Roaming both the U.S. and their native Canada, the Hawks (Robbie Robertson - guitar/vocals, Levon Helm - drums/vocals, Rick Danko - bass/vocals, Garth Hudson - keyboards/sax and Richard Manuel- piano/vocals) released a record. Like a lot of small label stuff it didn't do much except come to the attention of Albert Grossman, manager of Folk/Rock legend Bob Dylan. Dylan was about to go "electric." Two Band members Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm were on-stage with Dylan for the infamous Forest Hills Folk festival where Dylan was booed off the stage for using electric instruments (Folk music is acoustic, don't ya know).
Dylan then began a world tour with the Hawks. During shows they would be introduced as The Band and the name stuck. Helm bagged it early on, tired of the constant booing. After the tour Dylan and The Band started work on new material with Helm rejoining. In '68 "Music From Big Pink," named after the house The Band lived and recorded in, was released. The album had some Dylan songs including "I Shall Be Released" and the incredible "This Wheel's On Fire." "The Weight" landed in "Easy Rider" and was featured on soundtrack album. It was covered by just about everyone who could sing, including Aretha Franklin, the Supremes and Temptations. All of whom had more success than The Band. The Band played with a looseness and groove that didn't translate well for a pop audience expecting a certain level of slickness. If anything The Band was the antithesis of packaged music.
The self-titled follow up contained "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" which became one of Joan Baez's few pop hits, though the original was far better, and the mournful "Up On Cripple Creek."
Through the '70s The Band continued to release albums but they didn't match their earlier creative or artistic levels. Still, when The Band decided to pull the plug in '75 they went out in style. The film "The Last Waltz" documented the group's 'final performance'. Directed by Martin Scorsese, it was part concert film, with guest appearances by Muddy Waters and Neil Young, among others, and part documentary. It was a fitting tribute.
Not satisfied to let the story end in with "The Last Waltz," Danko, Helm and Hudson revived The Band during the following decade while Robertson's low impact solo career included numerous film soundtracks.
Coda II: The Band entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (class of '94).
The Band received the Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award in '08. The group was saluted at an invitation-only ceremony the night before the Grammy Awards.
1968 Music From Big Pink
1969 The Band
1970 Stage Fright
1973 Moondog Matinee
1974 Planet Waves (backing Bob Dylan)
1974 Before the Flood (backing Dylan on several live tracks)
1975 The Basement Tapes (often bootlegged collaborations with Dylan)
1975 Northern Lights - Southern Cross
1977 Islands (recorded to fulfill record contract)
1978 The Last Waltz (film soundtrack)
1996 High On The Hog
1998 The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert
1972 Rock Of Ages (live)
1976 The Best Of The Band
'50s Rock was loose but largely confined to the twelve-bar Blues structure. '60s Rock broke the mold and the playing was slicker. In a perfect world, there would be a group that could use all the songwriting options available and play loose. The Band came as close as anyone to fulfilling that wish.
Had the Band disappeared after "Music From Big Pink" they would have provided more than enough to be remembered. The album has classics "Chest Fever," "The Weight" and the explosive "This Wheel's On Fire." The self-titled follow up with "Up On Cripple Creek" and the impassioned "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is another stunning record. "Stage Freight" and the live "Rock of Ages" are also exceptional. Of course nobody can sustain that level of creativity and quality forever and the Band is no different. Surprisingly, their break-up, swan song "The Last Waltz" is their best work since the early '70s.
Robertson, Danko and Helm have released solo albums with generally modest results.