The Band's out of hibernation
and it was worth the wait

by Corinne Musgrave

From The Sunday Sun, January 20, 1974.
The text is copyrighted, please do not copy or redistribute.

The Band added heapfuls of energy and spirit to Dylan's concert, says Corinne Musgrave.
Photo by Bob Gruen. Copyright © 1974, 2009 Bob Gruen. All rights reserved.

We have Bob Dylan to thank for bringing The Band out of their two-year hibernation and putting them back on stage. They made Dylan sound like he could sing, by adding heapfuls of energy and spirit and they played alone, with much more inspiration than they've had for years.

Their recent Toronto concerts with Dylan once again demonstrated why they are still selling records the way Paul Newman sells movies. After sticking together for 10 years, (an amazing feat in the fickle, ego-tripping world of rock) and singing their classic songs for almost that long, its no wonder that The Band's music is tight.

Perhaps they think that the current nostalgia trend will continue into 1974. The Band has always been hip in their own way. Their style of life and music has always been country orientated and. country music is definately vogue now. If Canadian music has to be catagorized in some way, then country-flavored would describe it best. Even John Lennon, city revolutionary, has been seen embracing Anne Murray, who wouldn't know a pretention if she saw one.

When Levon Helm sings Up On Cripple Creek, you know he's been there and when Robbie Robertson sings his song, I Shall Be Released, it sounds like he heard it in church. The performance at the Gardens was indeed uplifting, but they didn't play one song that was written in the last three years.

Their latest album, Moondog Matinee, is composed of old rhythm and blues songs they used to borrow from established writers when they were the Hawks back in the mid 60's. The album title comes from a TV show called Moondog Matinee, hosted by disc jockey Allan Freed. Garth Hudson told me that he used to go see him at the Moon Ballroom in Cleveland, Ohio.

Garth, the piano player, who is known as The Bear, probably because of his thick mane of black hair, is arguably the most easy going member of this group who love hearth and home. Being the oldest, in his late 30s, it is no wonder that he is not enamoured with touring - he's been doing it for so long. He didn't even attend the Bangla Desh concert - Dylan's last performance before this tour.

"We're not enthralled with the social world. We just stick to music," said Garth. "When you've knocked around and read as many reviews as we have, you become aloof. Touring is a drag because you're away from friends and everything. When you're doing it for a month it's nothing, but when you take three consecutive concerts in a row, it's like this," ... and he began a light-hearted verbal diary.

"Friday morning you get up and have your crunchy granola and bananas and that is the beginning of a whole series of going to gigs. Do you know how many chairs you sit in during the course of two or three nights playing?" he asked.

"First, you get in a car and go somewhere to sit and wait in someone's living room. Then you all go to a meeting place and sit and wait for everybody. Next you sit in a car on the way to the airport, and when you get there you sit in another chair waiting to clear the tickets.

"Then you move to another chair in the waiting room 'til you get a seat on the plane where you're stuck for a couple of hours. You get off the plane and go to the waiting room where you're tempted to sit down until you get to the hotel to try and get freshen up." Counting on his fingers . for each chair, he added them all up. "That 11's chairs already." he said, warming to continue.

"The limosine comes and then you wait at the gig in an arm chair. When you go on stage, in my case, I just have to sit down when I play. On the way back to the hotel or to another gig, it's the whole thing all over again. There are ahout 80 chairs in a weekend -for sure 60 chairs. If you do it in different weekends," Garth said, pausing to do rapid multiplication, "there are 240 different chairs in a row.

"That's a drag unless you really want to become an expert on chairs. I've often thought of going into the furniture business."

When asked how he first started playing as a professional musician, he was honest. "It all started with the reaction I got from girls because I was a musician. I thought if I could get that many girls phoning me up I should really get into it. There's the power of a musician.

"You know how it is when you're in high school. I used to have chicks phoning me all the time. No, they don't now because I've grown old and lost some of my hair. I'm a Leo but I'm not that aggressive.

"Groupies don't come up to me because I'm the old man. Oh sure they're around, but I just don't get into it. It's usually too much hassle. Unless, of course, it's a day of spring in the middle of winter, but those chicks - it's just not real. God bless them just the same".

Hudson likes to stay at home and jam with unknown country musicians or rebuilding medeival and renaissance keyboard instruments. He built a pipe organ that's been used on recording sessions.

His days of excitement are fewer and farther between now, compared to the times when he used to play bars in his native Windsor, back in 1959.

He decided to move back there after living in London with his family. Hudson formed a group called Paul London and the Capers and they played Detroit clubs and met young ladies with money.

"After my singer in the band got married I came up to Toronto to see Ronnie Hawkins," said Hudson, "and things began to click too well." Hudson was the last one to join The Hawks and Ronnie bought him a new Laird organ because he wouldn't play a Hammond. "He wanted to be Garth Hudson, not a Jimmy Smith," said Ronnie.

"I don't ever hire anybody unless I think he's going to be great. I've made five or six bands rich," said Ronnie pouring himself a beer, recounting how he put The Band together. "In 1961 I took Rick Danko out of the butcher shop in Simcoe where he was an apprentice. I saw him playing in a polka band. All his family is musical.

"Rob (Robertson) came with me as a road man first. He started on bass then went to to rhythm guitar after Fred Carter, my lead guitarist taught him a lot. Robbie was writing songs even when he was 15 or 16 years old. I probably lost him a few years of creative power because I pushed him extra hard. He still looks at me like I'm a bad stepfather.

"In 1965 he was playing guitar better than Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. The world didn't get him at his best when he was playing blues. He's a real work horse. He's writing constantly and I wouldn't be surprised if he stopped travelling with The Band because he doesn't like to go on gigs. Garth and Rob are both quiet and might stop touring, but I don't think they'd ever leave The Band permanently - they'd be crazy."

It isn't likely that Robertson would retire from live performing now, and let people remember him as being second act to Dylan. Hopefully, he'll write some new material that he'll want to sing on stage. They didn't perform any of the good songs from their last album of original material - Cahoots. A concept album will be out in a few months, but no one knows the concept.

Perhaps The Band will get some stimulation from fellow musicians in their new home - California. Complacency doesn't become these boys from Canada.

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