Monday, November 24, 2008


Thanksgiving is the perfect time to bring out The Band. In spite of being 4/5ths Canadian, these brilliant musicians created a unique take on Americana, blending old time country, blues, gospel, and rock 'n' roll into a sound that was both timeless and resonant, a Memphis jukebox one moment, a tentshow revival the next, a killer bar band Saturday night, and when the smoke cleared Sunday morning, a motley crew of Civil War deserters playing tunes around a campfire. They told stories. They tended the still. They made great records, back when there was such a thing. They didn't warm to strangers right off, but once you got to know them they were right friendly folks. Now some of them are dead, and the rest are in rocking chairs. Drop by and say hello. Those rocking chairs won't go nowhere.

These clips are from The Last Waltz, a film of their final concert, Thanksgiving Day, 1976.

Starting out as the Hawks with Ronnie Hawkins, and later backing up Bob Dylan to jeering crowds on the 1966 tour (where the folkies were shocked by all the electricity), these scroungy old codgers holed up in Woodstock, New York, like the Dalton Gang. They licked their wounds and smoked their rope and practiced in the basement of a house in West Saugerties they called Big Pink, which would also be the title of their first album. These "basement tapes" were bootlegged, circulated, and discussed into the wee hours. Only a fraction were ever officially released (a double album in 1975) but the word was out; the rest of the rock world may have been plugging in to psychedelic paisley, but these boys were channeling the musical past--mining the ore of what rock critic Greil Marcus would call the "old, weird America."

Appropriately enough, their last official concert was Thanksgiving Day of the bicentennial year, 1976. As these clips show, The Band played their hearts out. Old friends showed up and played, too, including Dylan, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, The Staple Singers, Ringo and many others. Martin Scorsese filmed the night and turned it into a documentary called The Last Waltz. As I said, it was Thanksgiving, so along with brilliant musical performances guests were treated to a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Dylan brought a ton of salmon. Nobody left hungry.

The Band in "old, weird America"

Here's an added holiday treat--"All You Have to Do is Dream" (take 2), an unreleased "basement tape" with Dylan and the Band at Big Pink, 1967 (just click button):

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