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Conversations with The Band

Richard Manuel

by Ruth Albert Spencer

From The Woodstock Times, Vol. 14, no. 12, March 21, 1985. This is one of a series of interviews with all five members of The Band that appeared in this weekly newspaper.

Copyright © Ruth Albert Spencer.

Front page header, Woodstock Times, Vol. 14, no. 12, March 21, 1985.

Several months ago, I conceived of the idea of writing a loving study of the Band's music from a classical musician's point of view. The Woodstock Times agreed to publish this article, but when it was suggested that I perhaps interview some of the Band, I became obsessed with the idea of speaking to each of the five about music and theit lives as musicians. I decided to focus on comparisons between classical and rock musicians, and the creative process of writing and performing music. Anything they could say would surely be more interesting than anything I could say, and I set to find and speak with each. This self-imposed task wasn't easy; even after all five had agreed to do this, the saga of arranging for the individual interviews became almost as interesting as the interviews themselves and could surely form the basis of a film or thriller novel. It meant dealing with the in-between people, going backstage to clubs both in New York and Woodstock and in one case, following a member home and having my daughter hand deliver a note. It meant contacting old friends in the recording and film world in Los Angeles at the time I was working on this project. Of course, some of the Band members helped put me in contact with the others. But in the end, each of the five sat down with me and spoke seriously and I believe quite sincerely. The interviews took place over a three-month period in Woodstock, New York and Los Angeles. I am presenting them in the chronological order they were conducted.
--Ruth Albert Spencer

The other interviews by Ruth A. Spencer:
[Garth Hudson] [Robbie Robertson] [Rick Danko] [Levon Helm]

The interview with Richard Manuel took place on the day after Thanksgiving, 1984 at his home about a mile out of the center of Woodstock. Besides the two of us, his Toronto-born second wife, Arlie, who is an artist, my husband Michael, who is also a pianist and Mitzi, the Manuel's German Shepperd were present. When I arrived, the T.V. in the living room was on. Richard turned the sound down very low as we began speaking, but the picture remained on the entire time. At one point, he enthusiastically jumped up to admire a 1956 Thunderbird on a program. We spent about 2 1/2 hours together and most of the time my tape recorder was on.

Richard Manuel, October 1984.

Ruth Spencer in front of the basement of Big Pink.

RAS: Let me tell you how I divided the questions for this interview. There are four main areas, any of which you are free not to talk about. I don't want to be intrusive.

RM: Oh, that's okay; I'm into quantum.

RAS: The first area has to do with your early years as a musician - your background, training and influences. The second area has to do with classical music and any possible relationships to rock music. The third area has to do with the Band as a group and the fourth area has to do with you as a musician personally.

RM: Okay, let's skip the first three. (Everyone laughs.)

RM: They'll fall into place. My only serious musical education was less than a year of piano lessons, because I had a natural ear for music. It was when I was eight or nine. It was just a family thing; we'd get to a certain age and we'd take piano lessons. I played by ear, so I played without looking at the page.

RAS: Did you ever learn to read music?

RM: I still don't know how to read music. I mean, I could just sit down and read. I quit piano lessons when my teacher literally slammed the lid on my fingers because I played a note that wasn't on the paper. It wasn't wrong; it was a different voicing; same chord, different voicing, like I put the E in a C chord on the top instead of in the middle. She slammed the lid on my fingers because she'd been at me to learn theory and I wasn't paying attention. I I could play it, if I could get it in my head, I didn't see any reason to dwell on it. So that was the end of my formal piano lessons...until Garth came along. Oh, I do have a diploma in Hawaiian guitar.

RAS: Yeah?

AM: Remember the theme at the end of The Last Waltz?

RM: I'm playing the Dobro...and that guitar was a classical guitar, if ever there was one. That's the only instrument I have any diploma in. From the Ontario Conservatory of Music.

RAS: Are there other musicians in your family?

RM: My younger brother took over my group when I left to join the Hawks. He copied what I did and took over for me, played piano and sang the songs that I did. Now he's in the insurance business.

RAS: In Canada?

