Almanac Music: ‘Not Quite Bob’ – Very Bob – The Band


Almanac Music


Not Quite Bob – Very Bob – The Band





I’ve had an idea about how to wrap this series up for a long time, wanting to finish on a few of the more obvious NQBs.  But in a lot of ways they’re the hardest to do.  I started one on Neil Young in mid-September last year and really don’t know how to write about him.  What could I possibly say about Neil that most of the readers here wouldn’t already know?  I may or may not figure that out.


The same goes for these guys but here goes anyway.



The Band

There’s really no nearer Bob artist(s) than The Band.  None.  Here is a direct pinch from Wiki (the not completely reliable go to for a lot of NQB pieces).


The Band was a Canadian-American rock band formed in Toronto, Ontario, in 1967. It consisted of Canadians Rick Danko (bass, guitar, vocals, fiddle), Garth Hudson (organ, keyboards, accordion, saxophone), Richard Manuel (piano, drums, vocals), Robbie Robertson (guitar, songwriting, vocals), and American Levon Helm (drums, vocals, mandolin, guitar). The Band combined elements of Americanafolk, rock, jazzcountry, and R&B, influencing musicians such as George HarrisonElton Johnthe Grateful DeadEric Clapton and Wilco.


That’s them, in a nutshell.  Initially they were The Hawks, a backing band for Canadian rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins.  Later in 1967 they became The Band.  When Bob went electric they were his band, touring and recording with the maestro as he weathered the storm of plugging in instruments that the die-hards thought should stay unplugged.  I think you all know how that worked out.  They were still The Hawks in Bob recordings of that time including tracks on Blonde On Blonde and live performance.  But they moved from being his band to The Band in 1967 when they joined Bob near Woodstock, NY to record and take residence in a house nearby which they labelled the Big Pink.  Because it was, well, pink.  It lead to them sneaking out from behind the frizzy haired elf to record Music From Big Pink, a landmark not just in their recorded history but in, well, the history of the musical art form labelled Americana.  The oldest of them, Garth Hudson, was just 30 and the rest about 24-5.  Prodigies.


I’d be staggered if it didn’t hold pride of place in many readers collections but anyway here it is.




It features three Bob Dylan written or co-written songs in ‘Tears of Rage’, ‘I Shall Be Released’, and ‘Wheels On Fire’ with Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson supplying most of the rest.  Bob and Bob songs would feature in most of their major recordings thereafter.


And so they were off and running.  Multi instrumentalists, great singers (well except Robbie if we’re being honest) and gifted songwriters, in the period from inception until Robbie wrapped it all up in 1976 they recorded a clutch of albums that defined the genre.  The next was the self titled The Band, released in 1969.  In later years there have been many Greatest Hits collections.  Nearly every track on that album is on those.   12 nuggets of greatness of the form.  Frequently covered gems.  But none better than the originals.  If there’s to be covers though who better than Ms Joan Baez.




The Band is one of those albums where as a song finishes the first few bars of the next one stir in the memory.  I wore out a vinyl copy, have a CD and downloaded a remaster with extras thrown in.  It’s a high water mark for this group.


There was more gold to follow though.  In 1970 it’s Stage Fright with the title track and ‘The Shape I’m In’ amongst another fine bunch of mostly Robertson penned gems, then a year later Cahoots.  More good to great Robbie songs and their cover of Bob’s ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’.  I’ve got a Bob covers NQB piece in the planning phase but to my mind this is a standout amongst the many brave efforts to faithfully interpret the master.


Levon Helm sings, the band (aka The Band) are completely in the pocket and this might even outstrip the original.  Which is saying something because I think Bob’s own versions of his own songs (can you even have a version of something you wrote and recorded yourself?) are the best.  With very, very few exceptions.  More on which much later.





So by 1971 they’re in full flight, in their pomp as it were.  Many years later a recording is released of performances at the Academy of Music in NYC across 4 days in late December 1971.  Some of those takes became Rock of Ages in 1972 but the set released as Live At The Academy Of Music (in 2013) was the definitive set list of their work at the time.  Give me a time machine and take me there please.  The concert starts with this.





And rollicks on until Bob joins them at the end for a few of his tunes.





If you get to ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ and you haven’t shed a few tears you’re irredeemable.


