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Influences on The Band:

Soul Artists

[Peter Viney]  by Peter Viney

Copyright © Peter Viney 1999.

Every previous article has generated comments and corrections which I'm happy to incorporate in a revision. Please post in the guestbook, or e-mail me directly at

Everything they ever did has soul, but here I'm listing the influences of "soul singers." This category is hard to separate from blues on the one hand (plus Ray Charles has his own article on the site) and rock on the other. For example, Bobby Bland and Tommy Tucker are in the blues article. They drift into each other at the edges. OK, let's say it's African-American urban music. I'm discounting reggae, and the odd white soul classic like the Box Tops Soul Deep. I've left The Coasters, Little Richard, Wilbert Harrison, LaVern Baker, The Johnny Otis Show et al for a separate article on rock & roll.

I've ignored pre-Band appearances as sidemen, which would have added some of Richard Bell's earlier work; Irma Franklin's Piece of My Heart (live) and Bobby Womack's Trust Me covers with Janis Joplin, and later Percy Sledge's When a Man loves A Woman with Arlen Roth.

Homer Banks

Aint That A Lot Of Love (Banks / Parker)
The title of the original is actually A Lot of Love, but nearly every cover adds the 'ain't that' to the title.
Original: recorded 1966, Liberty single (LR 12028). Available on The Classic Soul Years Series: 1966 (Connoisseur CSYR CD66) (1989)
Band version: Islands, also on Neil Young / Bob Dylan/ Band members SNACK concert bootleg 1975.
Levon and Garth also back a version by Paul Butterfield on Put it in Your Ear. It also appears on collectors' tapes of Levon Helm and the RCO All-Stars from December 1977.

Significant contemporary version by The Flying Burrito Bros which (for me at least) outshone The Band's attempt. Also a great 1968 version by Taj Mahal on Natch'l Blues

The Homer Banks original is the best of all, and is said to have been the inspiration (that's as polite as you can put it) for Spencer Davis Group's Gimme Some Lovin' which was a hit just four months later.Homer Banks wrote for Stax records as well as having a series of soul hits on Liberty.

James Brown
James Brown (& The Famous Flames)

James Brown songs were attempted by few white bands for obvious reasons. No one had the voice, which is where The Hawks scored with Richard Manuel. Brown was also hugely popular in Africa and The Middle East.

Please, Please, Please (James Brown- J. Terry)
Original: single, (US #95, 1956) and 1957 album Please, please, please. The best known version is on the classic Live At The Apollo from 1962 (US #2).
Levon & The Hawks featured this on (eg) Pop Ivey's in 1964/65 with Manuel on vocal.

I'll Go Crazy (James Brown)
Original version: 1960 single. This also opens Live At The Apollo from 1962 (US #2).
Also a Levon & The Hawks stage number - listed as If You Leave Me on some collectors' tapes

In glancing through James Brown's lengthy discography, I was surprised to see that he cut a single of Caldonia in 1964.

Otis Redding
Otis Redding
Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke / Otis Redding

A Change is Gonna Come (Sam Cooke)
Band version: Moondog Matinee
Sam Cooke Original: posthumous B-side of Shake! in January 1965 (US #7) and on album Shake! also 1965. Otis Redding cover: on Otis Blue album in February 1966 (UK #6, US #75, UK 1967 reissue # 7) and on posthumous History of Otis Redding 1967 and 1974 (UK#2, US #9) The Otis Redding cover (on Otis Blue ) was as well known as the original version in the UK, where Otis had more hits than even in the US. There are several Otis Redding compilations on CD. Otis Blue is still available and flows as a complete album in a way that few contemporary soul albums do, and even fewer Greatest Hits compilations do. Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song) by Otis Redding appears on the Robbie Robertson selected Casino soundtrack.

It's clear that Rick Danko's version on Moondog Matinee owes much more to Sam Cooke. (See Moondog Matinee article on this site).

Bring It On Home To Me (Sam Cooke)
Original version: RCA single (US #13 August 1962).
A further Sam Cooke song has been covered by Rick Danko (with Happy & Artie Traum) and appears in a chaotic jam that finishes Bring It On Home To Me Volume 1 from the WAMC, Albany radio show hosted by the Traums. The Dylan / Hawks basement tape song usually called Bring it on Home is not this song at all, but a version of Bo Diddley's Bring it to Jerome.

Chain Gang (Sam Cooke)
Original: single, August 1960 (UK #9, US #2. Reissue as b-side of Wonderful World, UK #2 February 1986)
This is another Sam Cooke number, which Rick Danko has often featured in 90s solo concerts - urging the audience to sing along.
Danko version: various collectors' tapes in the 90s
This was mentioned on initial High On The Hog press releases, but was dropped.