RM: Yeah. We used to sing; we were all in the church choir. That's what turned me on to harmonies.

RAS: Do you still practice - do you practice to keep up your technique?

RM: Every day.

AM: He sits down every day for about three hours.

RM: Yeah. It took me a long time, but about three years ago all of a sudden I realized that I really love what I'm doing. It took me that actually really love it. Not that I just wanted to do it, but that I really love it. I've never considered myself more than just a good piano player. Now I think I'm a contender. No, I just improve, pay more attention. I know I play a lot better than I ever have and I'm singing better.

RAS: Do you practice any exercises?

RM: No.

RAS: You mean you play.

RM: I play patterns. I'll make up a pattern and just play it.

RAS: So you mean you improvise. And you improvise every day.

RM: Yeah.

RAS: Did you ever study singing?

RM: No, I learned from Ray Charles and Bobby Bland and...Ricky Nelson probably influenced me too. Let's see... Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed. Nearly all the singing influence is black. People think that I sound just like Ray Charles. And I don't sound like Ray Charles. I imply, I make the same implications, I infer the same kind of things. You know what I mean?

RAS: Yes.

RM: Lyrically, but I don't sound like Ray Charles. Undoubtedly, he's been my biggest influence.

RAS: Since you were little?

RM: Oh yeah, yeah.

RAS: Have you ever met him?

RM: No. I had a chance, but the circumstances weren't right. It was kind of a set up; it was a disc jockey that wanted me to meet him. 'C'mon, meet Ray Charles. Have you ever met him, here's your chance.' I didn't want to meet him like that, just be shoved together in some social function.

RAS: So you didn't do it?

RM: I've never met Ray Charles, I'd love to meet him.

* * *

RAS: Let's talk about the Band as a group.

RM: The group's been together for 23 years, 24 to come Mother's Day, a quarter of a century we'll say, we'll round it off. We obviously didn't break up, we just haven't released an album since The Last Waltz. (We said we would.) It's funny, people say 'When the Band broke up' and I say 'No, the Band didn't break up.' If you go to see The Last Waltz again and pay attention, you'll see; Robbie is the only one that says he's had it with the road. He's had it with the road, quote, 'It's a God-damned hell of a way to make a living.' Then Martin Scorsese says, off camera, 'So that's it,' and Robbie says, 'Yeah, absolutely,' and then it goes into the last scenes of The Last Waltz. (Long pause.) The concert was five and a half hours.

RAS: We should have gone to San Francisco for that.

RM: Yeah, I wish I could have been there (everyone laughs.)

RAS: Where were the interviews done?

RM: Oh they were done mostly at Shangri-La studios, which we put together at Malibu. It was an old bordello and there was a little bungalow down below it, near the road. I found out later (I had been living in it for about six months) that it had been converted from Ed the Talking Horse's stable into this little bungalow. Trivia.

RAS: Oh, it's very interesting, if you've been a Band freak for 15 years.

RM: God bless you. (Everyone laughs.)

RAS: Do you all still keep in touch with each other?

RM: Yeah.

RAS: Robbie too?

RM: Yeah. Rick called Robbie from here two nights ago. But I don't keep in touch with Robbie very often. I talked to him a couple of weeks ago. He has an office at Village Recorders now, which is where we did most of our Los Angeles recordings, except for our homemade studios, which seems to be how we got our best effects. When we threw together our own studios.

RAS: You mean like Big Pink?

RM: We never actually recorded any stuff there that was used, except The Basement Tapes.

RAS: You mean Big Pink was not recorded in that basement?

RM: No. Not the album. The songs came from there...that little liner thing that Robbie's wife wrote 'standing in the shade of Overlook Mountain, this house bore these songs.'

RAS: I never knew that Big Pink was not actually recorded there.

RM: They could have. It just wasn't a studio. The Basement Tapes, though, most of that was done in the basement. Some of it was just out-takes from other places. (Pause.) Long time.

RAS: Do you think the Band might have been different if four of you had not been Canadian?

