Band – Rag Mama Rag

It doesn’t get much better than this. This wasn’t a huge hit but it doesn’t mean that much when it’s The Band.

The Band did this song by playing musical chairs with the instruments. Most of them grabbed something different than what they normally played. Levon (drummer) sang and played Mandolin, Richard Manuel (piano) played drums, Rick Danko (bass) played fiddle, Garth Hudson (keyboards) played uprigtht piano and producer John Simon played Tuba.

Robbie Robertson wrote the song and was the only one playing their normal instrument…guitar.

The song peaked at #57 in the Billboard 100, #46 in Canada, and #16 in the UK in 1970. The song was on their second album The Band.


One of the Band’s first big European hit singles, “Rag Mama Rag” has some unusual instrumentation. Lead pianist Richard Manuel played drums, drummer Levon Helm played mandolin and sang lead, and bassist Rick Danko played a fiddle. This left the bass spot open on this track, and it was filled by the album’s producer, John Simon. He improvised a bassline on tuba, although he had no idea how to play the instrument. >>

Robbie Robertson is the only songwriter credited on this track, although other members of the group claim they made contributions. The song finds Levon Helm trying to convince his girl to come back home so she can “rag all over” his house. What he has in mind in unclear: “rag” could mean playing ragtime music (a possibility, considering the line “rosin up the bow”), but he might have more prurient intentions.

Rag Mama Rag

Rag Mama rag, can’t believe its true.
Rag Mama Rag, what did you do?
Crawled up to the railroad track
Let the four nine-teen scratch my back

Sag mama sag now
What’s come over you
Rag Mama Rag, I’m a pulling out your gag.
Gonna turn you lose like an old caboose,
Got a tail I need a drag.

I ask about your turtle,
And you ask about the weather,
Well, I can’t jump the hurdle
And we can’t get together.

We could be relaxing in my sleeping bag,
But all you want to do for me mama
Is rag Mama rag there’s no-where to go,
Rag Mama rag. Come on resin up the bow.

Rag Mama rag, where do ya roam?
Rag Mama rag, bring your skinny little body back home.
Its dog eat dog and cat eat mouse, you can
You can rag Mama rag all over my house.

Hail stones beating on the roof,
The bourbon is a hundred proof,
Its you and me and the telephone
Our destiny is quite well known.

We don’t need to sit and brag.
All we gotta do is
Rag Mama rag Mama rag.
Rag Mama rag
Where do you roam?
Rag Mama rag, bring your skinny little body back home

Band – Christmas Must Be Tonight

Robbie Robertson’s Christmas gift to his new son Sebastian during the sessions for Northern Lights-Southern Cross album it never became a seasonal favorite but it should have been. It wasn’t released until the bands Islands album in 1977.

Rick Danko sings this song from a Shepherds point of view. It’s pure and down to earth like only the Band can be. No sleigh bells or other Christmas trappings…just pure music. Maybe that is the reason it never got picked up.

Robbie Robertson re-recorded this song after he left the group. And he did for the soundtrack of Bill Murray’s Scrooged. That version is very good but I still like The Bands version much more…it’s hard to beat Rick Danko.

Christmas Must Be Tonight

Come down to the manger, see the little stranger
Wrapped in swaddling clothes, the prince of peace
Wheels start turning, torches start burning
And the old wise men journey from the East

How a little baby boy bring the people so much joy
Son of a carpenter, Mary carried the light
This must be Christmas, must be tonight

A shepherd on a hillside, where over my flock I bide
Oh a cold winter night a band of angels sing
In a dream I heard a voice saying “fear not, come rejoice
It’s the end of the beginning, praise the new born king”

I saw it with my own eyes, written up in the skies
But why a simple herdsmen such as I
And then it came to pass, he was born at last
Right below the star that shines on high

Band – Ophelia

I believe I could listen to Levon sing anything. He makes a song feel like that old shirt with holes that fits perfectly that your wife wants to hide or throw away. You keep going back to it to wear it triumphally.

This was inspired by the Shakespeare play Hamlet.

The most famous Ophelia is a character in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. She is caught between her love for Hamlet and the wishes of her father, Polonius, who uses her to spy on Hamlet. She feels she has no control of her life and descends into madness, eventually drowning after falling out of a tree into a brook.

It was on the album Northern Lights – Southern Cross released in 1975. It peaked at #26 in the Billboard Album Charts and #27 in Canada in 1976.

It wasn’t a huge hit but the song peaked at #62 in the Billboard 100 in 1976…

Robbie Robertson: There was another tune I was anxious to spring on Levon because I thought it had his name written all over it. The song dealt with the mysterious disappearance of Ophelia, and I had an old-timey-type chord progression to go with a whole new spin on the story. I liked having a modern-day Shakespearean character that Hamlet couldn’t get, and neither could I. Ophelia—they don’t have names like that anymore, or maybe they do in Denmark. I loved the way the track felt after we cut it. The combination of horns and keyboards Garth overdubbed on this song was one of the very best things I’d ever heard him do. It was definitely the cherry on the cake, and completed this musical odyssey. “Ophelia” became my favorite track on the album, even if it didn’t have the depth of some of my other songs. The pure, jubilant pleasure of that tune swayed me.

Band biographer Barney Hoskyns claims the song isn’t named for Shakespeare’s heroine, but for Hee Haw comedienne Minnie Pearl, whose real name was Sarah Ophelia Colley. I don’t know why Robbie just wouldn’t say that to begin with…he doesn’t seem to be a person that puts on airs.