All these Sam Cooke tracks are available on Sam Cooke compilations, e.g. The Man and His Music (RCA 1986)

Country Boy (E.Brookes - M.Barre)
I can't find the origin of this non-soul song, but it was pointed out on the Band website that it appeared on Sam Cooke's Ain't That Good News album in 1964, and that Richard Manuel was following this version closely.
Band version (actually Richard Manuel solo): Jericho.

Lee Dorsey
Lee Dorsey

Levon Helm: We figured we could play Lee Dorsey better than anyone except Lee Dorsey. (Interviewed by Nick Logan, Melody Maker 1971). Dorsey's songs were produced and written by Alan Toussaint, who did horns on Rock of Ages.

Holy Cow (Allen Toussaint)
Original version: single November 1966 (US #23, UK #6)
Band version: Moondog Matinee
Band live version: on collectors' tape from Chicago, opening the Before The Flood tour, 3 January 1974.

Working in the Coalmine (Allen Toussaint)
Lee Dorsey single. (US#8, UK#8)
Robbie Robertson included the original version of Dorsey's Working in The Coalmine on the 1996 soundtrack to Casino.
Levon Helm solo version: released as the B-side of Blue Moon of Kentucky (MCA 41202) in 1980.

Freedom for the Stallion (Allen Toussaint)
Lee Dorsey single
The Band played this with Toussaint in New Orleans, January 1987 (on collectors' tapes)

The Levon & The Hawks 1965 B-side, He Don't Love You (on Across The Great Divide) has a strong New Orleans swampy soul (Lee Dorsey) feel, though it was recorded a year before Dorsey got around to Holy Cow. Dorsey's sound was a major influence on The Hawks, comparable only to Curtis Mayfield.

En Vogue
En Vogue

Free Your Mind (Foster / McElroy)
Original: From award-winning Funky Divas album (East-West) (US #8 April 1992, UK #26 June 1992, UK #4, 1993). Single (US #8, October 1992, UK #16 November 1992)
Band version: High On The Hog + live on a Westwood One Radio Show (and radio CD) from Las Vegas, 1996

Unexpected choice of a cover of all-female quartet En Vogue, criticized by some for Levon singing I like rap music and hip-hop clothes which was assumed to be untruthful. It was a dance hit in 1992. En Vogue's albums were produced and written by Thomas McElroy and Denzil Foster. This had a limited life as a live number in 1996. Judging by the Las Vegas show they couldn't quite carry it off.

King Floyd
King Floyd

Groove Me (King Floyd)
Original: US #1 R&B single, US #6 pop single, October 1970).
Written as a B-side. DJ's flipped it and it sold a million.
Instrumental version: Jim Weider, Jim Weider & The Honky Tonk Gurus.

The Four Tops
The Four Tops

Lovin' You Is Sweeter Than Ever (Wonder / Hunter)
Original: (US #45, UK # 21, May 1966) then on On Top album in November 1966. Available on The Singles Collection CD, Tamla-Motown, also on Anthology and Greatest Hits - Motown Greatest Hits albums proliferate year by year.
Significant alternate version: near contemporary version by Marvin Gaye on LP I Heard It Through The Grapevine (Motown 1967), CD (1986)
Band versions: 1) To Kingdom Come, Across The Great Divide box set, 2) Woodstock 25th Anniversary Collection 4 CD set, 3) then on bootleg This Wheel's On Fire: Live in Jersey City 1973, 4) Live at Watkins Glen , 5) many collectors' tapes including Wembley 1974, 6) Crossing the Great Divide bootleg - Rock of Ages out-take. The Woodstock appearance, hidden for 25 years, shows they were playing this for most of their Band career.
Rick Danko solo versions: 1977 King Biscuit Flower Hour broadcast from New York. It featured throughout his 1977 solo tour following the Rick Danko album.

The Band versions suffer for me by eliminating the Four Tops trademark prominent tambourine - a simple, but effective part of the song. The 1973 version on the This Wheel's On Fire bootleg is dire, one of their worst recorded performances, and gives you every reason to see why artists dislike bootlegs. On the other hand their version at Wembley a year later stands in my memory as sublime.

Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin

Aretha covered The Weight and had a hit with it (US#19). She followed it with a version of Share Your Love With Me for a double connection.

Chain of Fools
Original: single, 1967 (US #2, UK #37)
Danko-Butterfield performed this live on their 1987 tour.

Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye

Don't Do It a.k.a. Baby, Don't You Do It (Holland / Dozier / Holland)
Original: single (US #27, September 1964): and on How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You album in April 1965. CD, Compact Command Performances (Tamla Motown). Though The Band is "the white" version, it is more primal and urgent than Marvin Gaye's. Marvin's is cooler and smoother, but Marvin has an effortless intensity. As on "Lovin You Is Sweeter Than Ever" I miss the finger clickin' / hand clapping / tambourine tapping atmosphere that Motown did so well in The Band versions.
Band version: Rock Of Ages, also on To Kingdom Come, Across The Great Divide, and the bootleg Live in Washington . Several collectors' tapes, including Woodstock festival in 1969, two years before they recorded the song. There was a 1969 studio version that emerged as a B-side and later surfaced on the bootleg set Crossing the Great Divide. I don't feel that it lives up to the hype - it was said to be vastly better than the live version. I disagree.

I Heard It Through The Grapevine (Whitfield - Strong)
Original: single (US #1, November 1968, UK #1 February 1969). Voted 'best single of all time' by an international poll of DJs.
Rick Danko plays bass on Joe Cocker's dumb, overblown rant at this classic on Luxury You Can Afford (1978). One of the worst cover versions of a great song ever made, by a singer at the nadir of his career. Even the bass part is the palest shadow of the wonderful original.

A Piece of Clay (Pamela Sawyer- Gloria Jones)
Original: Unreleased single, July 1972. Finally issued on Marvin Gaye: The Master 1961 to 1984 (4 CD box set, 1995)
No Band version, but Robbie Robertson selected this obscure Gaye great for the Phenomenon soundtrack in 1996.

Al Green
Al Green

Take me to the River (Al Green - Mabon Hodges)
Original: on Al Green Explores Your Mind album (US #15, December 1974)
Levon Helm version: Levon Helm ABC album 1978 + Levon Helm The Ties That Bind 1975-1996
Hit cover version: by Talking Heads, single, (US #26, December 1978) - after Levon's version.

The Isley Brothers
Isley Brothers

Twist and Shout (Medley / Russell)
Original: single (US #17, June 1962)
Beatles version: (US #2 March 1964)

Levon and The Hawks were playing this in 1964 / 1965, as was every other band in the world in 1963.

Curtis Mayfield
Curtis Mayfield / The Impressions

Robbie Robertson has frequently mentioned Curtis Mayfield as a major influence on his guitar playing. Mayfield's spare style, with a lot of spaces in the music, is a noticeable influence on Robertson, but also on The Band as a whole.

People Get Ready (Mayfield) Original: The Impressions, (US #14) hit, 1965
Bob Dylan & The Hawks version: The Genuine Basement Tapes Vol 1

It's All Right (Mayfield) by the Impressions appears on the Phenomenon film soundtrack, selected by Robbie Robertson, but is not on the OST album. You Say You Love Me from the basement sessions sounds very much like a Curtis Mayfield song, but isn't (It isn't the song You Say You Love Me that the Impressions cut either). It's always presumed to be a Richard Manuel composition.

Robert Parker
Robert Parker

You See Me (Allen Toussaint)
New Orleans-based horn player-turned-singer.
Robert Parker version: 1969 on SSI International, recorded at Muscle Shoals. Available on Barefootin' collection (Charley Soul 1993)
Band version: Jubilation.

Wilson Pickett
Wilson Pickett

I'm in Love (Bobby Womack)
Original: Written by Bobby Womack. Bobby Womack version on LP Fly Me To The Moon, January 1969.
The Wilson Pickett hit version was US #4 R&B, US #45 pop in December 1967 / January 1968
Jim Weider version: Jim Weider & The Honky Tonk Gurus

Billy Preston
Billy Preston

Billy Preston was a member of The Band for a short time in 1991, following the death of Stan Szelest. As a result, he performed some of his own material on Band Summer 1991 gigs. He was also in Ringo Starr's All-Star Band in 1989 with Danko and Helm.

That's The Way God Planned It (Preston)
Original: UK #11 single, June 1969, album That's The way God Planned It, August 1969
Band version with Billy Preston: collector's tapes from July / August 1991

Will It All Go Round in Circles? (Preston)
Original: US #1 single, March 1973, album Music Is My Life, US #32 June 1973
Band version with Billy Preston: collector's tapes from July / August 1991
All-Starr Band version: Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, 1989 tour, November 1990 album

Nothin' From Nothin' (Preston)
Original: US #1 single, July 1974, album The Kids and Me, US #17, October 1974
Band version with Billy Preston: collector's tapes from July / August 1991

Billy Preston also performed Get Back (Lennon-McCartney), UK#1, US #1 single, in the same period with The Band - he had played organ on the original recording which was credited to The Beatles with Billy Preston.