RM: No, I don't think the nationality mattered. Canada and the United States: what really is the difference? (When I returned to Richard's two weeks later to edit this interview, he said that of all the questions I had asked, he thought most about this one. It made him wonder 'what if the Band had been black?')

RAS: What if there had not been an American from the South? Would that have been different?

RM: Then we would have never gotten together. It was originally Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks from Arkansas. Levon was the original and we were all pickup. Every one of us led our own individual group.

RAS: Did he (Ronnie Hawkins) get you all together?

RM: Well, the Hawks, coming from Arkansas, chose to do the Ontario night club circuit because back in the early 60's Canada paid well ... the least amount of club hours and the best pay. That's why Ronnie Hawkins came to Canada. He also played the southern circuit (Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas).

RAS: When the Band all worked and rehearsed together, did you have one specific leader?

RM: No. No. We all just did our share. Robbie was our spokesman. He took care of that end. He had the best mind for business. Levon acted as musical leader...for the most part...although we traded. And I was always a side man.

RAS: I always thought you were very quiet on stage. Also in The Last Waltz, even though the things you did say were some of my favorite things.

RM: Oh, I was so drunk then.

RAS: Do you have a favorite song that you've recorded?

RM: Hm, that I've recorded, that's my favorite. (Turns to Arlie and asks, 'What is one of my favorites?')

AM: I don't know. You once said that after you heard the playback of 'Georgia On My Mind', you had tears in your eyes.

RM: Yeah. But I think I oversang it. It was released as a single when Carter was running for President. We couldn't vote and we knew Carter; we'd been out to his place in Plains, Georgia.

RAS: Oh.

RM: Oh, yeah. Riding out there in a three motorcycle escort, in front of the limousine, smoking a joint in the back seat. (Everyone laughs.) And Roz served us early breakfast, scrambled eggs. Being Canadian, we couldn't vote, so we just released 'Georgia On My Mind' as a single. But you don't want to hear that background. (Long pause.)

RAS: What do you think was the impact of Woodstock and this area on the first three Band albums?

RM: I don't think they would have happened without it. I think this environment had a great deal to do with it.

RAS: Why?

RM: Personally, just nature. I love it here. I love the season changes. I love to see all that. California is just like one season with the weather changing. (Before the tape recorder was on, I had briefly discussed the Woodstock winters with Richard and Arlie. They said they have no problem dealing with the cold, both having grown up in Canada.)

RAS: Are you saying that the natural beauty and the changing of the seasons here really had an impact on the kind of music that you wrote?

RM: Yeah, I like to get out and wander around in nature sometimes. That song 'In a Station' was totally inspired by Overlook Mountain.

RAS: That is one of my all-time favorite songs. You know, we live just on the way going up Overlook and every time I havae walked back there, for the past 14 years, I think of that song.

RM: That is the power of Overlook Mountain. You answered your own question.

RAS: Not too many people seem to know that song. Now we're getting ahead, because I had questions about the songs that you wrote. That song ('In A Station') and also 'Lonesome Suzie.'

RM: That one was a definite attempt to write a hit record. It could have been a hit record; it's a good commercial song and everything, but I didn't realize at the time that I never sang it right. It wasn't for me. Somebody else should have sung it.

RAS: To me (and I've seen what other people have said about it and have totally disagreed) that is the ultimate song about being depressed and lonely and having someone see you this way and not know what to do.

RM: Yeah, 'why is it she looks my way whenever she starts to cry.'

RAS: That is such an incredible song. That one and also 'In A Station,' which to me is the ultimate song about Woodstock and Overlook Mountain.

RM: 'Once I climbed up the face of a mountain.'

RAS: I've done that, fallen asleep out there.

RM: And that 'taste your hair,' you know, when your hair has been baking in the sun. It gets a whole...aroma...bouquet, shall we say.

RAS: Of the grass?

RM: No, your hair. Just your hair- out in the sun ... the hot sun ... you know. I always liked that line, 'I could taste your hair.' And also, to type it out, it looks so good on paper.

RAS: When you've written songs, did you write the music first, or the lyrics?