From Songfacts

In this song The Band drummer Levon Helm sings about a woman named Ophelia who has skipped town. We know she left in a hurry and he would love to have her come back (“The old neighborhood just ain’t the same”), but we really have no idea who she is what her relationship is with the singer.

The song was written by the group’s guitarist Robbie Robertson, and the ambiguity was intentional. “I was always fascinated by that girl’s name,” he told Melody Maker in 1976. “I always like the mystery factor. I may be writing a song and the music may imply a certain lyric, or vice versa. It’s not that deliberate, or an intellectual exercise. It just comes out naturally.”

The character in this song could certainly be an analog to Shakespeare’s Ophelia, possibly driven mad by a lover.

A modest hit for The Band, this is a number they played at many of their shows, including their famous final show in 1976 that provided footage for the concert film The Last Waltz. In the film, we see Levon Helm belting it out from behind his drum kit.

This Ophelia has three syllables: “Oh-Feel-Ya,” giving it a rootsy sound. The more mannered pronunciation is “Oh-Feel-Ee-Ah,” which is how Tori Amos sings it in her Ophelia. In 2016, The Lumineers had a hit with a five-syllable Ophelia: “Oh-Oh-Feel-Ee-Ah.”

Artists to cover this song include Animal Liberation Orchestra, Jim Byrnes and My Morning Jacket. The Dead Ships played the song at a benefit concert in 2012 after Levon Helm passed away, and the following year released it as a free download on the one-year anniversary of Helm’s death.

In our interview with their frontman Devlin McCluskey, he talked about recording the song. “It was right after I came back from the funeral. We had a show in Pomona and we played this song. It’s got this big high note in it, and I can just remember pushing that so hard and being hit with this thing of, no matter how hard I go at it, no matter how hard I push for it, absolutely nothing is going to change. Nothing is going to bring him back.”


Boards on the window
Mail by the door
What would anybody leave so quickly for?
Where have you gone?

The old neighborhood just ain’t the same
Nobody knows just what became of
Tell me, what went wrong

Was it something that somebody said?
Mama, I know we broke the rules
Was somebody up against the law?
Honey, you know I’d die for you

Ashes of laughter
The ghost is clear
Why do the best things always disappear
Like Ophelia
Please darken my door

Was it something that somebody said?
Mama, I know we broke the rules
Was somebody up against the law?
Honey, you know I’d die for you

They got your number
Scared and running
But I’m still waiting for the second coming
Of Ophelia
Come back home

The Band – Don’t Do It

Good Morning! I hope your Sunday is going well. This is such a groove song…a great way to start your day. 

This song I like the Band’s cover version the best and that is saying a lot because Marvin Gaye did the original version. The song was written by  Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland. The Holland–Dozier–Holland team wrote a number of hits through the sixties and seventies and continued on without Dozier for years. 

The Band covered this on their Rock of Ages live album released in 1972. I first heard this on the Last Waltz and it stuck with me. I usually like studio cuts over live but this one sounds really good. 

The song peaked at #34 in the Billboard 100 but was much more popular in Canada where it peaked at #11 in 1972. It also is included as a bonus track on the Cahoots album…a studio version. 

Don’t Do It

Baby don’t you do it, don’t do it
Don’t you break my heart
Pleeeeease don’t do it, don’t you break my heart

A sacrifice would make you happy if nothing for myself
Now you wanna leave me for the love of someone else
My pride is all gone whether I’m right or wrong
I need you baby to keep on keepin’ on

You know I’m trying to my best
Oh I’m trying to do my best
Don’t do it, don’t you break my heart
Pleeeeease don’t do it, don’t you break my heart

My biggest mistake was loving you too much and letting you know
Now you got me where you want me and you won’t let me go
If my heart was made of glass well then you’d surely see
How much heartache and misery, girl, you’ve been causing me

While I’ve been trying to do my best
Well I’ve tried to do my best
Don’t do it, don’t you break my heart

Pleeeeease don’t do it, don’t you break my heart

Go down to the river and there I be
I’m gonna jump in girl, but you don’t care bout me
Open up your eyes
Can’t ya see I love ya?
Open up you heart, girl
Can’t ya see I need ya?

Oh baby don’t do it, do it, do it
Don’t you break my heart
Pleeeeease don’t do it don’t you break my heart

My biggest mistake was loving you too much and letting you know
Now you got me where you want me and you won’t let me go
If my heart was made of glass well then you’d surely see
How much heartache and misery, girl, you’ve been causing me

While I’ve been trying to do my best
You know I’ve tried to do my best
Don’t do it, don’t you break my heart
Pleeeeease don’t do it, don’t you break my heart

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 – It Makes No Difference

Rick Danko conveys so much hurt, loneliness and heartache in this song. You can feel his pain with every word he sings. It’s one of the best vocals of pure suffering I’ve ever heard. He sounds like a man at the end of his tether because of a hopeless love affair.

The Band’s later material sometimes gets neglected since their first two albums were so good. This song was on the Northern Lights – Southern Cross album released in 1975.

The album peaked at #26 in the Billboard 100 and #27 in Canada.

Robbie Robertson: “I thought about the song in terms of saying that time heals all wounds,” he said. “Except in some cases, and this was one of those cases.”

Robbie Robertson: “I wrote this song specifically for Rick to sing, and when we first started discovering the possibilities, it kept expanding to more levels of emotion. What Garth and I could add to finalize the statement of this song was purely instinctual.”

