The Band was blessed with three lead vocalists – three distinctive, evocative, stunningly expressive lead vocalists: Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Levon Helm.
Richard Manuel – songwriter, keyboard player, occasional drummer – was the lead voice on many memorable tracks including “Tears of Rage” from The Band’s first album, Music From Big Pink (1968) and “The Shape I’m In” from Stage Fright (1970).
Richard passed away in 1986.
Rick Danko – bass guitar, violin – took the lead on songs including “This Wheel’s On Fire,” a Music From Big Pink number that he co-wrote with Bob Dylan; “Time To Kill” from Stage Fright; and “It Makes No Difference” from The Band’s 1975 album Northern Lights – Southern Cross.
Rick passed away in 1999.
Now, the last of these three remarkable singers is gone as well.
Levon Helm, born May 26, 1940, the one American in an otherwise Canadian band, passed away on April 19, 2012.
Levon’s voice was as much a part of the unique sound of The Band as was his drumming and his occasional mandolin playing. Of the three singers, his voice was probably the most well known, being the lead voice on the group’s biggest hits: “Rag Mama Rag,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Up On Cripple Creek.”
That was from The Band’s last concert, given on Thanksgiving Day, 1976, in San Francisco and preserved in the film The Last Waltz by director Martin Scorsese.
In the history of Popular Music, very few musical groups of any genre produced recordings that combined brilliantly intelligent songwriting, impeccable musicianship, intricately-detailed-yet-effortless-sounding arrangements, dazzling sonic gorgeousness and an ever present, intoxicatingly joyful exuberance as did The Band.
With a nine year tenure, running from 1967 to 1976, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson were The Band.
If you’ve got time for another song, here’s my personal favorite.
Music this good will never, ever get old.