RM: The songs that I wrote myself ... I'd usually have a musical idea and then I'd give it a theme, an idea to go with it ... like 'We Can Talk' ... that song ... 'We can talk about it now.'

RAS: Ah, there's another one of my favorite songs.

RM: I just got up one morning and wrote that song. I got that gospel thing on the piano.

RAS: That song is in a totally different feeling from the other two, which are introspective.

RM: Oh yeah, I try to swap. 'In a Station,' I always think of as my George Harrison type song.

RAS: When you said a musical idea, did you mean a melody, or a chord progression?

RM: A chord progression I'll get first and then I'll think of whatever that suggests.

RAS: Did you study theory when you took piano lessons.

RM: You mean like voicing? Garth taught us all that. He taught us all the proper voicings ... for chords, and for different effects. He is totally musically educated. He can sit down and just start practicing, running scales and figures that sound like Bach, or Chopin, or Mozart. Figures and definite patterns and in every key. He's the one you should talk to.

RAS: There's another song from Big Pink that I wanted to ask you about ... 'Tears Of Rage.'

RM: Well, what?

RAS: You wrote that with Dylan?

RM: Yeah.

RAS: How do you write a song with someone else?

RM: He came down to the basement with a piece of typewritten paper ... and it was typed out ... in line form ... and he just said 'Have you got any music for this?'

RAS: Oh, so he wrote the words first and then you wrote the music.

RM: Yeah. I had a couple of musical movements that fit, that seemed to fit, so I just elaborated a little bit, because I wasn't sure what the lyrics meant. I couldn't run upstairs and say, 'What's this mean, Bob?' 'Now the heart is filled with gold, as if it was a purse.'

RAS: Oh, 'it's purse;' I always thought it was 'first.'

RM: No ... 'purse.' That's beautiful, that's the beautiful thing about songs.

RAS: That's never been fair. You never put the lyrics on the albums. You always have to listen to them about twenty times to get the words.

RM: No, not on the album (Big Pink). But on most of our albums, we had them on the sleeve.

AM and RAS together: No, no.

RM: Yes, on most of them we did.

AM: No, honey.

RAS: You think so?

RM: I definitely remember. The lyrics are on there.

RAS: No, they were never written out. You'd just have to figure them out.

RM: Well, then, they gave me phony covers and jackets.

RAS: Whose idea was it to do the reunion tour last year; how did that come about?

RM: It was my idea since we broke up, because I always thought we were taking a hiatus, a vacation, whatever you want to call it. Get away from it, try something else; that was fine, but I never imagined The Band just packing up and going into a time capsule.

RAS: How do you feel about those concerts last year?

RM: It started out nervously; we did a Canadian tour first. Some of us aren't too big on rehearsing.

RAS: Who?

RM: Not I. I like to go over everything.

RAS: You mean you do like to rehearse.

RM: I like to be familiar with what we're gonna do, even though I may have played it a million times, because you never play it the same way twice. I like to know theat everyone else is familiar with it too. I that security, or else it inhibits me from putting everything on I like to...and it is a privilege. It's amazing to play places like Chicago. One night we played the old Auditorium Theater and all our die-hard fans showed up. Chicago's always been real good to us. Two nights later, we played at the University of Chicago, in a 900 seat hall. It's real cozy, like a small Carnegie Hall, and it was all their kids ... our old fans' kids.

RAS: You mean your fans?

RM: Yeah, you know, we weren't born every minute.

RAS: You mean it was the generation younger than us.

RM: Yeah, they're our original fans' kids ... the're now at that age and they're coming out to see what their parents were raving about.

RAS: Not my daughter.

RM: Well, I learned very young that as long as they say something. (Richard has a 15 year-old and a 10 year-old from his first marriage.) If they don't talk about you, you're in trouble. It doesn't matter what they say.

RAS: That's very true. Getting back to The Band as a group, what do you think has made it so unique?

RM: Well, taking for granted that we're all more than average gifted, it's whenever we get our hearts and heads together at the same time. I have always insisted on keeping the first and second takes of songs. When we'd go into the studio, even if there are 80 takes of one song, because as rough as it may be, the first or second take is something special ... something special about that.