From Songfacts

This was included on the soundtrack to The Last Waltz, a 1978 documentary about The Band directed by Martin Scorsese, named after the group’s 1976 concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. The group also performed the song during the concert, which was a basis for the film.

This was included on the sound Solomon Burke covered this on the 2005 album Make Do With What You Got. Other covers include My Morning Jacket on the 2007 album Endless Highway: The Music of The Band and the 2012 album Love for Levon, and Over the Rhine on the 2013 album Meet Me at the Edge of the World.

It Makes No Difference

It makes no difference where I turn
I can’t get over you and the flame still burns
It makes no difference, night or day
The shadow never seems to fade away

And the sun don’t shine anymore
And the rains fall down on my door

Now there’s no love
As true as the love
That dies untold
But the clouds never hung so low before

It makes no difference how far I go
Like a scar the hurt will always show
It makes no difference who I meet
They’re just a face in the crowd
On a dead-end street
And the sun don’t shine anymore
And the rains fall down on my door

These old love letters
Well, I just can’t keep
Cause like the gambler says
Read ’em and weep
And the dawn don’t rescue me no more

Without your love I’m nothing at all
Like an empty hall it’s a lonely fall
Since you’ve gone it’s a losing battle
Stampeding cattle
They rattle the walls

And the sun don’t shine anymore
And the rains fall down on my door

Well, I love you so much
It’s all I can do
Just to keep myself from telling you
That I never felt so alone before

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




Band – The Weight

It doesn’t get much more classic than this song by The Band. I’ve covered the “Playing for a Change” version with Robbie Robertson, Ringo Starr, and many musicians across the world. It’s been covered by many artists but The Bands version will always be the goto version for me.

Robbie Robertson said he wrote this song one day while noodling with his guitar and trying to come up with songs for Music From Big Pink. When he looked inside his Martin guitar he saw the standard Martin imprint saying that the instrument was crafted in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. The name of the town spurred memories of a journey he made from his native Canada down to the Mississippi Delta when he was 16 years old. He thought of all the characters he met on that trip, and in his mind heard voices singing what would become the song’s chorus.

Robbie Robertson also claims this was influenced by the work of Luis Buñuel, a Spanish director who made some of the first movies dealing with surrealism. Robertson was intrigued by the characters in his films, who were often good people who did bad things.

The song peaked at #63 in the Billboard 100, #31 in Canada, and #21 in the UK in 1968.

The song is a standard now…it’s been covered by (from wiki) Little Feat, the Chambers Brothers, Eric Church, Chris Stapleton, Stoney LaRue, The Staple Singers, Waylon Jennings, Joe Cocker, Travis, Grateful Dead, Blues Traveler, New Riders of the Purple Sage, O.A.R., Edwin McCain, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Black Crowes, Spooky Tooth, Hanson, Old Crow Medicine Show, Panic! at the Disco, Shannon Curfman, Aretha Franklin, Joan Osborne, John Denver, Trampled by Turtles, Cassandra Wilson, Miranda Lambert, Al Kooper, and Mike Bloomfield, Deana Carter, New Madrid, Dionne Warwick, and Gillian Welch. Mumford & Sons, RatDog, and Bob Weir are also known to cover this song from time to time. Additional notable versions are by Zac Brown Band, Hoyt Axton, Lee Ann Womack, Smith, Weezer, the Allman Brothers Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, Free Wild, Brian Fallon, Aaron Pritchett, and others.


From Songfacts

This tells the story of a guy who visits Nazareth, and is asked by his friend Fanny to visit several of her friends. “The Weight” that is his load are all these strange people he promised he would check on. The song was never a big hit, but it endures as a classic rock staple.

Robbie Robertson got the only writing credit for this song, although other members of the group claimed that they contributed to this as well as many of their other songs and were not credited. Since only the writer receives royalties for a song, this created a great deal of tension in The Band.

The vocals are shared by Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, and Levon Helm, who harmonize on the choruses. Helm takes lead on the first three verses; Danko takes the fourth (“Crazy Chester followed me…); Helm and Danko share the last verse (“Catch the cannonball…).

One of the distinctive characteristics of The Band was their three lead vocalists. Helm had the added challenge of singing from behind his drum kit when they played live.

Nazareth, where the story takes place, refers to the town in Pennsylvania about 70 miles north of Philadelphia. The rock group Nazareth got their name from this line (“Went down to Nazareth, I was feeling about half past dead…”).

In the liner notes for the Across the Great Divide box set, Robbie Robertson is quoted as saying he chose that place because they make legendary Martin guitars there, so he was aware of the town and been there once or twice. Citizens of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, were thrilled when Robertson acknowledged it as the setting in this famous song. >>

The characters in the song – Crazy Chester, Luke, Anna Lee, are based on friends of the band. In Levon Helm’s autobiography This Wheel’s On Fire: Levon Helm And The Story Of The Band, he explained:

“We had two or three tunes, or pieces of tunes, and ‘The Weight’ was one I would work on. Robbie had that bit about going down to Nazareth – Pennsylvania, where the Martin guitar factory is at. The song was full of our favorite characters. ‘Luke’ was Jimmy Ray Paulman. ‘Young Anna Lee’ was Anna Lee Williams from Turkey Scratch. ‘Crazy Chester’ was a guy we all knew from Fayetteville who came into town on Saturdays wearing a full set of cap guns on his hips and kinda walked around town to help keep the peace,if you follow me. He was like Hopalong Cassidy, and he was a friend of the Hawks. Ronnie would always check with Crazy Chester to make sure there wasn’t any trouble around town. And Chester would reassure him that everything was peaceable and not to worry, because he was on the case. Two big cap guns, he wore, plus a toupee! There were also ‘Carmen and the Devil’, ‘Miss Moses’ and ‘Fanny,’ a name that just seemed to fit the picture. (I believe she looked a lot like Caladonia.) We recorded the song maybe four times. We weren’t really sure it was going to be on the album, but people really liked it. Rick, Richard, and I would switch the verses around among us, and we all sang the chorus: Put the load right on me!”

