Amid media speculation, Bob Dylan‘s backing group, The Band, released their debut album Music From Big Pink in 1968. It was named after the house they recorded it in (in West Saugerties, New York) and it entered the US album charts on August 10.
The unusually high interest in The Band’s autonomous debut was mainly because the album was recorded in the basement of ‘Big Pink’ at the same time as tracks for a possible Dylan album – which would be his first new work since his serious motorcycle accident in 1966.
Although they had not recorded under this name before, The Band were well-known in Canada, where they toured for many years as Levon and The Hawks before being ‘discovered’ in a Toronto bar by folk and blues performer John Hammond Jr who took them to New York as his backing group.
Dylan soon wooed them away from Hammond, although, according to The Band’s Robbie Robertson, “We weren’t into that kind of music, and I really didn’t know who he was”. Nevertheless, they became his supporting cast during the ground-breaking 1965 – 1966 electric tour and Dylan hailed Robertson as “the only mathematical guitar genius I’ve ever run into who does not offend my intestinal nervousness”.
The Band made their first live appearance without Dylan on 17 April 1969 at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom.
That same year they released their second (self-titled) album, which they had recorded mostly in a house rented from Sammy Davis Jr high up in the Hollywood hills. It was to be their most haunting, poetic and beautifully realised work.
Seven years later, in 1976, they called it a day with Robbie Robertson explaining that the split was because he was more interested in establishing himself as a producer.
On Thanksgiving Day 1976, their final concert, The Last Waltz, was an elaborate affair staged at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom (the venue of their debut in 1969) and featuring such illustrious guests as Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Neil Young, Ringo Starr, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton and Dr John.
The concert was filmed by Martin Scorsese and released to cinemas in June 1978. It was later universally acclaimed as the finest live in-concert movie ever made.
The Band re-formed sporadically throughout the 80s and 90s without Robbie Robertson.
Pianist Richard Manuel hanged himself in a motel in Florida after a reunion show in March 1986 at the Cheek to Cheek lounge.
Drummer/vocalist Levon Helms passed away in April 2012, aged 71. Helm had been diagnosed with throat cancer more than a decade earlier.
Organ, saxophone, vocals
Drums, vocals, mandolin