Danko and Linden double the pleasure
by Daryl JungAn article published in Now, March 17 1988 about the collaboration between Rick Danko and Colin Linden, pending their gig together at the Horseshoe in Canada. The text is copyrighted, please do not copy or redistribute. Thanks to Serge Daniloff for sending us a copy of the original article.
Former Hawk, Simcoe resident and Band bassist Rick Danko hasn't released a record in 10 years. But the fact that he hasn't enjoyed the notoriety of his musical sibling Robbie Robertson doesn't mean he's been resting on his laurels as a vocal force behind one of the 1970's greatest bands.
Now, like Robertson, who transcended a similar, not-so-high-profile situation with his acclaimed solo release last year, Danko is getting the urge to go back in the studio. And he gives much of the credit for renewing his interest in recording to veteran Toronto guitarist-songwriter Colin Linden.
Thrown together almost by fate last year when they shared the stage at the Edmonton Folk Festival, Danko and Linden discovered they harboured a mutual desire to broaden their music's appeal, while remaining true to the root from which their previous success has grown. They also realized they shared similar attitudes - toward the music business in particular, and life in general.
The result was a collaboration that brought Danko, his sidekick harp player Sredni Vollmer and Band keyboardist Garth Hudson to Toronto to help out Linden's soon-to-be-released third album, When the Spirit Comes - his first for A&M Records. Danko sang harmonies on four songs - including the Band's venerable hit "Chest Fever" - and everyone involved had so much fun that they're already talking more recording and a joint tour in the near future.
"I don't tour that much anymore," says Danko on the phone from his home in Woodstock, New York - Big Pink Country - prior to these weekend's shows at the Horseshoe (where he will join, and be backed by, Linden and bandmates Shane Adams, John Whynot, Gary Craig and Teddy Leonard). He admits this in spite of the fact that he's headed for Australia in May for a dozen dates with a band that includes Vollmer, Hudson, Levon Helm's nephew, drummer Terry Kagle from the Cate Brothers, and New York guitarist Jimmy Weider.
"But I do go out and play shows with Sredni. And I have different combinations of people here in the mountains that I use for various types of gigs. Sometimes I have a seven-piece band, sometimes I'll have a three-piece - it varies. And at the Horseshoe, aside from playing with Colin's band, Sredni and I will do some of our living-room set, because it's very important. It's something that we do best, and we're committed to keeping that aspect of music."
That attitude not only carries over into the music Danko has written over the past few years, but also in line with the way both he and Linden see fit to deal with the modern music scene.
"It's that attitude exactly that's the crux of the album," says Linden between sets with the Michael Pickett Band Saturday night at the Black Swan. He was able to fit the gig in between recording sessions with local lights the CeeDees, production chores for pal Mendelson Joe's next record with the Shuffle Demons, and the work on a posthumous Roger Rainbow LP.
"And that's not to push things too much. Just have your priorities in order and work really hard at the things you're supposed to work at. As the record title implies, let the spirit come, don't make the spirit come. You don't need to shove it down people's throats. What's important when the lights go on, and you go 'one-two-three-four,' that it rocks. And that we have a great time and play good. Rick and I are kindred spirits that way - we have similar ideas about what's important."
The pair first met at the Diamond in 1985, when Linden and company opened for the re-formed Robertson-less Band - a "life-changing" dream come true for Linden. As if that thrill wasn't enough, he found himself on a workshop with Danko and Tony Birds two years later at the Edmonton Folk Festival, where Danko was headlining as a replacement for Randy Newman, a gig he'll reprise this summer with the Linden-band in tow.
It was there that Linden put the bug in Danko's ear about doing sessions for his upcoming LP. When it came time to put the finale touches on the record, Danko was playing in Niagara Falls. A demo was delivered to him there and he responded immediately, showing up at the Metalworks studio with Vollmer and Hudson the following day. The sessions that resulted were gratifying enough to boost Danko's enthusiasm for going into the studio himself.
