Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Band Had Their Last Waltz Thirty Years Ago Today

On Thanksgiving thirty years ago, mainly at Robbie Robertson's insistence, The Band threw in the towel at a massive concert in the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, California. It featured a Thanksgiving dinner for all the guests, before a very long concert that lasted until 2 A.M. The Band had a horn section with arrangements by Alan Toussaint (as they also did in the Rock of Ages show years earlier), and a stellar list of guests, appearances by The Hawk (Ronnie Hawkins), Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Dr. John, Bob Dylan, Van

Morrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Ronnie Wood, Paul Butterfield, and Neil Diamond, and even readings by poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Michael McClure.

The concert was filmed by Martin Scorsese, and was combined with interviews with a somewhat stunned and cranky Band. (There would be a loud dispute between Levon Helm over the movie, and Scorsese putting the spotlight on Robertson. They recorded soundstage performances with country singer Emmylou Harris ("Evangeline") and legendary gospel-soul group The Staple Singers ("The Weight"). Released in 1978 as The Last Waltz, the film is considered one of the best rock movies of all time. It was directed by Martin Scorsese. CD sets were also issued (and continue to sell).

After one last studio record, The Band split for good. Danko, Helm, Manuel, and Hudson later reformed the group and recorded and toured, but they never got the momentum going. Richard Manuel hung himself while on tour. Danko died in 1999 in Woodstock. Both Garth Hudson and Levon Helm still perform and live in the Woodstock area.

The Band, more than any other group, put rock and roll back in touch with its roots. With their rootsy songs and love of varied musical idioms, the Band spanned the years, and made American cultural connections during the turbulent 60s and early 70s. Robbie Robertson songs were obviously Dylan influenced, and drew from history to create filmic tunes. The Band had three distinct and wonderful singers: Rick Danko, drummer Levon Helm and keyboardist Richard Manuel. They harmonized in various robust combinations (Danko and Helm singing twin leads, veering in and out of harmony on Don't Do It is a great example). Except for Robertson, they all played several instruments (Danko, Bass and violin; Manuel: Piano and drums; Hudson: Saxaphone, organ, piano, accordian; Helm, Drums, guitar, mandolin). Their music incorporated many musical idioms--from carnival music of the early 20th century up to the doo wop revues of the Fifties, as well as the blues, country, and bluegrass. The Band walked with the kings.


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