Richard Manuel was a Canadian singer and musican, best known as a member of The Band.
Born in Ontario, Canada in 1943, Richard Manuel grew up listening to American R&B, taking in the influence of artists such as Ray Charles, Bobby Bland and Jimmy Reed. His first big leap into the music business came in 1961 when he was hired as the pianist for Ronnie Hawkins' band (The Hawks), and it was here that he met the four other people with whom he was about to embark on a fantastic musical journey.
Manuel split from Hawkins along with fellow Hawks Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson, and they spent several years on the road becoming a closely-knit and finely-honed musical unit, calling themselves at various times The Canadian Squires and Levon & The Hawks. Their next big break came when they backed Bob Dylan for his first electric tour in 1966, and shortly afterwards they began writing their own material. When their debut album came out, they were known simply as The Band.
Manuel was the group's pianist, and one of three fantastic vocalists in the group. Since the early days as The Hawks he had always been seen as the lead singer, and definately had the most technically impressive voice, with a soulful R&B style which often drew comparisons to his hero Ray Charles (with a range which moved between a rich baritone and a fragile falsetto). Whilst Levon Helm sang on the group's best-known songs, and Robbie Robertson was their creative director and lead songwriter, it was Manuel who was the seen as 'the soul of the band'. He was also a talented multi-instrumentalist, often playing drums as well as piano. In the early days he showed great promise as a songwriter, and wrote some excellent tunes for their first album Music From Big Pink. However his songwriting soon seemed to dry up, despite his bandmates' efforts to encourage him. The truth was that Richard Manuel was ill, mostly due to his chronic drug abuse (his main drug of choice being alcohol). When he sang "You don't know the shape I'm in", the sad reality was that his bandmates DID see exactly what sort of shape he was in.
Throughout The Band's critically-acclaimed career, Manuel remained, always getting a few songs to lend his heart-aching voice to with every album, but as the years went by his condition worsened. When The Band finally broke up in 1977, he could have had an incredible solo career ahead of him, but sadly this never happened. He joined up for a re-formed Band in 1983, but without Robbie Robertson this new line-up did not progress artistically and mostly just played the old songs with a large selection of covers. His last recording before he died was the beautiful "Country Boy", which appeared posthumously on 1993's Jericho. On March 4th 1986 Richard Manuel committed suicide.
This is a compilation of fifteen tracks from The Band featuring Manuel on lead vocals. They include ones he wrote such as "In A Station" and "Lonesome Suzie", Robertson-penned classics including "The Shape I'm In" and "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)", and lots of great cover songs that suited his style perfectly, among them "Country Boy", "Georgia On My Mind", and "The Great Pretender". Heard together like this, it should be clear what a brilliant singer and talented soul he really was, and how with his tragic passing the world lost someone truly special.