By Adam Bunch
THE LAST WALTZ HITS THE BIG SCREEN
It all started in the early 1960s, when a musician from Arkansas moved to Canada. Ronnie Hawkins brought his backing band, The Hawks, with him to play the raucous nightclubs of Toronto’s Yonge Street strip, but over time most of them returned home and were replaced by Canadians. Before long, drummer Levon Helm was the only American left. He was joined by Toronto’s Robbie Robertson, London’s Garth Hudson, Stratford’s Richard Manuel and bassist Rick Danko from the tiny hamlet of Green’s Corners.
It was in 1964 that they left Hawkins and struck out on their own. For a while, they were playing as the Levon Helm Sextet, then as Levon and The Hawks, then as the Canadian Squires…. But they would change their name one more time before they became famous. In 1965, a folk singer from Minnesota came to Toronto to see them play. He offered them a job – and so, they became Bob Dylan’s backing group and called themselves, quite simply, The Band.
They spent the next decade as one of the most popular rock ’n’ roll outfits on the planet, but it all came to an end in 1976. They called their final show “The Last Waltz.” The Band took the stage at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco and were joined by a long list of all-star guests, including Hawkins, Dylan and fellow Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. The whole event was filmed by director Martin Scorsese and turned into one of the greatest concert films of all time.
It was during this week in 1977 that The Last Waltz premiered on the big screen for the very first time.
“THE WEIGHT” BY THE BAND IN THE LAST WALTZ
BLOOD SWEAT AND TEARS CLIMB THE CHARTS… AGAIN
The Band weren’t the only future Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees making a name for themselves on the 1960s Yonge Street strip. It’s also where David Clayton-Thomas got his start, serving as the powerfully lunged frontman for rhythm and blues outfits such as The Shays and The Bossmen. In 1966, at the same time The Band was first teaming up with Bob Dylan, Clayton-Thomas followed the legendary blues singer John Lee Hooker to New York City, where he stayed on after their gigs together were over. Eventually, he was recruited to become the new frontman for Blood Sweat and Tears, who had broken up after their first album.
Now, with Clayton-Thomas giving the group new life, they released a second. The self-titled record was a smash hit; it even edged out The Beatles’ Abbey Road for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards. The album’s first single, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” climbed all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The second single, “Spinning Wheel,” did the very same thing. And it was during this week in 1969 that the third single, “And When I Die,” broke into the Top 10 on its way to becoming the band’s third straight single to climb all way up to No. 2.
“AND WHEN I DIE” BY BLOOD SWEAT AND TEARS
By Adam Bunch
THE BIRTH OF THE BASEMENT TAPES
In the summer of 1966, Bob Dylan had an accident. He was riding his motorcycle near his home – just outside of Woodstock in New York State – when he hit a patch of oil and spun out of control. He came out of it in rough shape: with terrible road rash and a cracked vertebra.
It was a turning point. In the wake of the crash, Dylan not only cancelled his upcoming tour, but he also seized the opportunity to withdraw from public life. He was at the height of his powers – “Blonde On Blonde” had just been released – but the last few years had been gruelling ones. On top of all of the stress of being one of the most famous people in the world, his decision to go electric had earned him a chorus of boos from folk purists during his last tour. So Dylan decided to take a break from being a world-famous rock star and to spend some time with his family instead.
“Truth was that I wanted to get out of the rat race,” he later wrote. “Having children changed my life….”
But none of that meant he was going to slow down creatively. In fact, he’d just found some exciting new songwriting partners from Canada.
They were originally called The Hawks. Dylan discovered them in Toronto, where they’d made a name for themselves playing rock and roll in bars along the Yonge Street strip – originally as the backing band for Ronnie Hawkins and then on their own. They were exactly what Dylan needed. He invited them to join him on tour, to back him up as he played those controversial new electric songs. From the fall of 1965 right through to the spring of 1966, they survived those long nights of folkniks booing them, heckling them and storming out of theatres.
“Don’t worry,” Dylan told the crowd at one show, “I’m just as eager to finish and leave as you are.”
On the road, they were billed as “Bob Dylan and the Band” and, eventually, that simple name stuck. The Hawks became known as The Band.
When Dylan went on hiatus, he kept right on working with them. They moved to Woodstock, too – rented out a pink house. During the months that Dylan disappeared from the public eye, they recorded more than 100 songs together, many of them in the basement of the house they called “The Big Pink.”
It’s not entirely clear when exactly they started the recordings, but it was sometime around this point in June of 1967. It marked the beginning of an extraordinary period; those 100 songs were something special. For a long time only a few people knew about the relatively secret sessions, but as bootleg recordings spread, the buzz grew.
Many of the songs that came out of that basement were destined to become hits. “Too Much of Nothing” was eventually covered by Peter, Paul and Mary, and ended up on the Top 40 of the Billboard charts. “Mighty Quinn” broke into the Top 10 when Manfred Mann recorded it. “Tears of Rage” and “I Shall Be Released” proved to be two of The Band’s most famous songs ever. They served as bookends to the group’s debut album, which eventually emerged from those basement sessions at the big pink house. The future Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees called the record Music From Big Pink.
It wasn’t the only album that owed a debt to that basement. Eight years after Dylan and The Band recorded those 100+ songs, many of them were finally released by Columbia Records. The Basement Tapes turned out to be a hugely influential LP, inspiring everyone from Elvis Costello to Billy Bragg, foreshadowing the Americana genre, earning a place on Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest albums of all time, and climbing all the way to No. 6 on the Billboard record chart.
“I SHALL BE RELEASED” BY THE BAND