RAS: Isn't there somebody, a manager or some person that is able to get you all somehow, even for just one reunion concert...

RM: There are no managers like there used to be managers.

RAS: Well, I don't mean a manager then, but just some person that knows you all that could somehow help out.

RM: Well, the truth of it is, we have to do it ourselves.

RAS: Well, isn't there one of you that could do it?

RM: I could do it if I could get...see, I never assumed any authority and I just pitched in...wherever...since then people tell me that I'm responsible for the producing, engineering and mixing of our second album, our most important album, but I thought I was just doing my part. I thought everyone was doing as much as I was.

RAS: You're saying you were the most important part on the second album, The Band album, the brown cover one.

RM: That's what I've been told. I didn't realize it.

RAS: By the way, speaking of albums, I read somewhere , in preparing for these interviews, that Moondog Matinee was your idea. Is that true? Doing an album of old rock'n roll songs?

RM: I don't think it was my idea initially. It was a choice of alternatives at the time. We didn't have enough new songs to put together a new album.

RAS: It's such a wonderful album. It's so much fun.

RM: Yeah, it's funny, 'cause John Lennon was putting together his oldies album at the same time and he heard some of the takes and went 'geez.' MS: Has anyone ever discussed taking the Band's music and putting it onto MTV type of treatment?

RM: Yup, we discussed that just recently, but I want to press ahead. I'm tired of dwellling in the past. We're well established in the history books and I don't want to continue doing what we've been doing for the last year and a half because we've done it to the point where we're dragging ourselves down...unsless we come up with a new product.

MS: Does anyone write and submit stuff to the Band now?

RM: Oh, yeah, I've got tapes of things. It's hard, it's especially hard for me to pick lyrics to songs, lyrical songs, becuase I can't just get on a (sings) na, na, na, na song, you know. I have to have some kind of lyrical content. (Then the conversation turns to the New Year's Eve Rock Of Ages concert at the Palladium in New York and Michael asks whose idea it was to use a horn section.)

RM: That was just a decision ... we all wanted to do that. It was such a treat to play that. And to sing and have the horns behind you. It really was a treat. And they were fun gigs. (Then a discussion about one of the tuba players.)

RM: In fact, I contemplated doing some shows with him. Five tubas, one keyboard and vocals. Of course I could have also played drums.

RAS: Oh, I never asked you about that. How did you get into playing drums?

RM: When we were touring with Dylan, Levon got tired of it. He wasn't getting enough out of it. For a drummer, there really wasn't that much for him to do. It wasn't exciting and left for a year. It was when Dylan had his motorcycle accident. No, he (Levon) didn't do the world tour with us, that's right. It was Mickey Jones from the First Edition. During that period of time when Levon wasn't with us and we had Big Pink, I just took up the drums.

* * *

RAS: We haven't talked yet about classical music and rock music and any possible connections.

RM: Oh, yeah.

RAS: Do you like classical music?

RM: Yes, I do. The first song I ever learned to play was Liebestraum ... Franz Liszt ... just watching over my brother's shoulder.

RAS: You mean you played it by ear because you said you didn't read music.

RM: Yeah.

RAS: In the original key?

RM: It's in F.

RAS: I'm not sure.

RM: (Gets up and goes over to the piano.) I just learned it ... I don't know the entire thing (sits down at the piano a nd plays Liebestraum. Plays a wrong chord once or twice and says 'oh damn.' When the main theme returns, he plays a jazzy variation and at the very end, says 'your'e gonna love this' and plays a bluesy ending.) You know, I ended on a major seventh. I have to throw in a little Victor Borge, but I like to make mistakes. It's the one thing a synthesizer can't do.

RAS: Getting back to classical and rock music, do you think there's any relationship between the two?

RM: Of course. I don't know anybody that's invented a note.

RAS: Is it the same language?

RM: Well sure, it's directly connected. Take away the technological advances that have been made since classical (what they call classical), 'cause I think rock'n roll is young classical music.

