The Band started life as the Hawks – Ronnie Hawkins backing band. Ronnie was a Canadian Rock ‘n’ Roller who roamed the planet with minor success but had a whale of a time. He is supposed to have hired them with the immortal lines ‘You won’t make any money but you’ll get more pussy than Frank Sinatra.’
He was obviously wrong.
In the mid-sixties they broke away from Ronnie and Dylan ended up using them as his backing band. They took over from Paul Butterfield Blues Band who Dylan used for his scorching electric set that upset a lot of people at the Newport Folk Festival but generated a whole new type of music. But that’s something else.
After Dylan’s legendary motorbike accident they set up home in a big pink house in Woodstock and during Dylan’s recuperation they constantly fooled around, playing and rehearsing in the basement. They were obviously fun sessions with no particulate purpose in mind apart from the joy of jamming and playing music together with absolutely no pressure but they were recorded for posterity and became known as the Basement Tapes.
The type of music they were playing was totally different to the stuff any of them had played before. Instead of Rock ‘n’ Roll or the mercurial sound Dylan had created on Blonde on Blonde they were playing old jazz and R&B classics with a bit of Country thrown into the mix. At the time nobody else was doing that sort of thing but now it’s called Americana. In the process they created that new sound and started a new genre. Even the new songs sounded like the others. The Band even looked like outlaw cowboys from the old West.
For me I was too enamoured with the Basement Tapes when I heard them. I wanted more of the vibrant Dylan Electric Highway 61 period with its snarling bullets for lyrics. This was far too gentle and soft for my liking. I didn’t go for mellow.
At the time Acid Rock, Psychedelia, Progressuive Rock and nascent Heavy Metal was setting the pace. The Band, as they were now known, released an album aptly called Music from Big Pink, which, because of the big departure from the style of the time, caused quite a stir. This new style was complex and brilliantly played. The music was melodic and interesting, harked back to the olden days and it captured your attention. I was particularly attracted to the Dylan covers. I liked the album. Eric Clapton saw it as game changing. It was one of the reasons he left Cream. He saw the music as superior to anything Cream were producing and thought it heralded in a new age.
I wouldn’t go so far. The Band were seasoned musicians. The songs were beautifully crafted and the genre spawned a lot of imitators but It was no better than the others, just different.
The Band went on to record a series of great albums and put themselves in the top hierarchy of Rock Bands.