There has been more than a little debate among classic rock DJs and enthusiasts over the real meaning of this song. Yes, Robertson has insisted time and again there is no biblical subtext, but many people think he may be deflecting. Consider the following:

– The narrator can’t find a bed in Nazareth, and the guy to whom he makes an inquiry just smiles and says “no.”

– Carmen and the devil were walking side by side, Carmen can go but her friend the devil has to stick around – an allusion to ever-present temptations.

– “Crazy Chester followed me and he caught me in the fall” – possible allusion to Paul on the road to Damascus.

– The most glaring one: “I do believe it’s time to get back to Miss Fanny, you know she’s the only one who sent me here with her regards for everyone” – Miss Fanny is the one who sent him to Nazareth, but now it’s time for him to go back to her; Miss Fanny is God, the “time” in question is the crucifixion, and “regards for everyone” is Jesus dying for all of man’s sins. 

This was used in the movie Easy Rider. The Band performed the version heard in the movie, but on the soundtrack, a different group was used because of legal issues.

On September 28, 1968, this song reached its peak US chart position of #63. That same day, Jackie DeShannon’s cover reached its peak of #55 US. DeShannon’s release wasn’t what she had in mind. She explained in her Songfacts interview: “I absolutely said, ‘No way I’m going to do it, it’s The Band’s record, goodbye.’ But the label kept calling me, so I finally said, ‘Well, if you can get confirmation from The Band that they’re not putting it out as a single and I can do it with their permission, then okay.’ So, I recorded it. The record’s going up the chart and all of a sudden, here comes The Band’s single. Then Aretha Franklin’s version comes out. So I was at a radio station talking to the program director, and there were two other people promoting the same record outside the door.”

Aretha Franklin’s version was the biggest hit, reaching #19 in March 1969. Many other acts have since covered the song. A version by Diana Ross and the Supremes with The Temptations reached #46 in October 1969, which was the last time it charted in America. The song was also recorded by: A Group Called Smith, The Black Crowes, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, Joan Osborne, Keller Williams, King Curtis & Duane Allman, Otis & Travis, Rotary Connection, Spooky Tooth, and The Ventures.

The album title came from the big pink house in upstate New York they rented and used as a recording studio. The Band was Bob Dylan’s backup band, and they moved there to be near Dylan while he was recovering from a motorcycle accident. Dylan offered to help with this album, but The Band refused because they wanted to make a mark on their own.

Robbie Robertson described this song as being about “the impossibility of sainthood.”

The Staple Singers sing on this in The Band’s 1978 concert film The Last Waltz. “Being in The Last Waltz was the most beautiful thing that ever happened to the Staple Singers,” Mavis Staples told Rolling Stone in 2015. “I still can’t get offstage without doing ‘The Weight.'”

While most of The Last Waltz was taken from The Band’s farewell concert in San Francisco, this performance was shot on a sound stage. 

The line, “Catch a Cannonball now, to take me down the line,” refers to a train. There was no real Cannonball except in legend: It was popularized in the song from the 1800s called “The Wabash Cannonball,” and mentioned in some blues songs of the early 1900s, including the original version of “C.C. Rider.”

In 2007, this was used in a commercial for Cingular Wireless. Levon Helm took issue with it and sued BBDO, the advertising agency that came up with the campaign. Said Helm: “It was just a complete, damn sellout of The Band – its reputation, its music; just as much disrespect as you could pour on Richard and Rick’s tombstones.”

The Band played this at Woodstock in 1969. The festival fit in well with their schedule, as they were touring to promote their first album, Music From Big Pink. Their performance stands out as a highlight from the festival, and earned The Band a great deal of exposure. >>

Scottish rock band Nazareth, who are best known for their transatlantic hit “Love Hurts,” took their name from a lyric in this song – “I pulled into Nazareth, Was feelin’ about half past dead.”

This song was featured in the 1978 documentary of The Band, The Last Waltz, directed by Martin Scorsese. Most of the film was shot at their Thanksgiving Day, 1976 concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, but their performance of “The Weight” was done in a studio with The Band joined by The Staple Singers, a gospel group who wrung out the spirituality of the song.

In celebration of Band drummer Levon Helm, who died in 2012, “The Weight” was performed at the Grammy Awards the next year with Mavis Staples joining Elton John, Mumford & Sons, the Zac Brown Band and Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes. Unlike many star-packed performances that get messy fast, this one worked. The song is a great showcase for multiple performers and served as a fitting tribute to Helm.

Aretha Franklin’s version featured Duane Allman playing slide guitar using an empty bottle of decongestant pills.

Joe Cocker also covered this song. It was included on the 2005 deluxe edition of his 1970 live album, Mad Dogs & Englishmen.

Weezer covered this in 2008 and released it as a bonus track on The Red Album.

