October 25, 2013

The Band

The Band


By Harvey Kubernik

During the final week of 1971, the Band played four legendary concerts at New York City’s Academy Of Music, ushering in the New Year with electrifying performances, including new horn arrangements by Allen Toussaint and a surprise guest appearance by Bob Dylan for a New Year’s Eve encore.

Select highlights from the concerts were compiled for The Band’s classic 1972 double LP, Rock Of Ages, which peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 and remains a core album in the trailblazing group’s storied Capitol Records catalog.

For the first time, all four of the concerts’ multi-track recordings have been revisited for Live At The Academy Of Music 1971, a new 4CD+DVD collection to be released September 17 by Capitol/UMe.

The expansive new compilation features new stereo and 5.1 Surround mixes, including 19 previously unreleased performances and newly discovered footage of two songs filmed by Howard Alk and Murray Lerner. Live At The Academy Of Music 1971 takes a deep dive into the Band’s historic shows for a definitive document of the pioneering group’s stage prowess at the apex of their career. On the same date, the collection’s first two discs will also be released as a 2-CD set.

Live At The Academy of Music 1971 is presented in a deluxe, 48-page hardbound book with previously unseen photos, a reproduction of Rolling Stone’s original Rock Of Ages review by magazine co-founder Ralph J. Gleason, an essay by the Band’s Robbie Robertson, and appreciations of the Band and the set’s recordings by Mumford & Sons and Jim James of My Morning Jacket.

The collection’s first two discs feature performances of every song played over the course of the four concerts, and the New Year’s Eve soundboard mix on discs 3 and 4 puts the listener in the room for that entire legendary night: Uncut, unedited, taken straight from the master recordings and presented in full for the first time. The set’s DVD presents the tracks from discs 1 and 2 in 5.1 Surround, plus Howard Alk and Murray Lerner’s filmed performances of “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” and “The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show.”

Robbie Roberston-Levon Helms

Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm

Live At The Academy Of Music 1971 is produced by Robbie Robertson, with co-producers Michael Murphy and Matt D’Amico. The stereo mixes for the first two discs and the DVD’s 5.1 Surround mix were done by Bob Clearmountain, with the stereo mixes for discs 3 and 4 helmed by Sebastian Robertson and Jon Castelli, assisted by Ryan Nasci. The collection was mastered by Patricia Sullivan at Bernie Grundman Mastering. The concerts were originally recorded by Phil Ramone with Mark Harman.

“My fondest memory of those nights at the Academy of Music start with trepidation,” volunteers Prof. Jonathan Taplin, the former road manager of the Band. “We had been touring for two years, but the addition of a horn section and charts by Allen Toussaint was a wild card. Because the horn players were playing from written music, the somewhat looser feel that the Band had developed on stage could have gotten lost. But the first time the horns came in, all my worries dissolved. It was such a big sound and so funky that it just added to the joy of the music,” adds Taplin, now Director, Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California.

“I had tix for that New Year’s Eve show — knowing in my bones that Bob was gonna pull a surprise appearance,” reveals writer and music historian, Michael Simmons. “Three weeks before, my father announces we’re going to Miami for the holidays. ‘Your’re going to Miami,’ said I. ‘I’m going to see The Band at The Academy Of Music.’ I was 16 and overruled and spent a miserable week in Yourami with greased-up geriatrics roasting in the sun like stuck kosher pigs. The minute we got home, I called my friend Larry. ‘HE SHOWED!’ said he. I told my almost-87 year old father a couple of weeks ago that I still haven’t forgiven him 42 years later.”

In 2013, Robertson, reflecting on the time and the decision to record the 1971 Academy Of Music concerts, stresses, “We were in a huddle of playing music, enjoying what we were doing, and I had a feeling, ‘We should capture this.’ To end 1971 with these shows felt, for all of us, like the right thing to do. This is a fulfillment of that extraordinary musical experience that I feel great about sharing.”

Contained in this 2013 retail item are stellar renditions of “Stage Fright,” “Up On Cripple Creek,” “This Wheel’s On Fire,” “I Shall Be Released,” and “King Harvest (Has Surely Come).”

Of the set’s now complete New Year’s Eve recording, Robertson offers, “This is like being there. It was the final night; there was a thrill in the air.