Lionel Ritchie
Lionel Ritchie

This is hardly soul, but Lionel Ritchie best fits this segment (or at least the Commodores would).

My Love
Original on first solo album, Lionel Richie (US #3, UK #9, 1982)
Single: 1983 (US #5)
Rick Danko did a version of this on the Band tours circa 1986/87 and on solo shows in the same era.

Smokey Robinson
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

Robbie Robertson is said to have advised Dylan to listen to Smokey Robinson's lyrics for their clarity and soul. (Robinson was later cited by Dylan as "America's greatest living poet"). This anecdote has often been repeated, and sometimes Smokey Robinson is replaced by Curtis Mayfield (among others).

You've Really Got A Hold On Me (Robinson)
Tamla single, 1962. (US R&B #1, Pop #8).
The original is on many compilations. The best is 1998's The Ultimate Collection (Motown) which is digitally remastered. BRP>Significant cover version: The Beatles on With The Beatles (UK #1, 1963)
This featured on a Levon Helm All-Stars set at the Stone Pony in August 1987, with Patty Scialfa on vocals. Bruce Springsteen sat in at the same show, so is probably on this.

The Ronettes

I don't think most people would class Spector productions as "soul" but it's pretty near.

Be My Baby
Original: single (US #2 Sept 1963, UK #4, October 1963)
The Band backed Tiny Tim on a joke version of this on the You Are What You Eat soundtrack.

The Supremes
Diana Ross & The Supremes
(with the Temptations)

The Band never covered them, but they successfully covered The Weight.

There's a slew of Supremes songs on the Phenomenon film soundtrack, but not the OST album. Robbie Robertson was in charge of the music, but The Supremes songs were plot driven, rather than an addition.

Barrett Strong
Barrett Strong

Money (Barrett Strong)
Original: single (US #23 March 1960)
Levon Helm version: Levon Helm album, Capitol 1982 and collectors' tapes
Levon and the Hawks played this regularly, and it was part of the Pop Ivey's set in 1964, and is on the Dallas 1965 tape.

Allen Toussaint
Allen Toussaint

Toussaint did the horn charts for Life Is a Carnival and Rock of Ages. He is a producer and writer rather than a performer.

Holy Cow (Allen Toussaint)
Lee Dorsey version: single November 1966 (US #23)
Band version: Moondog Matinee.

Play Something Sweet (Junkyard Blues)
Levon Helm version: on MCA solo album Levon Helm, 1978 + Levon Helm The Ties That Bind 1975-1996

Working in the Coalmine(Allen Toussaint)
Lee Dorsey single.
Robbie Robertson included the original version of Dorsey's Working in The Coalmine on the 1996 soundtrack to Casino.
Allen Toussaint went on cut the song under his own name on From A Whisper To A Scream in 1971. Dr John plays on this version.
Levon Helm solo version: released as the B-side of Blue Moon of Kentucky (MCA 41202) in 1980

You See Me (Toussaint)
Robert Parker version: 1969 on SSI International, recorded at Muscle Shoals. Available on Barefootin' collection (Charley Soul 1993)
Band version: Jubilation

Freedom for the Stallion (Toussaint)
Lee Dorsey single
The Band played this with Toussaint in New Orleans, January 1987 (on collectors' tapes)

Tina Turner
Ike & Tina Turner

Crazy Bout You Baby
Original: Album: Outta Season, January 1969. Single, 1969, re-release 1972
Levon Helm & The Crowmatix version: Souvenir (1997)

Junior Walker
Junior Walker

Shotgun (Walker)
Original: Motown single (US #4, March 1965)
Levon Helm version: Collectors' tapes, e.g. June 1988, Washington DC

Bill Withers
Bill Withers

Lean on Me (Withers)
Original: single (US #1, May 1972, UK #18, August 1972) Available on Lean On Me - The Best of Bill Withers (Columbia Legacy 1994)

Levon Helm contributes an outstanding solo version on the rare and excellent Staying Together soundtrack. This should have been on the Australian best of, The Ties That Bind, but inexplicably wasn't.

Bobby Womack
Bobby Womack

I'm in Love (Bobby Womack)
Original: Written by Bobby Womack. Bobby Womack version on LP Fly Me To The Moon, January 1969.
The Wilson Pickett hit version was US #4 R&B, US #45 pop in December 1967 / January 1968
Jim Weider version: Jim Weider & The Honky Tonk Gurus

Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder

Superstition (Wonder)
Original: single, 1972 (US #1, UK #11)
Rick Danko is fond of weaving snatches of this into medleys on solo shows.

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