The Weight

I pulled into Nazareth, was feeling ’bout half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head
Hey, mister, can you tell me, where a man might find a bed?
He just grinned and shook my hand, “No” was all he said

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me

I picked up my bags, I went looking for a place to hide
When I saw old Carmen and the Devil, walking side by side
I said, “Hey, Carmen, c’mon, let’s go downtown”
She said, “I gotta go, but my friend can stick around”

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me

Go down, Miss Moses, ain’t nothin’ you can say
It’s just old Luke, and Luke’s waiting on the judgment day
Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Annalee
He said, “Do me a favor, son, won’t you stay and keep Annalee company”

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me

[Rick Danko]
Crazy Chester followed me, and he caught me in the fog
Said, “I will fix your rag, if you’ll take Jack, my dog”
I said, “Wait a minute Chester, you know, I’m a peaceful man”
He said, “That’s okay, boy, won’t you feed him when you can”

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me

[Helm and Danko]
Catch the cannonball, now to take me down the line
My bag is sinking low, and I do believe it’s time
To get back to Miss Fanny, you know she’s the only one
Who sent me here, with her regards for everyone

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me

The Band – Life Is A Carnival

One quick story before the song. When I was 6 years old my dad, mom, sister. and I piled into the car and we all traveled to the carnival. I was so excited…too excited. I was in the backseat and stuck my head out the driver’s side window. My dad was not paying attention…can you see this coming? My dad started to roll the window up and could not understand why it was stuck. My neck was in it and Dad was trying to roll up harder. By this time I could not breathe, my face was turning red, and I was flopping around like a mouse in a trap…my mom yelled at my dad…MAX IS IN THE WINDOW… what? my dad asked…then my mom and sister screamed…MAX IS IN THE WINDOW…in unison no less. I can still hear him….Son…why the hell did you have your head handing out the window? Uh Dad…I wanted out to go to the carnival.

I loved carnivals growing up. At night they were magical with the lights, sounds, and smells.

This song was on The Band’s fourth studio album Cahoots. The song was written by  Rick Danko, Levon Helm, and Robbie Robertson. The song peaked at #72 in the Billboard 100 in 1972. The album Cahoots peaked at #21 in the Billboard Album Charts in the same year.

The Band had a new studio in Bearsville NY to experiment in during the early ’70s. It was opened by their manager Albert Grossman but Robbie Robertson commented that it left them a bit cold. They are also going through drug problems with three members at the time of recording.

Rick Danko in 1993: “I think we shipped a million copies of that second album,”
“And that changed a lot of people’s lives — in particular, the Band’s. After that, we were only getting together once a year, for a couple of months, to record. It was like we were too decadent to play.”

Life Is A Carnival

You can walk on the water
Drown in the sand
You can fly off a mountaintop
If anybody can

Run away, run away (run away, run away)
It’s the restless age
Look away, look away (look away, look away)
You can turn the page

Hey, buddy, would you like to buy a watch real cheap?
Here on the street
I got six on each arm
And two more ’round my feet

Life is a carnival
Believe it or not
Life is a carnival
Two bits a shot

Saw a man with a jinx
In the third degree
From trying to deal with people
People, you can’t see

Take away, take away (take away, take away)
This house of mirrors
Give away, give away (give away, give away)
All the souvenirs

We’re all in the same boat ready to float
Off the edge of the world
The flat old world
The street is a sideshow
From the peddler to the corner girl

Life is a carnival
It’s in the book
Life is a carnival
Take another look

Hey, buddy, would you like to buy a watch real cheap?
Here on the street
I got six on each arm
And two more ’round my feet

Life is a carnival
Believe it or not
Life is a carnival
Two bits a shot


My Top 10 Favorite Live Albums

I’m more of a studio guy when it comes to listening to bands but there are a few live albums I really like. This is my top 10 and a few honorable mentions at the bottom. Very few artists can improve on the studio version but sometimes some manage to pull it off.

10. Led Zeppelin –  How the West Was Won – After the disappointing live album The Song Remains The Same, this album released in 2003 contained Led Zeppelin live in 1972 from two shows in top form.

How the West Was Won (Live) (3-CD)

9: Simon And Garfunkel – The Concert In Central Park – This was big for me when it was released. I had by this time worn a groove out in their greatest hits. The band was great and their harmonies were as good as ever.

Image result for Simon And Garfunkel – The Concert In Central Park

8: George Harrison – The Concert For Bangladesh – Fun to listen to George freed from the Beatles and he sounds great with Dylan, Billy Preston, Ringo, and other friends.

Image result for George Harrison – The Concert For Bangladesh


7: The Band: The Last Waltz – One of the best live albums ever. The Band’s last concert with Robbie with a host of talented famous friends. I still don’t get the Neil Diamond selection…nothing against Neil…he didn’t fit in with this atmosphere.

Image result for The Band: The Last Waltz album

6: The Allman Brothers Band “At Fillmore East” – This album floats up and down this list depending on my mood. It was at number 2 when I first made this list a couple of weeks ago. This band was probably one of the most talented bands in the seventies. I didn’t start heavily listening to them until around 5-10 years ago. They are better live than in the studio. There was not a weak link in this 6 piece band…especially in the Duane version but later incarnations were almost as strong.

At The Fillmore East (2LPs - 180GV)

5: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, ‘Live/1975-85’ – I listened to this so much in the 80s that I knew the stories Bruce would tell by heart. Later when listening to the studio version of a song I would expect the story that went with it.

Image result for Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, ‘Live/1975-85’

4: Paul McCartney  Wings Over America – This triple album set was a live greatest hits. The songs had some edge to them thanks to Jimmy McCulloch the young prodigy guitar player.  Paul even broke his silence on the Beatles and included five Beatle songs. Blackbird, I’ve Just Seen a Face, Yesterday, The Long and Winding Road, and Lady Madonna. Unlike the other 3 albums ahead of this on in the list, Paul didn’t mess with the songs too much from the original studio recordings.

