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Rick Danko Playing It Low-Key

by Steve Morse

From the Boston Globe, February 12, 1988.
The text is copyrighted, please do not copy or redistribute.

Rick Danko lives on the edge of a pond deep in a white birch forest near Woodstock, N.Y. He has stocked the lake with 20 trout and feeds them almost daily. He has also eyed up to 60 wild turkeys in front of his home, which is out of sight and out of mind from fellow humans.

Danko, the longtime bassist for the Band -- the group that backed Bob Dylan and became cult figures in their own right -- has earned his serenity. He has had to deal with the suicide of Band pianist Richard Manuel two years ago; and with the drug/alcohol death of friend and occasional playing partner, Paul Butterfield, last year.

"I haven't been drinking at all. Paul's death had a big effect on me," said Danko, who will perform at Ed Burke's this Sunday night. "Although I was never a guy to drink every day, I would knock a few beers back here and there. But I don't do that anymore. It's much better to be clear. That's the real deal."

Just before Butterfield died, he and Danko played six shows together -- one of them at Boston's Channel club. "We made a deal," Danko said in a phone interview from his home this week, "that we would get up in the morning and there would be no drinking -- and hopefully no drugging -- until after the shows. We were getting too old for it. But I remember after one show, Paul had the bus driver immediately pour him two glasses of tequila. It finally caught up to him. You can only do so much."

Danko has stayed low-key since then. He toured Europe last fall with Band organist Garth Hudson and singer Terry Cagle (nephew of Band drummer Levon Helm). And he's played a series of acoustic shows with harmonica player Sredni Vollmer, a fellow Catskill Mountain resident. They'll be joined this Sunday by Buddy Cage, the legendary pedal steel guitarist who used to play with Ian & Sylvia and with Ronnie Hawkins, the rockabilly singer once backed by the group that evolved into the Band.

Speaking of the Band, Danko is still hopeful of a reunion to include charter guitarist Robbie Robertson. The latter has not made any of the periodic Band tours in the last decade, but has released a new solo album, "Robbie Robertson," which includes a backup vocal by Danko.

"Why not?" Danko said of the Band reunion. "I think it's certainly time, and many people would enjoy it. I've been planning to do another solo record myself, but I'd be quick to drop it if we could do a Band record with Robbie.

"It's always wonderful to hook up with Robbie. There's something automatic between us. We've never feuded or had arguments. And you know, I'm an optimistic guy. I've always hoped he would come around and join us again. He's always felt, 'When you're in doubt, lay out.' But I'm still hoping he changes his mind.

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