Band – Chest Fever

The great Garth Hudson gives us a wonderful intro to this song. In live shows, the song became a Hudson showcase, with him improvising wildly on organ (and later, on synthesizer) before cutting into the song. This improvisation came to be known as “The Genetic Method.” .Eventually the improvisation quoted Bach’s “Fugue in D Minor” and followed into the song’s main riff. Only part of the improvisation was included on the actual album cut.

Garth Hudson was the Band’s secret weapon according to Robertson. Back when they were backing Ronnie Hawkins….they asked the classically trained Hudson to join them. His parents didn’t like the idea but… Hudson agreed to join the band on two conditions: that Hawkins buy him a Lowrey organ, and that he be paid an extra $10 a week to give music lessons to the other Hawks. After that he was in The Band.

This gem came from Music From Big Pink in 1968. The song is credited to Robbie Robertson. Levon Helm said that he and Richard Manual wrote the lyrics to the song.

I was talking to another blogger the other day about the Band. They lived up to their name more than about any other band. Not only did they all contribute to songs…not writing…but all of them did contribute some but they all could play each others instruments.

Music From Big Pink was a huge influence on other artists back then and to this day. George Harrison and Eric Clapton were two that were influenced by it. Eric even had ideas of joining the Band. You can hear it in music at that time. Psychedelic was out and more Americana or roots music was in. The album’s influence far outweighed it’s chart position.

The album peaked at #18 in Canada and #30 in the Billboard Album Chart. It has to be on the list of best debut albums of all time.

Robbie Robertson: When Garth played the intro to “Chest Fever,” which he called “The Genetic Method,” I was reminded there was no other keyboard player in rock ’n’ roll who had his improvisational abilities and imagination. 

Robbie Robertson: “It’s kind of a hard love song,” “But it’s a reversal on that old rock & roll thing where they’re always telling the girl, ‘He’s a rebel, he’ll never be any good.’ This time, it’s the other way around.” 

From Songfacts

The Band’s guitarist, Robbie Robertson, felt he needed a counterbalance for the album’s centerpiece, “The Weight.” He wrote the music for the song solely for that purpose.

Robertson, drummer Levon Helm, and pianist Richard Manuel improvised lyrics (Robertson often calls them meaningless) over the course of the song. Those lyrics remain unchanged on the track, although they loosely tell a story of a man thrown aside by a hard-drinking, fast-talking woman who subsequently literally becomes sick with love for her.

This was the opening song for the Band’s set at the Woodstock Festival in 1969. 

Chest Fever

I know she’s a tracker
Any style that would back her
They say she’s a chooser
But I just can’t refuse her
She was just there, but then she can’t be here no more

And as my mind unwheels
I feel the freeze down in my knees
But just before she leaves, she receives

She’s been down in the dunes
And she’s dealt with the goons
Now she drinks from a bitter cup
I’m trying to get her to give it up
She was just here, I fear she can’t be there no more

And as my mind unwheels
I feel the freeze down in my knees
But just before she leaves, she receives

It’s long, long when she’s gone
I get weary holding on
Now I’m coldly fading fast
I don’t think I’m gonna last very much longer

She’s stoned said the Swede,
And the moon calf agreed
But I’m like a viper in shock
With my eyes in the clock
She was just there somewhere and here I am again

And as my mind unweaves
I feel the freeze down in my knees
But just before she leaves, she receives

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

38 thoughts on “Band – Chest Fever”

  1. Hudson contributed so much to their sound. Everyone gushes about Robertson, but he was not a great guitarist, but a great songwriter. I saw them live, once, and they were great. Of course that was “back in the day,” meaning 1969. I wish they were still around making music. My band played “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which we caught a lot of flack over from the wokies so we took it out of our set list.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Garth was the man…I have to give Robbie credit…in his book he did say Garth was hands down the best musician in the band. HIs imagination alone was something.

      We played The Weight and still do when we get together. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down is one of the best songs I’ve heard….melody and lyrics are perfect…Playing it now would raise some hell…hmmm

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Oddly, I never paid attention to the lyrics in this song, and I had no idea what they were singing about, so I can understand why Robertson called them meaningless. I can’t picture Eric Clapton being in the Band.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Yea he didn’t need any encouagement at that time. He is the definition of addiction. Alcohol, heroin, cocaine, and fly fishing…no lie. When he likes something he goes overboard.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great song, as were many of theirs. One cool thing about growing up near Toronto in the 70s was that I heard a LOT of The Band on hit radio, including this song, as well as “The Weight”, “The Night…”, “Cripple Creek”, you name it. I don’t think others got that experience in most other places! As for Garth, as you know the Northern Pikes had him in on one of their albums from the early-90s and they really thought highly of him both as a guy and as a musician.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. He is a great at what he does…he seems like a great guy but a little strange…well just not social like the rest of them. Robertson has said he made their sound…and I agree.

      Yea I heard a lot of them also because I live in the south…and they are popular because of Levon.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. You were blessed being where you were to hear them so much, Dave. Have you heard of a more recent album where Garth got together with some other musicians? Garth absolutely seems like the most decent human being of the bunch (not slamming the others, but…)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. He has such a different mind for music. Robertson was saying that in his book…that their keyboard player was not like any other…but yea the rest were very good at what they did…Manuel was a really good drummer.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes he does… that is why his parents would not let him go unless he taught them…as crazy as that is

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      1. I always had The Weight singing part that was Danko’s when we did it…I love the way he did it…”Crazy Chester followed me….” it was fun singing that…his way.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Max, this truly is one of my favorite songs by The Band. Thanks for including 3 different versions, all of them excellent. The song is great, but when you add the horns of the 2nd video it becomes iconic. These guys are in the top 10 of the best musical groups of all time in my opinion. Each musician SO danged good! I really love the way they jam and the way their voices mix.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Have you seen that doc on them from this year yet? Mostly Robbie narrating and I think it follows his book. Can’t say I was very happy with it. Doesn’t put them in a good light for sure.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ok…I did like Robbie’s book…they were a mess though…especially Rick, Levon, and Richard. They were some wild guys at that time.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes….Americana from mostly a Canadian band lol. Garth is not your typical rock star…he looks like a professor….brilliant though.

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