RAS: You mean an early period of another kind of classical music?

RM: Yeah. You know, like puke rock ... I mean punk rock ... sorry ... (everyone laughs) that's another thing. Those are just handles...rock'n roll is just a handle, but it did take gospel, it took classical, it took primitive ... primitive as you can get ... and kind of brought it all together. Keeping the steady beat is the thing. And that's the primitive thing. That's what keeps people; that's the necessary part.

RAS: That's just what I tell my piano students. It's the beat that counts.

RM: Yeah, really. That's one thing I discovered playing piano, if I was unsure, if I knew I was gonna lose it, keep my foot going (starts tapping foot rhythmically) and stay with my foot no matter what I hit and I'd get away with it. If you stop, if you falter and slow up and get off the beat...that what drives people crazy.

RAS: That's what I tell all my students. There is no music without rhythm.

RM: That's it. As long as there's a foot going (keeps tapping foot.)

RAS: Do you have any favorite classical composers, or periods of classical music?

RM: I can't say that I have a favorite. To tell the truth, when it came time for me to start trying classical music together...but I've still found no place for opera.

RAS: You mean you don't like opera.

RM: I don't like opera, no. Although, when we played Japan, I realized that we're almost treated like opera.

RAS: What do you mean?

RM: You know, it's a foreign language and being soul music, or whatever, you know, we're acting it out more than just regular music. They certainly don't know the lyrics, except for the choruses. And they'll sing along.

RAS: I thought that was strange, to hear that the Band had a larger following in Japan. I don't know what they would relate to in your music.

AM: The Band got two gold records in Japan.

RM: Well, have you ever heard of funky Japanese? I mean, it's something they can't get; they can't get soulful. I mean, they do, they emulate it, but it doesn't flow, it doesn't come out of them like that. We were over there last year for two weeks and two days (The Band minus Robbie) and we sold out four concerts in Tokyo alone, two in Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo.

RAS: Did you like Japan?

RM: I loved it. I'm homesick for it. I was homesick when I got on the plane to come back. Well, two days after we got there, the Korean jetliner was shot down. And we all got the news immediately. It wasn't spoon-fed like it was here. Two weeks after the incident, after we're back here, I'd hear from someone on the television 'And the latest on Korean airline massacre,' and it would be, word for word, what I had read in English papers, from Japan, two weeks prior.

RAS: Didn't you find them to be real technological minded and very unemotional?

RM: Yeah (technological). No, not unemotional. I think they've got so much class. I was actually ashamed to be Western. I had moments of being ashamed because they have so much respect. They are so gracious, that's the word.

RAS: I went there in 1969, visiting msuci schools, when I worked for the Yamaha piano company. They were just introducing the Yamaha line of electric organs. Every night they would entertain us with Bar Mitzvah type music, like 'Begin the Beguine.' And they thought this was so fantastic, in 1969.

RM: Oh wow. I l-o-v-e Japanese Muzak. It cracked me up, that stuff. I was sitting in the coffee shop of the hotel in Sapporo, having breakfast and there's a great stereo system. The song on Japanese Muzak was 'Camptown Racetrack.' And it starts out like the horns from 'Born Free' (starts imitating, then says): Now get this meter (continues imitating, leaving out one measure) ... this is how it went. I laughed so much, I was drinking something and I laughed and it came out my nostrils. And they have those electronic birds that they overdub into the music. They sound just like birds, but if you listen, you know you've never heard a bird with that song. (Long pause.)

RAS: Have you ever been friends with a classical musician?

RM: Um...Garth...hmm, a notable classical musician?

RAS: No, not necessarily notable.

RM: I was acquainted with Seiji Ozawa, conductor of the Toronto Symphony. He had a whole method of music...those circular disc charts. I met him. I thought hew was pretty good, but I don't know where to draw the line

* * *

RAS: What caused your personal problems after the Band became famous?

RM: Well, kind of seeing what was happening. I can kind of see and read ahead a little...I don't mean to brag...'cause it's a curse, actually, to see things coming.

RAS: Clarivoyance?