What follows are a few okey-doke records, continued recording and performances with Bob (notably Before The Flood, Planet Waves and The Basement Tapes, all essential items on your shelves, hard drives, whatever) until Robbie Robertson decides to call time on The Band.  Drug use, internal jealousies, copyright disputes. Lather, rinse, repeat.  He’s had enough.  He organises a last hurrah concert to be later labelled The Last Waltz featuring the who’s who of The Band’s recorded musical history.  There are performances by Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr John, Paul Butterfield, Muddy Waters, Emmylou Harris, the Staple Singers and, curiously, Neil Diamond.  It’s held at Bill Graham’s Winterland Ballroom in NY over several days in November 1975.  It’s filmed and the film is directed by none other than Martin Scorcese.  Everybody is in top form but when fellow Canadian, Neil Young, joins them, the stakes rise and their status as non pariel star backers is underlined.





For me then, The Band post Robbie are a bit like Little Feat after Lowell George died.  Pretty darn good but not at the heights of their heyday.  In 1983 the other 4 draft a guitarist, then another and then they push on in one form or another until late 1999.  Richard Manuel has died, then Rick Danko and eventually Levon Helm in April 2012 succumbed to throat cancer.  Robbie Robertson for his part recorded his own albums which are for the most part pretty good and the highlights include guest vocals by others.  He also worked as a music producer and composer of film soundtracks.  All the other members made very decent albums under their own names. The Levon Helm recordings including Dirt Farmer are particularly good and if you can track it down Levon Helm and The RKO All-Stars is a treat.  I had a Rick Danko solo album once but it’s lost in the mists of time.


Then Robbie died two days ago.  Died not as a young man but, at 80, not a particularly old one either.  Which brought me back to this series.  The Band have been the soundtrack to my life since teenaged.  I spent yesterday running though the catalogue.  About ten years for the key bits.  1966-1976-ish.  Brightly, briefly.  Not the vastness of Bob’s catalogue but key in his history and key in mine.   Garth Hudson survives and he is an old man at 86 but Robbie’s death caused a stir in my heart.  One of his greatest songs, oft covered, much loved by me and my wife is The Weight.   It’s a stone cold classic.  Americana writ large.  I could have linked dozens of great versions but this is hard to beat.  It’s from a great concept/movement called Playing For Change and the variety of musicians gathered in for this superb rendition underline the power of the songwriting and the place the work of The Band has in the canon.  Enjoy.



You can read more from Trevor Blainey HERE.



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  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Thanks Trev, cracking account of the best band ever, their influence and impact will remain forever.

  2. Thanks for this, Trev.
    RIP Robbie

  3. Karl Dubravs says

    Wow! That Playing For Change video has me hovering between tears & joy. Ah, the magic of creative musical/songwriting genius. Thanks for posting Trev.
    BTW – Robbie’s solo recordings are also worth listening to –
    1987 – Robbie Robertson (every song is a winner!)
    1991 – Storyville (esp Breakin The Rules)
    1994 – Music For The Native Americans (esp Its A Good Day To Die)

  4. Well done, Trev. Great precis of the life of a great band.
    “I pulled in to Nazareth, was feelin bout half-past dead”
    That’s Byron, or Donne.

    I’ve posted this before, I think, but Isbell’s song Danko/Manuel, played live at Austin City Limits is a great tribute and song. On Youtube.
    Now get back to making movies. x

  5. Trevor Blainey says

    And in 2019 Sinematic Karl with this great song with Van Morrison.

  6. Trevor Blainey says

    Yessir Mr C. Poets all The Band songwriters.

  7. Peter Warrington says

    Rick’s solo album was a real fave of mine, it’s Sip the Wine you hear in the Last waltz but New Mexico captures his sad, hopefully hopeless voice for mine. When we took the kids to New Mexico a few years back I was humming it here and there.

    They were meant to come in 83 but I think Levon had a crash. I’ve still got the ent cent poster at home for a show that never happened, it’s got Richard on it. a shame they didn’t come. when they finally lobbed in 88 it was rick and Garth and Levon’s nephew and a bit of a shambles, to be frank.

    But I was at the wall in Berlin in 1990 and out they came. I was the only one who knew them I reckon and they sizzled, Levon in fine form. Then they brought out Ronnie Hawkins. I went wild. everyone presumed I was drunk. not yet…

    The brown album is just about my fave album ever. the rest of the studio stuff patchy, including Big Pink. You could tell by the Watkins Glenn show (in hindsight) they were pastiching into a greatest hits band. Which might be why Moondog Matinee from that time absolutely sizzles.

    Fond mentions to to some of the backing work early doors, such as with John Hammond (I Can Tell, Spoonful etc – robbie’s ridiculously slinky guitar.)

    RIP all of them. Except garth, who is the mountain incarnate, and will not die.

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