Where do I start with this band, The Band? I feel like to call yourself The Band you have to live up to some pretty big expectations and hype. The Band not only lived up to these expectations, but delivered even more with their story, character, and overall contribution to music. I am coming off pretty biased as I say this, but the Band is one of the best and highly underrated bands of all time. Their music changed the rock and roll landscape at its time, and they frequently collaborated with some of the top musicians of the 60s and 70s.
The Band came together from its members of an earlier group, Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks. Since the early sixties, the members that eventually made up the lineup of the band: Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson, had been playing with each other and formed a chemistry that can be heard right away from their first album. Starting on their own in the late sixties, the members of the Band were all veterans, seasoned musicians, and had a success formula to produce great music. I’d say a lot their success came from their experience working and touring with other bands before they went out on their own, such as the Hawks but also Bob Dylan. The Hawks started the future members of the Band’s chemistry and introduced them to blues, folk, and other rock and roll influences from touring in the South, but I would say it was the collaboration with Dylan that helped give the Band their musical craftmanship. The Band was the backing band for Bob Dylan in the mid-sixties and recorded The Basement Tapes in the basement of the Band’s Woodstock, NY home. I think these experiences, from relentless touring with the Hawks and working frequently with Dylan, gave the Band its versatile skillset and unique sound. We’d come to see this as the Band went out on their own in the late sixties.
In 1968, The Band released Music from Big Pink, an album that was unlike most rock and roll albums at the time. They made it in the same basement in their pink house where they made The Basement Tapes with Dylan, and Dylan actually painted the album art of the pink house that has been a signature staple of the Band ever since the album’s release. While most bands in the sixties, especially late sixties, were experimenting with the psychedelic sound, the Band was anything but that. Their music went back to the basics, and heavily incorporated bluegrass, R&B, soul, country, rockabilly, and roots which all formulated into one distinct sound. Music from Big Pink produced the Band’s most famous hit, “The Weight”, which still can be heard everywhere today, from radio stations to movie soundtracks. The Band would go on to release a number of songs that would put them in a category of their own. Songs such as “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, “Ophelia”, “Up On Cripple Creek”, and “It Makes No Difference”, are full of emotion and tell stories that listeners can relate to. In 1978, The Last Waltz, a concert documentary produced by Martin Scorsese, was released and showed a more personal side of the Band that neither fans nor anyone had seen before. Like a final dance, the concert was a tribute to their time together, to the people they met along the way, and what music brought to them. In that concert alone, the Band played with Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, and Bob Dylan. These musicians wanted to be with the Band for their last ride. If that’s not legendary, I don’t know what is.
After The Last Waltz, there were some talks about getting back together, but nothing formulated to what the Band used to be and was known for. Everyone went on to work on their solo careers for a bit, but a different lineup of the Band, without Robertson and Manuel, came in the 90s where they produced a timeless rendition of Springsteen’s “Atlantic City”. After Rick Danko died in 1999, the Band officially called it quits. What the Band brought to music was their own sound, and what they left behind was an untouchable legacy. They inspired legendary musicians like Eric Clapton, who said he had an epiphany-like moment when he first heard Music from Big Pink, and tried to even audition for the Band himself. They even played in the famous Woodstock music festival in 1969, and you can still find their performance from that legendary festival today. In some songs the Band used different sound techniques that had never been heard before, but I wouldn’t say the Band was ahead of its time. They were unapologetically themselves, and when people first didn’t like how they played, they continued to play the way they wanted to play, not for anybody else. As their music caught on, their songs made people feel like it was what they grew up listening to. They were in a league of their own, and they made it on their own terms. These five men were brothers, who gifted us with their music and story – they were The Band.
— Bob Mitchell