Itâs funny how time flies even when your not having as much fun as youâd like. My wife brought me home a present last night, a copy of Martin Scorseseâs The Last Waltz. I flipped over the DVD cover to check out the rest of the package and saw the date: 1978, 27 years ago.
I guess somewhere in my mind I knew that it had to be that long ago, but it was still shocking to do the math. I still think of âThe Bandâ as one of my favourite groups and to realize that they had stopped officially playing that long ago sort of took me by surprise.
You see that was the premise of The Last Waltz. The guys were burning out from being on the road for close to twenty years and this was going to be their final hurrah. They had started playing back in the late fifties with Ronnie Hawkins at the old Nickelodeon bar on Yonge St. in Toronto. Four Canadian kids, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and Richard Manuel plus one Arkansas ex patriot Levon Helm.
They had been promised not much money but âmore pussy than Frank Sinatraâ by Romping Ronnie as enticement for playing in the juke joints of Ontario and New York. Initially they were called the Hawks as have been all bands ever since that play with Ronnie, but that was changed to âThe Bandâ when they began playing with Bob Dylan in 1965.
They called themselves that because thatâs what they were, the band that played behind the front man. They went from being Ronnieâs band to Dylanâs band. Robbie was the lead guitar player, Rick bassist, Garth was on organ, Richard Manuel piano, and Levon Helm drums.
They were the band on Bob Dylanâs infamous 1965 tour where he was booed off stages across England and North America for plugging in a electric guitar. (a person I know who was at that Newport Folk Festival in 65, says the problem wasnât that the people didnât like the music, but the sound system was so bad that those not sitting in the first two rows only heard a garbled mess of noise) Here they were on their first big break playing for more than drunks in bars and they were getting booed at every show.
Itâs funny how we now think of albums like Highway 61 Revisited as classic, but it was the material from that album that was the cause of all the fuss. People wouldnât even listen they were so irate. It seems the only good that came out of that British tour, if rumours are to be believed, was Dylan smoking up with The Beetles.