JANUARY 2000 | VOL. 4, NO. 1


In Memorandum: Rick Danko

Jethro Tull starts anew

Mary Lou Lord: Live at the Tune-In

Rage Against the Machine returns amid controversy and great music

Rock's Girls and Boys Indulge Their "Deepest" Diary Doodlings


Sound Bites


The Band


Best Of Band

High On The Hog




Last Waltz

Music From Big Pink

Night They Drove Old Dixie Down: Live In Concert

Rock Of Ages-In Concert

Stage Fright

Vol. 2-Best Of Band


Rick Danko

Danko Fjeld & Andersen

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"You know, I'm selling my new CD here tonight," Danko says to the small audience, speaking of a new release on his self-started label. It is his last performance, December 7th, 1999. "But if you don't want to buy [one], that's okay. Just come on up, and we can talk a little bit anyway."


It was on southwest Ontario farms that Rick Danko grew up, born in 1942 from a line of Carolina tobacco workers who moved north during the Depression. He sang in the barn, literally, performing with his father and brother in the fine style of the country family dance. His voice would develop a high keen, as if Appalachian, his harmony style somewhere between mountain music and soul. At the age of five, he would play banjo and mandolin. At the age of six, he would perform "Little Black Jug" and "Long Black Veil" for his first grade class. At seven, he would deem himself ready for Nashville.

A dusty wind-up victrola could tune in Tennessee in the 1950s, even when operated by a kid in Canada. WSM and WLAC in Nashville could be heard, even the local station in Laredo, Texas. For Kitty Wells, for Ernest Tubb, and for Patsy Cline, Rick Danko would huddle by the receiver through his teen years, pulling away only to flirt with the fiddle or with travelling accordion bands. The stage was set. When rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins spied the 17-year-old singing, he came knocking with a job offer. As if joining the circus or the medicine show, Danko, wearing a borrowed coat, ran off with him into the night.

From Hawkins and the Hawks to Dylan and The Band, Danko and his mates soon left the honky tonks behind for theatres and arenas, riding the long road from rural farms to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In between is the stuff of myth.

In the mid 1960s, The Band would flesh out Dylan's music with unheard-of breadth, stumbling upon a mad folk-soul combo they executed with punk grit to spare. When met with boos and threats of riot, they exiled. Dylan took Danko and company to the woods, to rural upstate New York, where they would launch into even more confounding forays; namely, a wayward experiment in avant-pop impressionism, in which Dylan and The Band aimed to connect the heritages of folk, country, blues, and gospel in a decidedly surrealist stew. While the Beatles and the Beach Boys were out soaking up the spotlight and vying for king-of-the-world status, Dylan and The Band were huddled in barns and damp basements, recording two track tapes with old instruments and odd liquors.

To this day, the ensuing music, known simply as "The Basement Tapes," is probably the most ecstatic and delirious ever put on a rock era record. The key is that the musicians ignored the outside world in favor of conjuring Dock Boggs and Jimmie Rodgers; the joy is that, as secret ceremony, "The Basement Tapes" not only emulate the richness and obscurity of American music but also lay claim to its continuing livelihood.

If Rick Danko's legacy can be seen and felt anywhere--and it can be, in a million tack-marked locales across the American map--it is here, within "The Basement Tapes." Look to his sly, striding bass lines, his see-saw fiddle, his odd, other-worldly harmonies with Dylan. Look to his and Robbie Robertson's song, "Bessie Smith," a sepia-styled valentine to the fine line between respect and adoration, and the ways in which music blurs them both into love. Look to the Danko-Dylan collaboration, "This Wheel's On Fire," a slow-boiling sermon filled with black gospel blood, as if a Jonathan Edwards-style Puritan were chanting Psalms alongside southern slaves. Like much of The Band's music, the sound is simple yet arresting; and somewhere therein lies the casual magic of Rick Danko.


"I love to play," he once said, simply, summing it up as perfectly and as unpretentiously as he could. "The stage is a safe place for me. I'd be lost without it."

Indeed, the lights have fallen low, and the seats have been left bare. You were our stage, Rick, and now we, too, will be lost without you.


RICK CONNELLY is the staff television writer for Renaissance Online Magazine. He can be reached at rconnelly@renaissancemag.com

PICTURES copyright © Elliot Landy and The Band.

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