Original members of The Band first worked together as they joined Toronto-based rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins' backing group -The Hawks- from 1958-63 then onto The Levon Helm Sextet/Levon and the Hawks. They also released a single under the name Canadian Squires, but returned as Levon and the Hawks for a recording session later in 1965.
At about the same time, Bob Dylan recruited Helm and Robertson for two concerts, then the entire group for his '65 US tour/'66 world tour. With Dylan, they played a tumultuous series of concerts marking Dylan's final transition from folkie to full-electric-rocker.
These historic appearances were also met with the heckling of folk purists. The Band was used to an audience looking to have a good time, so being rejected on principle was a bizarre, unexpected experience. Levon Helm was so affected by the negative reception that he left the tour within three months and sat out the rest of that year's concerts, as well as the world tour in 1966... then spending much of this period working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
|Dylan with The Band 1966|
Then in July of 1966 while on a break from touring, Bob Dylan was injured in a motorcycle accident, and retired into semi-seclusion in Woodstock, New York. For a while, the Hawks returned to the bar and roadhouse touring circuit, sometimes backing other singers (including a brief stint with Tiny Tim). Dylan invited the Hawks to join him in Woodstock, where they recorded a much-bootlegged and influential series of demos, subsequently released on LP as The Basement Tapes.
Because they were always "the band" to various frontmen, Levon Helm said the name "The Band" worked well when the group began recording their own material. They created two of the most acclaimed albums of the late 1960s: their 1968 debut Music from Big Pink (featuring the single "The Weight"- featured below) and then 1969's The Band.
The music fused classic country music and early rock and roll with a rhythm section reminiscent of a Motown beat. Every member was a multi-instrumentalist. There was little instrument-switching when they played live, but when recording, the musicians could make up different configurations in service of the songs.
Their rich harmonies blended together not sweetly but in an informal, flowing manner that gave them a unique sound, and their image and lyrics -steeped in traditional American culture- was also unusual, running counter to the hippie and psychedelic themes of the day. Levon Helm's drumming was often praised: critic Jon Carroll famously declared that Helm was "the only drummer who can make you cry."- and along with The Byrds this trailblazing group created a genre for later country-rock superstars like The Eagles.
Trivia: 70s Scottish hard-rockers Nazareth (Love Hurts, This Flight Tonight) named their own band from the first line of this song, "The Weight"... a favorite of theirs, and definitely one of mine, here performed live at Woodstock in the Summer of '69...