Wings over America

3: The Rolling Stones – ‘”Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!” – This tour and the 1972  tour were the Stones at their live peak.

Image result for the rolling stones get yer ya-ya's out

2: Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert – I have seen Dylan 8 times but if I could pick a tour to see him on…I would go back and this would be the one. With The Band backing him up…minus Levon Helm but Mickey Jones on drums is very powerful.

Image result for bob dylan 1966 royal albert hall concert

1: The Who – ‘Live at Leeds’ This album highlights The Who at their best. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a rock band so tight. The power of the performance is huge. Pete Townshend told his soundman Bob Pridden to erase all other shows on this tour at the time…Bob did… much to Pete’s regret later on.

The Who - Live at Leeds By The Who



Honorable Mentions

Beatles Live At The Star-Club in Hamburg Germany – The quality of the recording is pretty bad but it’s exciting to hear the punkish Beatles before Beatlemania hit.

The Kinks – One For The Road

Neil Young & Crazy Horse –  Live Rust

Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison

The Band – Rock of Ages

Cheap Trick – At Budokan

Elvis (68 Comeback Special)


The Band – The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

This song was a B side to Cripple Creek. This was on the Band’s self-titled second album The Band with peaked at #9 in 1970 in the Billboard Album Charts. The song was written by Robbie Robertson:

’ I told Levon I wanted to write lyrics about the Civil War from a southern family’s point of view. ‘Don’t mention Abraham Lincoln in the lyrics’ was his only advice, ‘That won’t go down too well.’ I asked him to drive me to the Woodstock library so I could do a little research on the Confederacy. They didn’t teach that stuff in Canadian Schools. When I conjured up the story about Virgil Caine and his kin against this historical backdrop, the song came to life for me. Though I did stop and wonder, can I get away with this? You call this rock ‘n’ roll? Maybe!

Joan Baez covered this song and it peaked at #3 in the Billboard 100 in 1971…while the Bands version didn’t chart…Life isn’t fair at times. Asked about the Baez version of this song, Robbie Robertson said it was “a little happy-go-lucky for me,” but he was thankful that it introduced many listeners to The Band.

The song appeared at number 245 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

From Songfacts

Robbie Robertson wrote this song, which is set during the American Civil War – “Dixie” is a term indicating the old American South, which was defeated by the Union army. The song is not related to his heritage, as Robertson is half-Mohawk Indian, half-Jewish Canadian.

Robertson came up with the music for this song, and then got the idea for the lyrics when he thought about the saying “The South will rise again,” which he heard the first time he visited the American South. This led him to research the Civil War. 

The main character in the song, Virgil Caine, is fictional, but there really was a “Danville train” and “Stoneman’s cavalry.”

The train would have been part of the Richmond and Danville Railroad, a vital conduit for the Confederate Army. George Stoneman was a Union cavalry officer who led raids on the railroad.

The vocals featured the 3-part harmonies of Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, and Rick Danko on the choruses, and Helm sang the verses. He was the only band member who was from the South (Arkansas), so it was fitting that he played the role of Virgil Caine, a Virginia train worker, in this song.

This was recorded in Sammy Davis Jr.’s house in Los Angeles. The Band rented it and converted a poolhouse into a studio to record their second album.

Joan Baez covered this in 1971. It was her biggest hit, reaching US #3 and UK #6.

Her version was recorded at Quad Studios in Nashville with producer Norman Putnam, who gathered about 20 people from around the studio to sing on the chorus. One of those voices belongs to Jimmy Buffett, who Putnam would later work with on his album Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.

Baez changed some of the lyrics on her version. For example, she sings, “Virgil Cain is my name and I drove on the Danville train. ‘Til so much cavalry came and tore up the tracks again.” The original lyrics are, “Virgil Cain is THE name and I SERVED on the Danville train. ‘Til STONEMAN’S cavalry came and tore up the tracks again” referring to George Stoneman, who was a general in the Union army). 

This was used as the B-side to “Up On Cripple Creek.”

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train
‘Til Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again
In the winter of ’65, we were hungry, just barely alive
By May the tenth, Richmond had fell, it’s a time I remember, oh so well

The night they drove old Dixie down, and the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down, and the people were singin’ they went
La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la

Back with my wife in Tennessee, when one day she called to me
“Virgil, quick, come see, there goes Robert E Lee”
Now I don’t mind choppin’ wood, and I don’t care if the money’s no good
Ya take what ya need and ya leave the rest
But they should never have taken the very best

The night they drove old Dixie down, and the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down, and the people were singin’ they went
La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la

Like my father before me, I will work the land
Like my brother above me, who took a rebel stand
He was just eighteen, proud and brave, but a Yankee laid him in his grave
I swear by the mud below my feet
You can’t raise a Caine back up when he’s in defeat

The night they drove old Dixie down, and the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down, and all the people were singin’, they went
Na, la, na, la, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na

The night they drove old Dixie down, and all the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down, and the people were singin’, they went
Na, la, na, la, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na

Band – Up On Cripple Creek

What a great single this was… Up On Cripple Creek with the B side of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Robbie Robertson wrote this song and it appeared on The Band’s sophomore self-titled album.

This song was their highest-charting Billboard song and it peaked at #25 in 1970.