"Playing with Colin's great band made me realize that it's time to really get it going," he says. "In the studio with them I realized that you can achieve the right thing. It was very homespun, you might say. That's what attracted me to their music in the first place. It's something that isn't pre-fabricated. It comes straight from the heart. When the songs can come naturally, and that easily, it's very special. And when people hear the record, they will feel that."
When the Spirit Comes is a departure, in Linden's mind, from his previously vinyl efforts - The Immortals, on Stony Plain and Colin Linden Live, on the now-defunct Ready Records. The difference, he says, is manifested in a return to the basics.
"The main difference from a musical point of view, at least the jump-off point, is that I play more guitar," says Linden. "I got to the point where I felt I wasn't getting off enough playing less guitar - which is what happened with the Immortals, where I was trying to make a statement that I wasn't just a blues player, or just this or just that. I wanted to be thought of as very song-oriented. But after I did that, I felt I could let my hair down and play more guitar and do stuff because I wanted to do it."
"In playing more guitar, because my guitar style is more roots rock and roll and blues-based style, the material evolved. It took on a much rockier. It's a natural progression. You have to put the energy where it counts. You have to do the best you can on the things that you do best."
That Danko agrees is evident in the truckload of tapes he's made at live performances. And his new commitment to taking the songs they contain into the studio has been inspired in part by Linden's approach to recording - doing it straight and unembellished and having a good time.
"That's so important," says Danko. "Having recently spent time in the studio with people like Robert Palmer and Robbie Robertson, I was already itchy to go going on something on my own. And I realized after the sessions with Colin that when I do my album it will be done in more of a live setting. It won't be a bunch of overdubbing. It won't be a pre-fab record. I'm surprised that I didn't realize the possibilities earlier, but hey, it's a part of the retirement program."
"With Robbie, it's practically all overdubs. There's no sense of anybody listening at all. All my own tapes have been done live on stage. And when that really works, and you can feel the immediate response - it's a theatrical movement. It's like the difference between making a made-for-TV movie and doing live Broadway. There's a big difference when you get a sense of that instant audience response. I would like to hear a lot of music done with a simpler live-playing approach. You take a lot more chances. So my next album will be very campfire-ish. It will have a real Canadian sound."
As if to prove the point, Danko, who went to Malibu in 1973 intending to visit for three months and stayed for eight years before moving east in 81, is looking to buy another home in the Toronto area, citing his respect for the music scene here as an added inspiration to his developing ambitions.
"I've mainly been concerned with spending these last five years with my children before they exit into the world as adults. I haven't been looking to be too busy. As it is now, even if I played four or five times a month it seems like a lot. I can leave my house, play and go home and that's really nice. But the kids go off to college next year, so now I want to get out more, and get some of the songs I've accumulated those years out to the people."
"And besides, Canada is a great clean country. There's a rural, pure sense of pride that you don't find anywhere else. I spent the first 20 years of my life there, and the second 25 years here. And I'm looking forward to spending a lot more time there. I've got a lot of friends there. But for now I'm just looking to get up there this weekend and play at the Horseshoe, and that's gonna be hot. After that, we'll see what we see."
Linden, knowing he'll be touring to promote the LP when it comes out, also realizes that the Band members' names in the credits could do wonders towards a distribution deal in the States. But it's his shared outlook with Danko that really keeps hum excited about their partnership - and it's musical potential.
"I'm not presumptuous enough to think that just because the Band is from Toronto and we're from Toronto that there are similarities," he says of the Canadian connection. "I don't know, because I wasn't around 20 years ago, when they were playing here regularly. But I do know that Rick's personality, his way of looking at things, is very much in keeping with what I feel about priorities. He's a very zen guy. He has a very positive aura about him. He looks at the world in a truly un-jaded way - and he sees a lot of shit. The prospect of playing with him is so appealing to me because he treats life with a lot of respect. And that's a perfect vibe for playing music and playing it well. That's what it's all about."