“We were excited about New Year’s Eve, and then Dylan joined us for the encore. When he came out, we thought we could wing it, and wing it we did. We thought, ‘We’re not gonna fall off this wire.’ That whole night had a bit of magic to it.”

“Dylan and the Band’s intuitive onstage musical chemistry had developed since 1966, and you can hear it shift in their Rock of Ages encore set,” suggests Dr. James Cushing, longtime DJ on radio station KCPR-FM in San Luis Obispo California. “The music’s overall roughness (they were winging it, after all) recalls their Isle of Wight concert from two years previously, even down to the inclusion of a rare Basement Tape tune and a missing-verse reading of “Like a Rolling Stone.” However, Dylan’s voice here anticipates his harshly declamatory 1974 performances captured on Before the Flood. The Band, Helm and Robertson especially, provide him with a backup so strong that he sounds ready to reconquer the culture, not withdraw from it as Self Portrait and New Morning suggested. The Rock of Ages set adds to the mystery of Dylan by representing his public voice at an otherwise private time.”

Back home, as teenagers in Canada, Robertson, along with Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel, were inspired by the vibrant new music pouring into their lives from radio stations in the United States. The quartet pooled their creative enthusiasms into a succession of bands with names like the Robots, the Rocking Revols and Thumper and the Trombones.

The Band’s members shared an extensive collaborative history. Between 1960 and 1962, the then-teenaged multi-instrumentalists Levon Helm (drums, vocals, mandolin), Robbie Robertson (guitar, piano, vocals), Rick Danko (bass, vocals, fiddle), Richard Manuel (keyboards, vocals, drums) and Garth Hudson (keyboards, horns) first performed and recorded together as members of the backing band for Ronnie Hawkins called the Hawks.

In late 1963, the Hawks struck out on their own and became Levon & the Hawks, playing and recording under this name in 1964 and 1965.

The Band Academy of Music-500In time, they hooked up with an oddball Arkansas rockabilly crooner named Ronnie Hawkins and became The Hawks, Ronnie’s back-up group. Dubbing himself “The King of Rockabilly,” Hawkins, with four wide-eyed Canadian kids in tow, lumbered along a zigzagging circuit of gin mills and roadhouses. The drummer of the Hawks was fun-loving Levon Heim, a boy from Marvel, Arkansas, whom Hawkins had borrowed from a band called the Jungle Bush Beaters and brought north with him in 1958. The whole bunch appeared on several of Hawkins’ early records, among them his Mojo Man LP.

The traveling transformed the boys, especially Robbie Robertson. At the age of 16, Levon took him along on a side trip back into the South, where Robbie first glimpsed and then gulped down double helpings of a world he had only heard and read about back in Toronto. Most of all, he was moved by the music of each area he passed through — each style discrete, brimming with a nation’s worth of confession, legend and falsehood, and all of them overlapping in a great quilt of information and emotion. There were Tex-Mex stomps and country swing, German and Swedish folk ballads, Acadian love songs and Cajun two-steps, rock ‘n roll and brassy jazz, bluegrass and lumberjacks’ calls, sea shanties and rhythm & blues, David Seville & the Chipmunks and Bobby Darin, and much, much more.

After spending several years with Hawkins, the band cut out; Multi-talented Levon became their new inspirational leader. The group at first continued to play Ronnie’s well-worn circuit of dives, but gradually widened their Toronto trajectory to include the East Coast of the U.S. Along the way, they changed their name from the Crackers to the Canadian Squires and then back to the Hawks (or rather, Levon Helm and the Hawks.) They also cut a number of obscure singles, such as “Leave Me Alone,” “Go, Go Liza Jane” and the ominous “The Stones I Throw (Will Free All Men),” while building up a small reputation as a disciplined, adventuresome band.
In 1965, Robertson met with Bob Dylan in New York, just as Dylan was seeking an electric guitarist for his touring band. The Band was born, with all of the former Hawks backing Dylan on the road from October 1965 through 1966 as he incensed audiences in the U.S., Australia and Europe, performing electric sets. Disheartened by the vocally disdainful ‘folkie purist’ audience response to their first plugged-in performances with Dylan, Helm left the Band in November 1965. Levon did not go along, however, embarrassed that his band was backing another. Mickey Jones replaced Levon on 1966 tour dates.

