Friday Night Music Byte
The Last Waltz was a concert by the Canadian rock group, The Band, held on American Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976, at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. The Last Waltz was advertised as the end of The Band’s illustrious touring career, and the concert saw The Band joined by more than a dozen special guests, including Paul Butterfield, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Wood and Neil Young.
The Band was a group active from 1967 to 1976. The original group (1967-1976) consisted of four Canadians: Robbie Robertson (guitar, piano, vocals); Richard ManuelGarth Hudson (organ, piano, clavinet, accordion, synthesizer, saxophone); and Rick Danko (bass guitar, violin, trombone, vocals), and one American, Levon Helm (drums, mandolin, guitar, bass guitar, vocals). (piano, harmonica, drums, saxophone, organ, vocals);
The members of the Band first came together as they joined rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins’ backing group, The Hawks, one by one between 1958 and 1963. Upon leaving Hawkins in 1964 they were known as The Levon Helm Sextet (the sixth member being sax player Jerry Penfound), then Levon and the Hawks (without Penfound). In 1965, they released a single on Ware Records under the name the Canadian Squires, but returned as Levon and the Hawks for a recording session for Atco later in 1965. At about the same time, Bob Dylan recruited Helm and Robertson for two concerts, then the entire group for his U.S. tour in 1965 and world tour in 1966. They also joined him on the informal recordings that later became The Basement Tapes.
Because they were always “the band” to various frontmen, Helm said the name “The Band” worked well when the group came into its own and left Saugerties, New York, to begin recording their own material. They recorded two of the most acclaimed albums of the late 1960s: their 1968 debut Music from Big Pink (featuring the single “The Weight”) and 1969’s The Band. They broke up in 1976, but reformed in 1983 without founding guitarist Robbie Robertson.
Tonight’s video clip is a song from that concert known as Stage Fright. The singer is one of the founding members of The Band, Rick Danko. He was the bassist and did not often sing lead, but he does a great job with this song. By the late 1990s, his lifestyle was taking its toll, particularly his drinking and indulging in a mix of harder drugs and painkillers, the result of a serious car accident in 1968. He continued to be on prescribed opiates, including morphine, throughout the remainder of his life, Danko’s health problems were later compounded by rapid weight gain in the mid 1990s. By 1997, he was chronically obese. That same year, Danko was found guilty of attempting to smuggle heroin into Japan. He told the presiding judge that he had begun using the drug (together with prescription morphine) to fight life-long pain resulting from his 1968 auto accident. On December 10, 1999, just days after the end of a brief tour of the Midwest that included two shows in the Chicago area and a final gig at The Ark in Ann Arbor, Michigan Rick Danko’s heart gave out, and he died in his sleep at his home near Woodstock, New York.