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The Band - Music from Big Pink


by Matthew Greenwald

The following article appeared in "Record Collectors" (Japan) in the March 1998 issue. Copyright © 1998 Matthew Greenwald.

Music from Big Pink - The Band - (41:35) - 1968 - Capitol SKAO-2955
Gatefold sleeve LP
Original Master Recording released on vinyl in 1980 (Mobile Fidelity MFSL-1-039)
Compact Disc: Capitol 46069-2 (1986)

So, one would think that throughout the music business in late 1968, most of the hip musicians and record company moguls were listing to albums by The Doors, Love, The Beatles, etc. Well, chances are they were, but also during that time there was another album that definitely received the stamp of approval from the hip movers and shakers throughout the industry, that being Music From Big Pink the first offering from The Band.

Byrds Co-founder Roger McGuinn commented on how The Band were already something of a known entity throughout the LA hip elite. " I knew that they were Dylan's band," comments McGuinn, "and he'd been kind of holed-up with them in Woodstock. We thought they were cool, because anybody who'd been associated with Dylan was cool. So, when they came out, they were immediately granted privileged status, they weren't like a band who were trying to break in, they sort of already had it made."

Roger also comments on his first impressions of The Band: "I remember thinking that the way that they set-up on-stage was unique, where they had Levon (Helm - drums) over on the side. We thought that was pretty cool, in fact everything about them was cool. We liked the music, it was kind of fun Rock & Roll." Fun indeed, and honest as well. Al Kooper, a venerable musician's musician if there ever was one, reviewed Music from Big Pink for Rolling Stone magazine in issue #15. He commented then: "This album was made along the lines of the motto "Honesty is the best policy." The best part of pop music today is honesty. The "She's Leaving Home," the "Without Her's," the "Dear Landlord's" etc. When you hear a dishonest record you feel you've been insulted or turned off in comparison. It's like the difference between "Dock of the Bay" and "This Guy's In Love With You." Both are excellent compositions and both were number one. But you believe Otis Redding while you sort of question Herb Alpert. You can believe every line in this album (Big Pink) and if you choose to, it can only elevate your listening pleasure immeasurably."

Big Pink also had a major influence on up and coming musicians as well. Bill Payne, Little Feat keyboardist, was playing in Los Angeles area garage bands at the time, reflects on his feelings when he first heard the record, and it's influence on him: " (there was) The looseness of it, the cross-colladoralization of the keyboards between Garth Hudson and Richard Manual. Nobody plays organ like Garth on the planet, or has those kinds of sounds, so it was very, very unusual. There was an earthiness about the whole project which was really inspiring. It certainly effected Little Feat when we first got together. I think between The Band and Leon Russell, strictly speaking for myself, those were two things that I latched onto in terms of influence. I would say that "Strawberry Flats" and "Truck Stop Girl" (both tunes from the first self-titled Little Feat record) are a demented result of that kind of influence, but influence none the less."

At the time of Music from Big Pink's release, Jac Holzman resided as founder and president of perhaps the hippest and most progressive record label in America, Elektra. Although Elektra was home to such heavy psychedelic bands as The Doors and Love, Holzman clearly understood what Big Pink was all about. "It turned around the idea about how records should be made," says Jac " and it went back to the idea that I had at the beginning of Elektra and making records of artists at their homes. This was a homemade record which came out in almost a sea of highly produced records, especially compared to the exquisitely evolved recording of the Beatles. So it was a different kind of down-home 'rock 'em-sock 'em' music making. I think that, plus the quality of the material, the special kind of zeitgeist that came through in the playing made it a seminal event, and also brought us back to roots."

So although Music from Big Pink sold reasonably well in the United States (although it only made #30 on the U.S. charts when it was released) it was clearly a critical triumph among musicians and people within the industry. "This album was recorded in approximately two weeks." said Al Kooper in Rolling Stone, "There are people who will work their lives away in vain and not touch it."

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