After the 1966 trek concluded, the Band woodshedded for the next year in upstate New York, often in the company of Dylan, forging a highly original sound that in one way or another encompassed the panoply of American roots music: country, blues, R&B, gospel, soul, rockabilly, the honking tenor sax tradition, Anglican hymns, funeral dirges, brass band music, folk music, modern rock, fused and synthesized in ways that no one had ever before thought possible.

Helm re-joined the Band in 1967, as the group prepared to record their debut full-length album. The others had accompanied Dylan into the woods of upstate New York in search of an idyll, and there resolved to bow out of Dylan’s secondary spotlight. In truth, the coalition had always been an awkward one, the Hawks were seasoned musicians back when Robert Zimmerman was still an errant scamp wondering how to run away from Minnesota. Moreover, their life view was somewhat at variance with that of the skinny balladeer.

The Hawks entered a little pink house in West Saugerties, N.Y., emerging in 1968 as The Band. Music From Big Pink surprised a lot of people expecting more disparagement set to music; the album was full of unabashed moralizing, culminating in the assertion that if we natives didn’t want America with all its dramas of goodness and pain, they would be only too happy to take up the burden.

The Band arrived here in the mid-’60s, a time when many Native Americans were choosing self-imposed exile from their roots and realities. The Band, however, were five spiritually hungry young men who had left Canada, “The Land of Snow,” committed to a respectful wandering. Their first album, Music From Big Pink, was simultaneously a celebration of and a rededication to the traditional values, which many Americans were in various stages of discarding.

The Band-bw-John Scheele

The Band performing at New York City’s Academy of Music in 1971

Released in 1968, Music From Big Pink received glowing reviews; a journalist for Life magazine wrote that the Band ‘dipped into the well of tradition and came up with a bucketful of clear, cool, country soul that washed the ears with a sound never heard before.’

“While the album only reached No. 30 on Billboard’s chart when it was released, it has become recognized over time as one of the most important albums in the history of rock,” according to information supplied by their UMe record label.

Jaime Robert Robertson has made a career out of peering at people, mostly Americans, from uniquely private vantage points, attempting as a displaced Canadian to ferret out and catalogue the panoramic truths in the American experience and synthesize them into picaresque songs depicting the strengths and foibles of all peoples; all pilgrims.

The themes of Robertson’s best songs, from Big Pink to the much-matured Northern Lights-Southern Cross album, are distinctly American vis-à-vis Canadian, but universal in their yearnings: elusive verities and unkept appointments (“To Kingdom Come”); diligence and anonymous integrity (“Rags & Bones “Hobo Jungle”); loneliness and disjunction (“Acadian Driftwood”); the snares that accompany renewal (“King Harvest”); love’s entanglements and numbing betrayals (“All La Glory” “The Rumor,” “The Unfaithful Servant”); the consequences of moral bankruptcy and greed (“Stage Fright,” “Daniel and the Sacred Harp”) and the terrible responsibilities of living (“The Weight”).

Through it all, Robertson has been meticulously romantic in his constructions, using words like “renegade” or “rounder,” or phrases like “gypsy tail-wind” to describe the restless bravery of his characters. “I like the use of those words, nostalgic words,” he says. “That’s kind of what The Band’s music has been; that’s kinda what it does to people. It brings home things they take for granted.”

In 1976 I spoke to Robbie for an interview published in Crawdaddy:
Robertson almost always writes in the third person, autobiography coming out in interpretive snips and snatches. “I just think it’s part of storytelling,” Robbie commented. “It isn’t anything to put the songs in the third person. Sometimes when you get that little detachment you can write about more. I’m Canadian and I wrote the song about the Civil War [‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’]. I didn’t know the story and it fascinated me. Everyone else took it for granted – they read about it in history class. When it’s strictly about yourself you’re ‘not allowed to deal with fiction. So it’s something that opens the gates a little bit.”

In our 1976 Crawdaddy conversation, I asked Robbie about the double keyboard combination of piano and organ, a Band trademark. Has Robbie ever felt suffocated by this format?

“No. I play as much as I want to play. No one is telling me, ‘Listen, you’re playing too much.’ That’s my own decision. That’s how much I prefer to do. When I hear other people play a lot more than required I find it really drivel and there’s nothing in this fuckin’ wide world that’s going to do anything for the song; I don’t care. I like a good guitar part where it adds something, has a nice place and is a nice solo. Not too much, not too little. But I think as time goes on it just takes different proportions, and too much is unnecessary.”

