with an opening line. So I decided to use a line that I've already used: The day I met Rick Danko was the last day of normalcy in my life.

To those of you who never got to meet Rick, that may sound facetious. But I'm sure those of you who were fortunate enough to have known him -- however briefly or casually -- know exactly what I mean. Rick was a whirlwind of talent, energy and charisma, and when I think of Rick, I think of motion -- perpetual motion. He was never still -- physically, emotionally, or musically. He was always on the move. Even in the rare instances when something or someone was able to hold his attention, uninterrupted, for a length of time, the situation inevitably would end with Rick either graciously and discretely easing his way out, or outright bolting -- off to the next town, the next song, the next gig, the next situation.

Rick was kinetic, frenetic, lovable, and funny. The funniest guy I've ever met in my life. And he was real. He was authentic. Whether he was playing for half a million at Woodstock or for 50 people at a tiny club, he poured his heart and soul into his music -- because music was his heart and soul. Some in the media have tried to paint a tragic portrait of Rick -- tragic figures, after all, sell more magazines and newspapers than do regular, happy-go-lucky guys. But Rick loved life -- and he loved people. He adored his family, his friends, and his fans -- and he had a soft spot for Simcoe deep in his heart. It was where he was from, and he never forgot that. It was a part of him -- an important part -- all of his life.

I've always said that if you didn't like Rick, you never met Rick. Because he was impossible not to like. His warmth and his charm were palpable. Women, young and old, wanted to mother him; men wanted to hang out with him, or just shake his hand. Everyone wanted to protect him -- he just brought that out of people. And whether you knew Rick for minutes, hours, or years, once he was in your life, it was for forever. That sheepish grin; that knowing wink; that quirky, jerky body language; that hoarse whiskey-and-tobacco whisper; and of course, that indelible Danko Chuckle -- it all melded together to have a profound and lasting impact.

The first thing I noticed when I met Rick was The Scar -- the crescent-shaped scar under his right eye. I'd loved that scar from afar from the time I was 14. That's how old I was when I first saw him perform with The Band on Saturday Night Live, just weeks before The Last Waltz and, like thousands of other teenage girls who'd watched the same broadcast, I was instantly smitten with the baby-faced bass player with the medieval haircut and the golden, melancholy, almost other-worldly voice. It would be several years before I'd finally meet Rick and, by that time, the ragamuffin Romeo who stole so many hearts in The Last Waltz looked more like a bohemian Bojangles than a Shakesperean prince. He was still handsome, charismatic, and jovial, just a tad rougher around the edges and a bit more road-weary.

This was a guy who'd suffered more than his share of slings and arrows. I just knew. I knew by that scar -- cut deeper into his skin than it had appeared on screen, and obviously symbolic of not just the physical wound that caused it, but of a deeper hurt that his sheepish smile belied. Only the plaintive tenor gave a hint.

Musically, no one came close. And, in my opinion, no one ever will. There was passion in his music, and love. And then there was the technical proficiency and the intuitive feel that few musicians can even aspire to. He did not rely on studio effects, stage props, or other bells and whistles. Whether he was playing with The Band, with DFA, with any number of musical friends, or on his own, Rick didn't "manufacture" music -- he created it.

Rick's brother, Terry, likened him to a "happy-go-lucky sheepdog." I love that image so much -- especially since I often thought of Rick as a big, cuddly Siberian Husky, bounding around freely and happily onstage, yet commanding respect and love just by his mere presence.

In his darkest times, it was music that carried him through. And now that he is gone, it is his music that carries us through. If Rick were here tonight, he might ask shyly, "Hey guys, got a minute? I'd like to sing ya' a song?"

Rick is here tonight -- he is here in the music and he is here in your love. And I know he is up there smiling and chuckling -- probably smoking a Merit -- and sending you all a friendly wink and a nod.

Copyright © 2007 Carol Caffin. All Rights Reserved.

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