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

Band – I Shall Be Released

There is a very solemn song with a religious hymnal feel to it. Richard Manuel sings this one with a slight mournful falsetto voice that is just pure as you can get. I Shall Be Released is not commercial, not meant to be a hit, sell a million copies, but just pure music at it’s best…there are no pretensions or gimmicks…this is the Band at one of it’s many peaks.

Bob Dylan wrote this in 1967 but it was not until 1971 on his Greatest Hits Vol. II album that his version was officially released. The Band, who backed up Dylan on his first electric tour, recorded it for Music From Big Pink, which was their first album. Their version is the most well-known.

Everyone under the sun has covered this song but the Band’s own rendition was released first and is probably the best known version.

The song was the B side to The Weight released in 1968. Music From The Big Ping peaked at #30 in the Billboard 100 and #18 in Canada. That wasn’t the biggest thing though…the album helped change the landscape of popular music from the psychedelic harder rock to more earthy roots music.

From Songfacts

This song could be either an anti-death penalty composition or a metaphoric attempt by Dylan at looking forward to being released from Hell on Earth – possibly awaiting the “release” from the hell of being an innocent man wrongly imprisoned.

In Robert Shelton’s biography No Direction Home, he gives the song a different meaning. After Dylan’s motorcycle accident in 1966, when he was 25, he retreated from the spotlight. This was after he had suffered great disappointment at the reception his European and American tour dates brought. He’d been booed offstage, called a traitor, and attendance dropped at some of his concert dates. Dylan was seriously injured in the accident, and Shelton states that Dylan withdrew not only to recuperate, but to spend the time in self reflection, and with his family. He goes further, saying that the song represents Dylan’s search for personal salvation. 

This was featured in the 1987 Emmy-winning documentary Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam. 

Other artists to record this song include Bette Midler, Nina Simone, and Joan Baez, who performed the song at Woodstock while pregnant with her son, Gabriel. The Band also performed it during their set at the festival.

I Shall Be Released

They say everything can be replaced
They say every distance is not near
So I remember every face
Of every man who put me here

I see my light come shining
From the west down to the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

They say every man needs protection
They say that every man must fall
Yet I swear I see my reflection
Somewhere so high above this wall

I see my light come shining
From the west down to the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

Now, yonder stands a man in this lonely crowd
A man who swears he’s not to blame
All day long I hear him shouting so loud
Just crying out that he was framed

I see my light come shining
From the west down to the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

Band – Long Black Veil

I’ve heard many versions of this song but when I heard Rick Danko sing it with the Band…that was it.

Long Black Veil was written in 1959 by Danny Dill with Marijohn Wilkin. Dill called it an “instant folk song.” One of Dill’s inspirations was a newspaper story about a mysterious woman who, wearing a black veil, repeatedly visited the grave of film star Rudolph Valentino.

Long Black Veil tells a compelling story from an unusual perspective. It is told from the grave by a man who was hanged for a murder he did not commit. He could have saved himself but chose not to because his alibi carried a terrible price: “I’d been in the arms of my best friend’s wife.”

It was originally recorded in Nashville by Lefty Frizzell, produced by Don Law. The peaked #6 on the Country Music Charts.

The Band’s version was on Music from Big Pink. The album peaked at #30 in the Billboard Album Charts and #18 in Canada in 1968.

Now considered a standard, it has been covered by many artists including Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, Dave Matthews, Emmylou Harris, Bruce Springsteen, Bruce Hornsby, and many other artists.

Long Black Veil

Ten years ago on a cool dark night
There was someone killed ‘neath the town hall light
There were few at the scene and they all did agree
That the man who ran looked a lot like me

The judge said “Son, what is your alibi?
If you were somewhere else then you won’t have to die”
I spoke not a word although it meant my life
I had been in the arms of my best friend’s wife

She walks these hills in a long black veil
She visits my grave where the night winds wail
Nobody knows, no, and nobody sees
Nobody knows but me

The scaffold was high and eternity neared
She stood in the crowd and shed not a tear
But sometimes at night when the cold wind moans
In a long black veil she cries over my bones

 

 

 

The Band

Any band that calls themselves The Band…better be great…this band most certainly was… Four Canadians with one American who wrote and sang Americana music better than anyone.

They started out backing up Ronnie Hawkins in the early sixties… From there they backed up Bob Dylan on his famous conversion to “electric” music. They toured all over the world with Dylan getting booed because of the folk purists hate of Bob’s new electric direction. Levon left at the beginning of that tour but came back when they started to work on their own music.

They were a band in the best sense of the word. the members were Robbie Robertson who played guitar and was the main songwriter. Levon Helm who was the drummer and one of the three singers. Richard Manual played piano and was probably the best singer of the Band. Rick Danko the bass player and also singer and great at harmonies. Garth Hudson the keyboard player extraordinaire. They all could play other instruments…

They would switch up instruments and record at times just to get a different texture to their music.

They rented a house in West Saugerties New York…a big pink house and started to set up in the basement. Bob Dylan would come over and they would record demos.

Bob Dylan was a big influence on The Band. The Band also influenced Bob Dylan in the basement. He had never recorded outside of a studio before and it freed him up a bit. Those recordings were meant to be demos for other performers to sing but were heavily bootlegged so they were officially released in 1975 as “The Basement Tapes” with songs by Dylan and The Band. The songs had pure raw energy and showed a sense of humor also.

They influenced everyone from Eric Clapton..who hid a secret desire to join them…to George Harrison and many more. Their first two albums (Music From Big Pink and The Band) were groundbreaking. They changed the musical landscape…the move from psychedelic to an older sounding looser type of music.

In 1974 Bob Dylan and the Band toured together again. The Band backed Dylan again but also played their own set. They released a live album of that tour called Before The Flood.

Some bands have great voices and tight harmonies. The Beatles, Beach Boys, Eagles to name a few but The Band’s harmonies were loose but at the same time just as tight in their own way. Their music sounded spontaneous but it was well crafted. They always left enough raw edge to keep it interesting.

Robbie Robertson’s words and melodies were Americana flowing through a Canadian who had part Jewish and Native-Canadian roots. He would read one movie screenplay after another. It helped him with his songwriting to express the images he had in his head. Robbie also took stories Levon told him of the south and shaped them into songs.

The Band was no frills…you were not going to see lasers or a Mick Jagger clone running about… they just played their music and did it well. They did not follow trends but they were not afraid to experiment especially Garth Hudson the keyboard player who was always playing with different sounds.

Songs like The Weight, Cripple Creek, The Shape I’m In, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Rag Mama Rag, This Wheels On Fire, Stage Fright and the list goes on. The songs still sound fresh and fit perfectly on their respective albums.

You can’t go wrong with a Band album but the ones I would recommend would be Music From Big Pink (1968) and The Band (1969).

The Greatest Hits album has the radio songs you know but you miss some great songs by not getting the original albums. The ultimate would be the 2005 release of the box set called A Musical History. It has everything the original band recorded.

They broke up in 1976 and played their last concert with all of the original members in a film called The Last Waltz…

Their music was always uniquely their own. This band earned their name…