Robertson’s guitar theory seems to simply extend his basic life philosophy of unhurried discipline. Or, as Bob Dylan said when he called to talk about Robbie: “Listen to his guitar playing. That’s all you have to know about him.”

Live At The Academy Of Music 1971 houses the Dylan/Band stage pairings on “Down In The Flood,” “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” “Don’t Ya Tell Henry,” and “Like A Rolling Stone.”

In 1976 Robbie explained to me the alchemy that occurs during Band and Dylan live gigs.

“There was a thing that happened between Bob and the Band that when we played together that we would just go into a certain gear automatically. It was like instinctual, like you smelled something in the air, you know, and it made you hungry. (laughs). It was that instinctual. And the way we played music together was very much that way. And whether, we were playing in 1966, or 1976, or when we did the tour together in 1974, we would go to a certain place where we just pulled the trigger. It was like ‘just burn down the doors ‘cause we’re coming through.’ And it was a whole other place that we played when we weren’t playing with him. It was a whole place that he played when he wasn’t playing with us, so it was like putting a flame and oil together, or something. I don’t know.”

In 2004 he elaborated further about the Band and Dylan concert blend in an interview we did for Goldmine.

“When we did the Dylan and Band tour in ’74, where we went and did a lot of the same things we did back in ’66, and the peoples’ response was ‘this is the shit and I knew it all along.’ It was like you weren’t really there all along. It’s interesting and it’s one of the things I talked about in my keynote speech that I had to make at this (SXSW) conference. It’s really a very interesting experiment to see, or go from something that people were so adamantly against this music, and that we didn’t change nothing, and the world revolved, and everybody came around and said ‘this is brilliant.’ That was very interesting to see every-thing else change around you.”

Between 1968 and 1978, the Band released nine albums. In 1989, the Band was inducted into the Canadian Juno Hall of Fame; five years later they were accorded the same honor by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2008, the Band was honored with The Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

And now in 2013 we have Live At The Academy of Music 1971, the fully realized document of the 1971 Rock of Ages.


Rick Danko: bass, violin, vocals
Levon Helm: drums, mandolin, vocals
Garth Hudson: organ, accordion, saxophones
Richard Manuel: piano, keyboards, drums, vocals
Robbie Robertson: guitar, vocals

Snooky Young: trumpet, flugelhorn
Howard Johnson: baritone sax, tuba, euphonium
Joe Farrell: tenor sax, soprano sax, English horn
Earl McIntyer: trombone
J.D. Parron: alto sax, e flat clarinet
Horns arranged by Allen Toussaint


Los Angeles native Harvey Kubernik has been an active music journalist for over 40 years and the author of 5 books, including “This Is Rebel Music” (2002) and “Hollywood Shack Job: Rock Music In Film and On Your Screen” (2004) published by the University of New Mexico Press.

In 2009 Kubernik wrote the critically acclaimed “Canyon of Dreams The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon” published by Sterling, a division of Barnes and Noble. In summer 2012, the title was published in a paperback edition.

He is also a writer of “That Lucky Old Sun,” a Genesis Publications limited edition (2009) title ($900.00 signed ) done in collaboration with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and Sir Peter Blake, designer of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” cover.

With his brother Kenneth, he co-authored the highly regarded “A Perfect Haze: The Illustrated History of the Monterey International Pop Festival” published in 2011 by Santa Monica Press. They have also teamed up for a book with photographer Guy Webster for Insight Editions, slated for summer 2014.

For early spring 2014, Harvey Kubernik’s “Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972” will be published by Santa Monica Press.
In fall of 2014, Palazzo Editions will publish “Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows,” a coffee table size volume with narrative and oral history written by Harvey Kubernik.

This century Harvey penned the liner notes to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s “Tapestry,” Allen Ginsberg’s “Kaddish,” the “Elvis Presley ’68 Comeback Special” and the Ramones’ “End of the Century.”

In 2013, Kubernik was seen on the BBC-TV documentary on Bobby Womack, “Across 110Th Street,” directed by James Meycock and lensed for the upcoming Neil Norman-directed documentary about the Seeds.


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