The Band was an acclaimed and influential rock music group. The original group consisted of Canadians Rick Danko (bass guitar, double bass, fiddle, vocals), Garth Hudson (keyboard instruments, saxophone), Richard Manuel (piano, drums, vocals), Robbie Robertson (guitar, vocals), and American Levon Helm (drums, mandolin, guitar, vocals). All five members were notable musicians in their own right.
The members of the Band first came together as they joined rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins' backing group, The Hawks, one by one between 1958 and 1963. Upon leaving Hawkins in 1964, they were briefly known as The Levon Helm Sextet with sax player Jerry Penfound being the sixth member, then Levon and the Hawks after Penfound's departure. In 1965, they released a single on Ware Records under the name Canadian Squires, but returned as Levon and the Hawks for a recording session for Atco later in 1965. At about the same time, Bob Dylan recruited Helm and Robertson for two concerts, then the entire group for his U.S. tour in 1965 and world tour in 1966. They also joined him on the informal recordings that later became The Basement Tapes.
Because they were always "the band" to various frontmen, Helm said the name "The Band" worked well when the group came into its own and left Saugerties, New York, to begin recording their own material. They recorded two of the most acclaimed albums of the late 1960s: their 1968 debut Music from Big Pink (featuring the single "The Weight") and 1969's The Band. In 2004, "The Weight" was ranked the 41st best rock song ever in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.
The Band broke up in 1976, but reformed in 1983 without founding guitarist Robbie Robertson. Although the Band was always more popular with music journalists and fellow musicians than with the general public, they have remained an admired and influential group. The group was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked them #50 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and in 2008, they received the Grammy's Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 1983, the Band reformed and recommenced touring, though without Robertson. Several different musicians were recruited to replace Robertson and to fill out the group. The reunited Band was generally well-received, but found themselves playing in smaller venues than during the peak of their popularity.
While the reunited Band was touring, on March 4, 1986, Manuel committed suicide in his Florida motel room. It was revealed later that he had suffered for many years from chronic alcoholism. According to Levon Helm's autobiography, in the later stages of his illness, Manuel was consuming eight bottles of Grand Marnier per day.
The band participated in former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters' The Wall Live in Berlin concert in 1990, and in Bob Dylan's 30th anniversary concert celebration in New York City in October 1992. The group was the opening band for the final Grateful Dead shows at Soldier Field, in Chicago, Illinois in July 1995.
Richard Manuel's position as pianist was filled first by old friend Stan Szelest (who died not long after), then by Richard Bell. (Bell played with Ronnie Hawkins after the departure of the original Hawks, and was best known from his days as a member of Janis Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie Band.) The reformed group recorded Jericho in 1993 with much of the songwriting being handled outside the group. Two more post-reunion efforts followed, High on the Hog and Jubilation, the latter including guest appearances from Eric Clapton and John Hiatt.
The Juno Awards of 1989 hosted a special reunion of several band members when The Band was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. This was also the year that Robbie Robertson won three awards for his self titled album. With Canadian country rock superstars Blue Rodeo as a back-up band, Music Express called the 1989 Juno appearance with Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, and Garth Hudson a symbolic "passing of the torch" from The Band to Blue Rodeo.
In 1994 Robertson appeared with Danko and Hudson as The Band for the second time since the original group broke up. The occasion was the induction of The Band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Helm, who has feuded with Robertson for years over accusations of stolen songwriting credits, did not attend.
On 10 December 1999 another member was lost when Rick Danko died in his sleep at age 56. He had been a long-time drug user. In 1997 he had been found guilty of trying to smuggle heroin into Japan. He told the presiding judge that he had begun using the drug (together with prescription morphine) to fight life-long pain resulting from a 1968 auto accident. No drugs were found in his system at the time of his death. Following the death of Rick Danko, The Band broke up for good.
On 15 June 2007, The Band's late-period keyboardist Richard Bell died from multiple myeloma.
Although The Band received The Grammy Award's Lifetime Achievement Award on February 9, 2008, there was no reunion of all three living members, as Levon Helm held a "Midnight Ramble" in honor of the event in Woodstock, NY.
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