RM: I don't know if that's a good term, 'cause it's more based on a progression of logical events and the logical outcome of what they lead to. We (The Band) were drifting farther apart, we weren't putting our hearts into it. That's what I claim has been missing in music for all this last stretch.

RAS: You mean, real feeling?

RM: Soul. What they used to call soul music. Whatever color they paint it, soul has been missing. And I know about it because it's the only kind of music I can play. I can't do hack stuff, unless it's for humor.

RAS: What do you think is more important to you as a musician ... being a performer, or being a composer?

RM: Being perpetuated...being a performer, because I'm better at that than I am at composing. If I waited just on my compositions, I'd never make it, so I have to perform more. I have rely on it more. I like getting different renderings of songs.

RAS: The ones that wrote?

RM: Other people's songs too.

RAS: Do you still compose?

RM: Yeah, I've got a lot of songs, but no lyrics. (Goes over to the piano, plays a song.)

RAS: Were you improvising that?

RM: No, that was composed. I need lyrics. (Now plays a very bluesy song.) I haven't got lyrics to that one either.

RAS: Have you ever taught music to anyone?

RM: No, I can't. I couldn't assume to.

RAS: You couldn't?

RM: No, although if there's anything I could show anyone, if someone asked me, if I could show anyone something, but I don't think I could teach. Well, I probably could, but I wouldn't do it. It wouldn't be acceptable.

RAS: To you?

RM: No, it probably wouldn't be acceptable to the one that judges a teacher as a competent teacher. I don't think I could be a competent teacher.

RAS: There are no standards.

RM: Yeah, but I think I'd be too inconsistant from one lesson to another.

RAS: How do you think you've changed as a person and as a musician since The Last Waltz?

RM: Well, I sobered up and I pay a lot closer attention when I realize what we threw away. We didn't really throw it away, we benched it and in just this last year and a half I've seen millions of dollars go by...doors open, but we haven't taken advantage of it. That's why I'm irked to the poing of just saying, 'Fellas, this is it, I'm going on with my own career.' So I've been planning how to catapult this whole thing with myself into a position where I can remain occupied all the time...and have some work at all times, because it's the down time that drives me crazy. I get nuts when I'n not working. When there's nothing to look forward to, when there's no work. Not that I won't play with The Band, anytime, I'm there a thousand percent, whenever, whatever the Band is, 'cause it's certainly not one person. The Band is five people and anything less than four is just a taste of what the Band is.

RAS: Just to ask you about other parts of your life, are you interested in any of the other arts besides music?

RM: Oyh yea, this is my art/

RAS: What?

RM: That, there (pointing to small paintings on the wall over the couch) ... those little things...and the one in the box. You know, I doodle.

RAS: Do you have any non-musical hobbies?

RM: Darts...and cars.

RAS: Cars?

AM: He's heavily into cars.

RAS: What do you think about video music?

RM: I think it'll be fine once it comes of age. It's still in its adolescence. there's been too many songs that I've heard and then seen on TV with the video, and it's ruined the song for me.

RAS: Have you ever been involved in a video?

RM: Oh yeah, we did an MTV special just a few months back for a video special on folk rock, and it was us, John Sebastian, Richie Havens, Jesse Colin Young, Roger McGuinn...I hope I'm not leaving anybody out.

RAS: What songs did you do?

RM: We did about a half hour of Band songs.

(We then got on the topic of the Lone Star Cafe in New York, where I had first approched Richard and Rick to do these interviews. We talked about the club and the unpleasant backstage area, and the differences between performing in good and bad places.) And Richard said: That's what I say about this business; it's all peaks and pits.

© Ruth Albert Spencer

Ruth Albert Spencer is a classically trained musician and teacher. She is Director of the Music and Movement Department at the Diller-Quaile Music School in Manhattan. She has published two books on Music Education for teachers and currently is working on a book entitled Recollections of John Lennon. Ruth lives with her husband Michael, teenaged daughter Joanna and three dogs in New York City. The have a weekend home in Woodstock, just down the road from Big Pink. She describes herself as the "world's number one Band fan."

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