The Band rented Sammy Davis’s house turning the pool house into a recording studio, nailing baffles all along the outside wall and getting a great sound inside. The album was recorded there except “Up On Cripple Creek”, “Jemima Surrender” and “Whispering Pines” which was recorded at the Hit Factory studio in New York City.

The unusual sound that sounds like a jaw harp was achieved by Hudson with a wah-wah pedal on his clavinet.

The song has a great Americana sound to it. Hard to believe this band was all Canadian except for the southern Levon Helm.

From Songfacts

Guitarist Robbie Robertson wrote this song, which tells a disjointed story about a mountain man and a girl named Bessie. We hear about a trip to the horse races, listening to Spike Jones, and how what really makes him happy is when she “dips her doughnut in my tea.”

Like many songs by The Band, it’s wide open for interpretation. Robertson claims he doesn’t even know what’s going on. “I don’t really write songs with anything other than just a storytelling sense,” he said when asked about the song in Goldmine (August, 1998). “You sit down and write the song, and usually when something happens, you just don’t even know where it came from, or why it came, or anything like that. That’s the best. You know, when something comes out of you that surprises you. And it was one of those. You know, I was just sitting down to see if I could think of anything, and that’s what came out. But it was a fun song to write.”

Drummer Levon Helm sang lead on this track, giving it a very folksy vibe.

The guy in this song is one of the many curious characters Robbie Robertson has conceived. “We’re not dealing with people at the top of the ladder,” he said. “We’re saying what about that house out there in the middle of that field? What does this guy think, with that one light on upstairs, and that truck parked out there? That’s who I’m curious about.”

Robertson is listed as the only songwriter on this track, which is something his bandmates disputed, as they claimed they helped write it. Songwriting credits going to Robertson was a great source of friction in The Band.

That funky sound on “Up On Cripple Creek” was created by keyboardist Garth Hudson, who played a Hohner Clavinet D6 through a Vox Wah Wah pedal.

In The Band’s 2000 Greatest Hits compilation, Levon Helm said, “It took a long time to seep into us. We cut it two or three times, but nobody really liked it. It wasn’t quite enough fun. Finally one night we just got hold of it, doubled up a couple of chorus and harmony parts, and that was it.”

There are Cripple Creeks throughout the United States and Canada, including one in an old mining town in Colorado and another near Hamilton, Ontario. The title may have come from one of these places, but the song doesn’t appear to be set in one specific Cripple Creek.

The B-side of the single was “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which became a hit for Joan Baez in 1971.

The Band performed this on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1969. It was their only appearance on the show.

The rap duo Gang Starr sampled this on their 1990 track “Beyond Comprehension.”

Up On Cripple Creek

When I get off of this mountain
You know where I want to go
Straight down the Mississippi River
To the Gulf of Mexico

To Lake George, Louisiana
Little Bessie, girl that I once knew
And she told me just to come on by
If there’s anything she could do

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don’t have to speak she defends me
A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one

Good luck had just stung me
To the race track I did go
She bet on one horse to win
And I bet on another to show

Odds were in my favor
I had him five to one
When that nag came around the track
Sure enough we had won

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don’t have to speak she defends me
A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one

I took up all of my winnings
And I gave my little Bessie half
And she tore it up and blew it in my face
Just for a laugh

Now there’s one thing in the whole wide world
I sure would like to see
That’s when that little love of mine
Dips her doughnut in my tea

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don’t have to speak she defends me
A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one

Now me and my mate were back at the shack
We had Spike Jones on the box
She said, “I can’t take the way he sings
But I love to hear him talk”

Now that just gave my heart a fall
To the bottom of my feet
And I swore and I took another pull
My Bessie can’t be beat

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don’t have to speak she defends me
A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one

As a flood out in California
And up north it’s freezing cold
And this living off the road
Is getting pretty old

So I guess I’ll call up my big mama
Tell her I’ll be rolling in
But you know, deep down, I’m kinda tempted
To go and see my sweet Bessie again

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don’t have to speak she defends me
A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one

Favorite Lines from Songs Part 2

I did Part 1 over a year ago and it was a fun post. I’ve been meaning to do this again. I remembered some of the lyrics suggested by my friends hanspostcard and allthingsthriller on the last post…I have added those to list. Thanks to both of you.

I saw her from the corner when she turned and doubled back, And started walkin toward a coffee colored Cadillac… Chuck Berry

Image result for chuck berry

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose, And nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free Janis Joplin/Kris Kristofferson

Related image

And I need you more than want you, And I want you for all time Jimmy Webb

Image result for jimmy webb

Doesn’t have a point of view / Knows not where he’s going to / Isn’t he a bit like you and me…The Beatles

Related image

Met myself a coming county welfare line, I was feeling strung out, Hung out on the line…Creedence Clearwater Revival

Image result for creedence clearwater revival

And you’ve got to learn to live with what you can’t rise above…Bruce Springsteen

Related image

He’d end up blowing all his wages for the week / All for a cuddle and a peck on the cheek…Kinks

Image result for kinks

Well it’s too late, tonight, To drag the past out into the light, We’re one, but we’re not the same, We get to carry each other, Carry each other…U2

Related image

You can blow out a candle but you can’t blow out a firePeter Gabriel

Image result for peter gabriel

Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see…The Beatles

Related image

Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry cola, C-O-L-A Cola…Kinks

Image result for kinks

It was gravity which pulled us down and destiny which broke us apart…Bob Dylan
Related image

A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see oneThe Band

Related image

And the sign said, The words of the prophets, are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls… Simon and Garfunkel

