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Silence in Woodstock


by Fredrik Wandrup

This article about Rick Danko appeared in the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet on December 14, 1999, 4 days after Danko passed away. Fredrik Wandrup is a Norwegian journalist and author of several biographical and documentary books, with a life-long passion for the music of Bob Dylan and The Band. Copyright © 1999 Fredrik Wandrup, Dagbladet. Reprinted with permission from the author. Translated from Norwegian by J.Høiberg.

Today I imagine Woodstock in a silent snowfall, white, frozen and beautiful - in honour of Richard Clare Danko, the fantastic musician that died before this weekend, 56 years old.

Danko was part of the rock'n roll fairytale called The Band. The Band's first name was The Hawks and they were rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins' backing group. In 1962 The Hawks were an incredible collection of musical talent: Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and Rick Danko. The Hawks separated from Ronnie Hawkins in 1963. In 1965 they were given a magnificent task: To travel around the world with Bob Dylan, as his backing band. They also worked with Dylan while he lived in Woodstock, recuperating from his motorcycle accident in 1966-67. The results of their cooperation with Dylan were albums like Planet Waves, Before the Flood, and The Basement Tapes, all released in the mid-'70s.

[Danko, 1994]
Rick Danko in Norway, 1994
At that time The Band was well established as a group on their own. After the debut with Music from Big Pink in 1968, the classics came one after the other. The Band renewed the American folk-tradition and united it with rock'n'roll in their very own way. The combination of the force from the drummer Helm, the creative expertise of Hudson and the brilliant inventiveness of Robbie Robertson resulted in something completely new, a sound nobody had ever heard before. And in the middle of the storm was Rick Danko, a generous man and musician, with his bass and a voice that expressed this unique emotionality and vulnerability (listen to "It Makes No Difference" for an example.) He was not as active as a composer, but let us not forget that he wrote "This Wheel's on Fire" with Bob Dylan.

And now it was time for "the last waltz" for this prosperous character, that after the breaking up of The Band impressed us with his solo effort Rick Danko (1977), and with the two albums he released as part of the trio Danko, Fjeld, Andersen. The last of them, Ridin' on the Blinds, came in 1994, with Danko as lead singer on the last track, "Keep This Love Alive."

Personally I remember him from several concerts at the Cruise Cafe in Oslo, together with his Norwegian cohorts, vibrating in his intense versions of "The Weight" and "Acadian Driftwood." Overweight and marked by a hard life, with a face that would change from joy to fear as he expressed the feelings and content in the songs he performed. One of those nights became legendary. Roger McGuinn of The Byrds was present in the audience. He jumped up on the stage and they all sang together. Did they sing "Forever Young" or "I Shall Be Released"? I don't remember, but it does not matter. Today they are both valid.


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