I am no expert. I simply enjoy blowing off my opines on music. With that obvious disclaimer, I’ve been approached by some friends as to which band in the history of rock music is the most talented. I thought I would tackle the topic, only because I think this article could become my most controversial.
First off, ALL popular artists are fine-oiled machines. These people are the Olympic and professional athletes of the music world. They are otherworldly to me, much like Michael Jordan or Tom Brady or any other athlete at the top of their game. Usain Bolt? He has speed, but how about the dexterity of Rush drummer Neal Peart? And speaking of Peart, I feel that many of you will be pointing to his band as my pick. And, while that trio is extremely talented, Rush fans please do NOT kill me or, at least, fill up my box with vicious attacks. There may not be a rock trio as talented, though Cream is in the running for trios.
Let’s turn back the clock to the Sixties, when all things in rock were possible. Sometime, in the mid-Sixties, Bob Dylan decided to leave his folk life behind to join the “song-and-dance man” in the rock world. For this tour, he decided to grab a group of four young Canadians and a hillbilly from rural Arkansas who were known as Levon and the Hawks at the time. Without going into detail about Dylan constantly being called “Judas” throughout the tour, and all that rot, Levon and the Hawks eventually followed Dylan to Woodstock, New York, where Dylan kept encouraging this group of musicians to form a band.
So, they did. They ended up calling themselves The Band, only because everyone in Woodstock kept calling them that. Who knows if it was irony, ego or laziness to go with that name? But, who cares?
So, who is this band I speak of? The members were guitarist Robbie Robertson, drummer Levon Helms, bassist/fiddler Rick Danko, pianist Richard Manuel and multi-instrumentalist, or the man whom the others referred to as the Maestro, Garth Hudson. And, when I say Hudson could play anything, he could literally play ANYTHING! All of these guys were mandolin players, guitarists and piano players, while Levon, Richard, Rick and Robbie were all considered to be lead singers, influenced in a singing style by the great Staple Singers. Their voices never harmonized. They sang as if they were pulling at each other to make the others step up their game. Richard Manuel sounded like Ray Charles, Levon Helm took on the country sound, while Rick Danko had a pained voice. And Robbie Robertson, took on the bluesy side.
While other artists of the day were fully immersed in the psychedelic sound of the day, The Band was inventing the gameplan for a new sound altogether: Americana music. Rustic, dirty, bluesy, country-ish, something totally American. Albums like Music from Big Pink, The Band, Stagefright and The Last Waltz are their note-worthy albums. With enduring songs such as “The Weight,” “Up on Cripple Creek,” “Stagefright,” “It Makes No Difference,” “Rag Mama Rag,” “Tears of Rage,” and “I Shall Be Released,” The Band proved their mettle.
Unfortunately, only two of the former members of The Band are still with us, Robertson and Hudson. Unfortunately, Manuel was the first to leave us by his own choice, and if you ever hear the pain in his Ray Charles-influenced voice, you knew his pain. Then, Danko passed in the Nineties from a heart attack, while in the early part of this decade, we lost Helm to cancer.
For footage of The Band, check out their The Last Waltz film, in my humble opinion, the greatest rock concert film ever. Additionally, a great watch is the concert film Love for Levon, an all-star concert in honor of the man, Levon Helm.
Please go out and download these guys to check out what I mean. For most of you, this might not be for most of you all. That’s cool! But, The Band holds a very special place in my heart.