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The Forgotten Legend

by Trevor Haché

From The Simcoe Reformer, November 2001. Trevor Haché is a Reformer staff writer. Copyright © 2001 Annex Publishing & Printing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Rick Danko
Rick Danko, 1994
Not many people know about Rick Danko. Walk into the average historian's workroom and pictures of the Green's Corners native aren't exactly hanging on the walls.

But ask any serious classic rock fan about him and they'll tell you he's a legend.

Danko and fellow members of The Band are said to have influenced the music of Eric Clapton and The Beatles. Danko was on the cover of Time magazine and is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

A lot of people might think county planners would embrace that kind of fame -- much like Stanley Cup winner Rob Blake has been recognized -- and use it to attract tourists to the area.

But that's simply not the case.

You can't even find the movie The Last Waltz, an acclaimed concert movie featuring Danko and The Band playing in San Francisco, at local video stores.

They don't carry it.

Nor do the local libraries.

That movie was directed by Martin Scorsese, arguably one of America's most talented film directors.

It was filmed on American Thanksgiving night in 1976 at the last concert in which The Band ever played together. It features performances by rock legends Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and Ringo Starr.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of that movie's filming, The Lynnwood Arts Centre has arranged a special screening of it at The Strand theatre (Premier Cinemas) on Nov. 22 at 7 p.m.

Rod Demerling says he doesn't have any ulterior motives for showing the film.

"If it sparks someone to do something bigger in the future that's great," said Demerling, executive director of the Lynnwood Arts Centre. "If it's just a couple of hours of entertainment we're satisfied with that too."

Duane Rutter of Port Rowan, a musician who is very knowledgeable of Danko's career, echoes a lot of people's sentiments when he says the film screening is long overdue.

"It's about time something was done in the area," he said. "Hopefully it will stir up some interest in Rick, in the great musician that he was."

Jim Atkinson, 53, an old friend of Danko's and the oldest member of the band, The Atkinson Brothers, said it's excellent that the film is being shown in Simcoe.

"He should be recognized," Atkinson said. "He was part of a major musical movement."

Atkinson said, if the interest is there, he might consider trying to organize a memorial concert for Danko in the summer.

"If the (Lynnwood) Arts Centre is agreeable to do something I'd certainly be interested in working with them."

Atkinson said he's considering talking to Ronnie Hawkins and Terry Danko, Rick's brother, to see if they'd be interested in taking part too.

"We could have local bands playing nothing but The Band music," Atkinson said as he entertained the idea. "I'd like to get into something like that.

"Rick was a major influence on me. If there was anything I could do to retain his influence I'd be interested."

After playing local music halls as a teenager, Danko got his big break in 1960 when Ronnie Hawkins noticed him at the Summer Garden in Port Dover. The Arkansas rocker took him on as a member of his backup band. Danko was only 17 at the time.

Danko and the rest of that backup band -- Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel -- left Hawkins in 1965 and moved on to play backup for Bob Dylan, before going out on their own a short time later.

In 1999, Danko died of natural causes at his home in Marbletown, New York.

Carol Caffin, Danko's publicist for 10 years, has fond memories of the musician.

"He was a shooting star," said the owner of CRW Music in Pleasantville, N.Y. "There will never be another one like him."

She remembers his love of music.

"Rick was happy just being on a stage. He didn't want to be the star. He played music because that's what he loved to do."

Danko was not one to forget his roots, Caffin said.

"His eyes would light up when he talked about Simcoe. It was a major part of who he was. He would always say, 'I'm just a country boy.'"

A defining moment in The Last Waltz is a backstage performance by Danko, Manuel, and Robertson of the standard Old Time Religion.

As Danko's and Robertson's voices intertwine, the guitar keeps the rhythm, and Danko's fiddle makes a glorious sound.

The Band certainly investigated American roots music like Old Time Religion, but in this context the song takes on a broader meaning -- the religion is music. Atkinson said music students at area schools would be wise to come out and watch the movie to get a better appreciation of rock 'n' roll's roots.

"The people that are up there on that stage, they're the movers and shakers. They lived it."

For more information on the film or to order tickets call (519) 428-0540.


Reporter Trevor Haché can be contacted by e-mail at or by calling (519) 426-5710 ext. 151.

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