Does anyone else find it odd a band with four members from Southern Ontario, Canada is considered by so many the inspiration for what’s known as the Americana genre of popular music? Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Gart...
Does anyone else find it odd a band with four members from Southern Ontario, Canada is considered by so many the inspiration for what’s known as the Americana genre of popular music? Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson all hail from north of the 49th parallel, so how did they end up being the group Mumford & Sons refer to as “an incredible influence on so many musicians, not the least on the four of us”?
The answer lies in part with who they all were as musicians and in part with the path their career took. First there was Ronnie Hawkins, who came up to Toronto from his native Arkansas to spread the gospel of rockabilly and ended up relocating permanently. The Band he brought up with…
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…him included a young drummer, Levon Helm, and while the rest of Hawkins’ Hawks were gradually replaced by the above mentioned quartet from Ontario, Helm continued to anchor the band’s rhythm section. They toured up and down North America playing Hawkins’ country-influenced rockabilly from 1960 to 1962 and then struck out on their own as Levon and the Hawks, Helm being the senior member of the group. However, a guy named Bob Dylan happened to catch their show one night and wondered if they’d be interested in backing him up onstage for his upcoming tour of England. While Helm ended up leaving the tour, the others continued with Bob to be booed off stages across Great Britain. When the tour ended they all retreated to upstate New York, where Dylan had a house in Woodstock, to lick their wounds and prepare for the second stage of what was supposed to be a world tour. However, Dylan wiped out on his motorcycle and used that as an excuse to retire from performing for a while. Finding themselves at loose ends the group settled into a house of their own, invited Helm to come join them, and began writing and creating their own music. Music From Big Pink, their first release as The Band, came out in 1968 and was the complete antithesis to what the rest of popular music was doing. It drew upon everything that had influenced rock and roll in the first place, blues, country and gospel, and put them through the grist of their mill of experience as a hard playing, hard living bar band and touring ensemble. It was as a rough gem of a record destined to be a classic.
Three years and three albums later, The Band booked The Academy of Music in New York City for four nights of concerts, December 28-31, 1971. In 1972, the double album Rock Of Ages was released as a record of those four nights. In 2001 Capital Records reissued it on CD with a bonus disc including tracks featuring Bob Dylan accompanying The Band on four songs and six other tracks not on the original album. Now for the first time ever, Capitol/Universal Music is releasing the definitive recording of that concert as a four-CD, one-DVD set co-produced by lead guitarist Robertson, Live at The Academy of Music 1971.
The first two discs contain copies of every song played over the four nights of the concert, specially re-mixed for this release, while discs three and four contain the soundboard mix of the entire New Year’s Eve concert.
While studio albums of The Band give you an idea as to the quality of their music, it’s only by listening to them perform live that you come to appreciate them for what they were. For it’s here you realize what it was that made them so special. The raw, chaotic power held together by years of performing with each other allowed them to play with complete abandon, secure in the knowledge that even if one of them made a mistake, the others would be right there to smooth things over. At times you are literally holding your breath for it can be like watching a train careen down the tracks on the verge of running off the rail, but which somehow or other miraculously doesn’t crash and comes safely into the station.
Listening to the New Year’s Eve concert through the soundboard, with it’s raw unfiltered mix pi