Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko and Levon Helm were all members of rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins backing group from 1958-1963. They moved on to become Bob Dylan’s backing band for two years (1963-1965). Dylan would introduce them as The Band during his concerts. The year 1967 found them in the studio with Dylan as he recovered from a motorcycle accident. These recordings would become known as The Basement Tapes.
The Band had paid its dues and in 1968 released their debut album, Music From Big Pink. It has become accepted as one of the most creative and respected debut albums in history. It was a mystical, earthy and a lyrically superb creation. The skills and talents of four Canadians and one United States citizen coalesced into a quintessential American rock ‘n’ roll album.
Music From Big Pink was a well-crafted album. It featured four strong voices and precise musicianship. The songs painted pictures through the use of words and sounds yet retained a quality that would ingrain itself in the unconscious and emerge as elemental truths.
This album would find Robbie Robertson becoming a songwriter of merit. He would pen two enduring classic rock songs for this release. “The Weight” is almost hypnotic as it draws the listener into the musical experience. “Chest Fever” features one of the best organ intros in rock history by Garth Hudson which propels the song to classic status.
Richard Manuel would write several songs for the album as well. His wonderful song, “In A Station” is a counterpoint to Robertson’s work. It takes The Band in a soulful and almost mournful direction. “Lonesome Suzie” would find Manuel turning the group in a blues direction.
“Long Black Veil” was an old folk song that was a country hit for Lefty Frizzell in 1959. The Band would move it in a rock direction and through harmonies and subtle backing instruments would make the song into a novel in miniature. It would solidify The Band as interpreters and creators of the American experience.
The Dylan influence was very strong on Music From Big Pink. “Tears Of Rage” was written by Dylan and Manuel in 1967. The Band would present the song much slower than Dylan and feature a keyboard/guitar base. “This Wheel’s On Fire” was written by Bob Dylan and Rick Danko and appeared on Dylan’s, The Basement Tapes. The Band presents the song in up-tempo mode as almost straight rock ‘n’ roll. The Band takes Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” and interprets it as gospel. There would always be an underlying spiritual element to the work of The Band and “I Shall Be Released” is a shining example of this quality.
Music From Big Pink would introduce The Band to the world. It would show their versatility as the album would contain rock, blues, folk and gospel. It remains a shining example of what rock ‘n’ is all about.