I think The Band were one of the most influential yet way under-rated rock bands. The line-up was a bunch of Canadians and an American. American drummer Levon Helm played with keyboardist Richard Manuel, saxophonist/keyboardist Garth Hudson, bass player Rick Danko, and the great guitarist Robbie Robertson, all Canadian. They first got together as a back-up band for Ronnie Hawkins, before heading out on their own in 1964. They joined Bob Dylan on tour in 1965 and 1966. They joined him and countless others in the studio, being the go to band for recording artists. I never saw them play live, but I have an incredibly strong memory of the summer between high school and college, when I went to see the movie The Last Waltz as a kind of 'last hurrah' of us Smyrna High kids before we went out separate ways. It was Jay, Vern, Ed, Candy and me, if I remember correctly. The movie and the music were just incredible. It made for a memorable night.
In 1968, The Band released what might be their most well-known song, The Weight. The song was written by Robbie Robertson, with lead vocals by Levon Helm. If you know it, sing along. If you don't, you should! To me, the resurgence of 'roots music' and bands like Mumford & Sons or the Avett Brothers are a return to my youth, and a return to bands like this one; their music, their sound, their passion.
They had their greatest chart success with the 1969 release Up On Cripple Creek. The single was backed by the amazing The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. The single made it to #25 on the US Hot 100 chart.
While it might have the sound and feel of an old song, They Night They Drove Old Dixie Down was also written by Robertson. One of the most successful covers of the song was done by the gifted Joan Baez in 1971. It was also covered by Johnny Cash, the Allman Brothers Band, and Gerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead.
In 1972, they had another strong showing with Don't Do It, which had stronger rock ties than the previous songs. However, unlike the other songs, it wasn't written by Robbie Robertson. Instead, it is by the Motown team of Holland, Dozier and Holland.
On November 25, 1976, The Band held a final concert. It was documented on film by the great director Martin Scorsese, and released in 1978 with the title The Last Waltz. The Band and their incredible group of friends were featured, from Joni Mitchell to Bob Dylan to Neil Young to Neil Diamond to the Staples Singers. It was an amazing and joyous way to celebrate what The Band was, and not mourn what would be no more. For the final song, they brought everyone out on stage with them and sang the immortal Dylan song, I Shall Be Released.
To find out more about The Band, check out their official website here.