The Band - Music From Big Pink (1968)

The Band were an influential and highly acclaimed rock band formed in the 1960s.

The Band already had years of experience behind them before their first album came out, and their story starts back in the early 60s. They came together originally as the backing group for rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins, who was playing in Canada where he was very popular at the time. One by one the future members of The Band joined his group, leading up to the lineup of Robbie Robertson (guitar), Rick Danko (bass), Richard Manuel (piano), Garth Hudson (organ) and Levon Helm (drums). Helm was a southener from Arkansas, whilst the other four were all Canadians. They played with Hawkins for years (known then as The Hawks), but by 1964 had split with him, and they began touring by themselves. In 1965 Bob Dylan invited them to play with him, and they backed him on his legendary '65/'66 tour which saw him transform from folkie to rock star (though Helm dropped out three months in and was replaced by Mickey Jones). However in July '66 Dylan was injured in a motorcycle accident, and retired to semi-reclusion in Woodstock. He invited the Hawks to join him, where they recorded a much-bootlegged series of demos which were years later officially released as The Basement Tapes, and the seeds of their debut album were sown.
Without Dylan, and re-united with Helm, they began writing their own songs, and in 1968 their debut album Music From Big Pink was released, credited only to 'The Band' and produced by John Simon. It was unlike anything ever heard in rock music at the time. The fact that it was released at the height of the psychedelic rock craze made it even more extraordinary. Spurning all current trends, they re-connected with the roots of their music - folk, country, rhythm & blues and gospel, and forged a unique new sound. It fell in with what other American bands were doing at the time with country-rock, and is often referred to as a pioneering album in that genre, but the stylistic hot-pot of Music From Big Pink is much more than just a fusion of rock and country. This sound has retrospectively been labelled Americana or 'roots rock', but at the time it defied all classification and simply represented the sound of The Band.
Instrumentally, The Band were at the top of their league. Robbie Robertson was a highly talented guitarist, but on Music From Big Pink he reigned in the fire of his work with Hawkins and Dylan and instead played subtle, understated lines which supported the arrangements rather than dominated them. The musical virtuosity of the group undoubtedly came from Garth Hudson, who played a Lowry organ (instead of the Hammond usually found in rock music) and a variety of other keyboard instruments with a creativity which effectively re-invented the idea of what a rock keyboardist could sound like. The use of a pianist and an organist together was highly unusual for rock music, the fact that the guitar was usually playing a supporting role to the keyboards even more so. Both bassist Danko and drummer Helm had unique approaches to their instruments, giving the group a fantastic rhythm section to build on. Vocally they were also unique - they were used to backing frontmen, but Manuel, Helm and Danko all had brilliant and distinctive voices which complemented eachother perfectly. The result was that they had three lead vocalists to call on, or more often than not, three voices to join together in loose, almost chaotic harmonies.
The material on the album was mostly written by Robertson, Manuel and Dylan. The three Dylan compositions date back to the basement sessions, one co-written with Manuel and another with Danko. They also included a cover of the old country classic "Long Black Veil". Defying trends further still, they opened the album with the slow, stately "Tears Of Rage", which went against all percieved rules of album sequencing.
The most famous song on the album is Robertson's "The Weight". Though it only reached a modest #63 in the US, it has managed to become one of the most well-known and beloved songs of the American counter-culture, helped no doubt by its inclusion in the film Easy Rider.
Music From Big Pink was widely acclaimed upon its release, and is generally considered a highly influential and pivotal album in the history of rock music. The elements that made it so unique at its time are by themselves small and seemingly minor, but when they were all fused together, it was clear The Band were something special.

Early Years (As The Hawks) (1964-68) <|> The Band (1969)
More from The Band



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