Related image

I lit up from Reno, I was trailed by twenty hounds, Didn’t get to sleep that night
Till the morning came around…Grateful Dead

Related image

When I said that I was lying, I might have been lyingElvis Costello
Related image
Though nothing will keep us together/We can be heroes/Just for one day…David Bowie
Related image

Lose your dreams and you. Will lose your mind…Rolling Stones

Image result for rolling stones 1974

It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win…Bruce Springsteen

Related image

The motor cooled down, the heat went down, and that’s when I heard that highway sound…Chuck Berry

Image result for chuck berry

We were the first band to vomit at the bar, and find the distance to the stage too far…The Who

Related image


The Band – The Shape I’m In

The first Band album I ever bought was The Best of The Band. When I heard “The Shape I’m In” I knew I was going to like them. I knew the hits of course but the songs I never heard of at that point were great. I then started to buy their albums and loving this band. The song was off on the album Stage Fright and was a B side to the song “Time To Kill.”

There is a great version on The Last Waltz which is below. Robbie wrote the song for Richard to sing and at that time Levon, Rick, and Richard were heavy into heroin and drinking. The song peaked at #64 in Canada.

Robbie Robertson talks some about writing this song

At one time, there was talk that if you wanted to play like the angels, you had to dance with the devil—that heroin was a gateway to music supremacy. That myth was yesterday, but the power of addiction was still in full force. It hit me hard that in a band like ours, if we weren’t operating on all cylinders, it threw the whole machine off course.
This was the first time that writing songs was painful for me. In some cases I couldn’t help but reflect on what was happening behind the curtain. I wrote “The Shape I’m In” for Richard to sing, “Stage Fright” for Rick, and “The W. S. Walcott Medicine Show” for Levon—all with undertones of madness and self-destruction. While watching Richard pound out the rhythm on the clavichord, I couldn’t help but see the irony as he sang out, “Oh, you don’t know, the shape I’m in.”

The Shape I’m In

Go out yonder, peace in the valley
Come downtown, have to rumble in the alley
Oh, you don’t know the shape I’m in

Has anybody seen my lady
This livin’ alone would drive me crazy
Oh, you don’t know the shape I’m in

I’m gonna go down by the water
But I ain’t gonna jump in, no, no
I’ll just be lookin’ for my maker
And I hear that that’s where she’s been?

Oh, out of nine lives, I spent seven
Now, how in the world do you get to Heaven
Oh, you don’t know the shape I’m in

I’ve just spent 60 days in the jail house
For the crime of having no dough, no no
Now here I am back out on the street
For the crime of having nowhere to go

Save your neck or save your brother
Looks like it’s one or the other
Oh, you don’t know the shape I’m in

Now two young kids might start a ruckus
You know they feel you’re tryin’ to shuck us
Oh, you don’t know the shape I’m in


The autobiography of Robbie Robertson. I read this right after My Cross To Bear by Gregg Allman. The only surprising part is it stops at 1976 and doesn’t cover Robbie’s solo career.

Robbie is 33 when the book ends. It ends at a recording session where only Robbie shows up after The Last Waltz.

If you have read Levon Helm’s This Wheels on Fire you know that Levon was pretty hard on Robbie. He rips him for songwriting credits and The Last Waltz. Robbie takes the high road in his book. He talks about the brotherhood they all shared. He mentions that Levon was his best friend he ever had in his life.

Robbie was in the middle of musical history throughout the book. He talks about joining Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks and befriending Levon…they eventually picked up Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, and Garth Hudson. After they split with Ronnie they get busted and gigged at various bars while meeting music legends Sonny Boy Williamson II, Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield and then Bob Dylan. After meeting Dylan they start backing him on his first electric tour.

They are in the middle of the chaos of Dylan’s electric tour…Levon quits a few shows into it because of the booing and the people that surround Dylan. The rest of the Band (still called the Hawks) continue to back Dylan around the world. Along the way, they make friends with Brian Jones, The Beatles, Johnny Cash and eventually Jimi Hendrix (Jimmy James at the time).

He also mentions about living at the Chelsea Hotel, Big Pink, Levon coming back, living in Woodstock, playing Woodstock, and being friends with Dylan. This is one book that gives you a side of Dylan you never read much about. Robbie humanizes him while keeping respect. The Band much like the Allman Brothers valued brotherhood. They stuck together and got along really well until heroin started to enter the picture.

He goes into his songwriting and where he got the ideas. A lot of his ideas came from hanging out with Levon at Levon’s home in Arkansas. Robbie enjoyed the area and the southern culture that surrounded him.

Robbie is big foreign film buff who read many screenplays and would have people to pick them up when going through New York. After reading those he said it helped him to express what he felt in lyrics.

You get such a mix of personalities in the book… Edie Sedgwick, Carly Simon, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, to smoking pot with John Lennon in the sixties with John’s special made “cigarettes.”

All of the Band had street smarts and mixed with killers, thieves and mafia members before they made it. They were without money at one point and Robbie and Levon were actually going to wear masks and hold up a high stakes poker game. It’s a wonder one of them wasn’t killed before the band met Dylan.

I’ve read both Levon’s and Robbie’s books. I liked them both. Robbie is more consistent in his telling. There is a reason Robbie wanted to get off the road. Richard Manuel was not in good shape…even on The Last Waltz and Robbie was no angel himself. The road brought temptations that were hard for them to resist.

If you are a Band fan and/or Dylan fan…get it. I would place this book up there with Keith Richard’s book Life. That is about the highest praise I can give…