The Band were a key force behind the back-to-the-roots trend in late 1960s rock music. Their sound represented a populist amalgam of country, folk, and rhythm and blues; its most notable feature, however, consisted of compassionate, blue collar poetry—often evoking historical themes from the standpoint of the common man—communicated by a loose vocal interplay that often had one singer begin a line of verse and another chiming in to finish it.
The Band—consisting of Arkansas native Levon Helm on drums, and four Canadians: lead guitarist Robbie Robertson, pianist Richard Manuel, keyboardist Garth Hudson, and bassist Rick Danko—came together in the early 1960s as Ronnie Hawkins’ rockabilly-oriented backing group, the Hawks. They eventually drifted to the eastern seaboard, attracting attention as Bob Dylan’s support band in 1965. Their work with Dylan—most notably, the 1966 Royal Albert Hall concert, and legendary Basement Tapes recorded in Woodstock, New York, while the folk-rock pioneer recuperated from a motorcycle accident—is available on countless bootlegs and official Dylan retrospectives released by Sony/Columbia.
The unadorned evocations of rural Americana in the Band’s debut LP, Music From Big Pink (Capitol 2955; 1968; #30), recorded in 1967-1968 during the Woodstock period, drew rave reviews. They repeated this successful formula in the highly influential The Band (Capitol 132; 1969; #9), the reflective Stage Fright (Capitol 425; 1970; #5), and Cahoots (Capitol 651; 1971; #21).
From late 1971 until their official breakup at a gala San Francisco concert, Thanksgiving Day, 1976, the Band recorded only two more albums of original compositions, the uneven Northern Lights/Southern Cross (Capitol 11440; 1975; #26) and Islands (Capitol 11602; 1977; #64). A reunion with Dylan also led to a lackluster studio album, Planet Waves (Asylum 1003; 1974; #1), and competent live outing, Before the Flood (Asylum 201; 1974; #3), both of which sold largely on the basis of reputation. While Capitol continued to repackage older material by the group, the individual members pursued a wide range of artistic activities (including film acting and writing). They began performing again as a unit (sans Robertson) in 1983, eventually releasing three LPs of new material—Jericho (Pyramid; 1993), High on the Hog (Pyramid; 1996), and Jubilation (River North; 1998)—which lacked the innovative spark of their early work.
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