Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson came together to form The Hawks, which was a backing band for Toronto-based singer Ronnie Hawkins. After refining their skills while playing with Hawkins, the guys decided they wanted more. They parted ways with Hawkins and started recording and touring on their own. Unfortunately, without the focal point that they had with Hawkins, they didn’t exactly hit the ground running. In 1965 Bob Dylan was in the process of putting together a band for his first “electric” tour in the United States. Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson were recruited and soon convinced Dylan to hire the rest of their band as well. The band performed with Bob Dylan throughout the world, gaining experience and exposure with every stop.
On July 29th, 1966, Dylan was hurt in a motorcycle accident, so the Hawks worked with other musicians. Dylan had been recovering in Woodstock, New York and invited the guys out. While meeting with Dylan they recorded what would become known as “The Basement Tapes,” which were later released. The Hawks began writing their own music and rented a large pink house in upstate New York, which they dubbed “Big Pink.” Due to the fact that they seemed to always be referred to as “the band” by Dylan or others, they adopted the name. The Band was officially born.
The Band released their first album “Music from Big Pink,” on July 1st, 1968. The album was critically acclaimed and included the songs “Tears of Rage,” “This Wheel’s on Fire,” and what is arguably their most famous song “The Weight.” The track “The Weight,” was used in the now-legendary film “Easy Rider,” which only helped bring attention to the group. The Band went on tour in support of the album and performed at the Woodstock Festival in 1969 alongside acts such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival and many others. The Band released their second, self-titled album “The Band,” on September 22nd, 1969. The album peaked at #9 on the charts, and sold more than 1 million copies in the US alone.
Proving how far they had come from their days as a backup group, The Band scored the cover of the prestigious Time Magazine on January 12th, 1970. The new pressures of fame and fortune were quite obvious however. On August 17th, 1970, the album “Stage Fright” was released, and once again earned the group favorable reviews. Despite mounting tensions between the band’s members they released “Cahoots,” on September 15th, 1971. “Moondog Matinee,” an album of cover songs, followed more than two years later. The Band returned to the road with Dylan for the “Bob Dylan and The Band 1974 Tour,” which took them through North America. New material didn’t surface until the release of 1975’s “Northern Lights – Southern Cross.” Although the album didn’t sell terribly well, it once again earned The Band good reviews.
By the time 1976 had come around, some of The Band’s members had become tired of the hectic pace of touring. The Band decided to call it quits by throwing a massive concert at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom, with guests that included Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Neil Young and many others. The show was documented by Martin Scorsese and later accompanied by an epic soundtrack. Despite the fact that they had broken up, the album “Islands,” which contained both covers and original songs, was released in 1977. The Band reunited in 1983 without Robbie Robertson but were shaken up when Richard Manuel committed suicide while they were on tour in 1986. The Band released the albums “Jericho,” in 1993, “High on the Hog,” in 1996 and “Jubilation” in 1998. On December 10th, 1999 Rick Danko died and The Band split up permanently. The Band has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2008 were given The Grammy Award’s Lifetime Achievement Award.