Hailing from the tiny rural town of Simcoe, Ontario, Danko
was born into a musical family. Both of his parents and his
three brothers played and/or sang, and music was a way of
life for him from the beginning. He listened to Hank Williams
and Sam Cooke as a small child, and was ready to go to
Nashville by the age of seven. With his oldest brother,
Maurice (Juinor), Rick sang and performed at family
get-togethers and made his public debut on four-string tenor
banjo before an audience of his first-grade classmates.
He quit school at 14 to purse music full-time and in 1960,
when he was 17, he joined rockabilly singer Ronnie
Hawkins' group, the Hawks, initially as rhythm guitarist. He
soon moved to bass and, with the help of the Hawks' piano
player Stan Szelest.
Under Ronnie Hawkins' tutelage, Danko began a three-year
tenure of non-stop gigging and rigorous rehearsals that fellow
Band-mate Richard Manuel once likened to 'boot camp.' By
the time he was 20, he was a seasoned pro, having spent
most of his teenage years playing in bars that you were
supposed to be 21 to play in.
By the early 60s, Rick and the other Hawks had outgrown
the limited roadhouse and honky-tonk circuit and left
Hawkins to pursue greener pastures. Bob Dylan saw them
perform in the mid-60s and was so impressed that he signed
the Hawks to accompany him on his 1965-66 world tour.
The Band's collaboration with Dylan, initially greeted with
boos and catcalls around the globe, changed the course of
popular music by spawning one of the most significant
musical hybrids of the rock era, 'Folk Rock.'
After the tumultuous world tours with Dylan (the European
leg of which was documented in the obscure film, Eat the
Document), Danko relocated from Manhattan to upstate
New York, along with Dylan and the other members of the
still un-named Band. He rented a big pink house in West
Saugerties, near Woodstock, and with Dylan and The Band
began recording songs which soon surfaced on bootlegs and
were officially released in 1975 as The Basement Tapes. In
1968, after toying with a host of politically incorrect names,
like the Crackers and the Honkies, The Band made its
official debut with 'Music From Big Pink'.
The album shot The Band into folklore. A succession of
albums and tours followed, and, The Band, now a firm
fixture in the rock aristocracy, played virtually every major
festival from Woodstock to Watkins Glen. In 1976, on
Thanksgiving day, The Band officially called it quits with a
farewell concert at San FranciscoDs Winterland Ballroom.
The concert, which featured an unprecedented all-star lineup
to which The Band graciously played back-up, was
documented in Martin ScorseseDs much lauded film, The
Last Waltz, regarded by many as the finest concert film of
Following 'The Last Waltz', Danko continued to perform
and record as a solo artist. His 1978 self-titled debut, though
overshadowed at first by The Band, later gained critical and
During the early 1980s, he maintained a low profile, and in
1983, reunited with The Band (minus Robbie Robertson,
who pursued a solo career). During that period, he began
playing acoustic guitar as well as bass on-stage, and his
unique style of tuning and playing (revealing the bass player
in his soul), has become another of his signature sounds.
Throughout the 80s, never one to 'sit at home', Rick
continued to play solo, with The Band, in pairings with
Richard Manuel, Levon Helm, Paul Butterfield, Jorma
Kaukonen and others. In 1985, he appeared (with Manuel,
Helm and Hudson) in a feature film, Man Outside, and in
1987 he released an instructional video, 'Rick Danko's
Electric Bass Techniques' (Homespun).
In 1989, he and Band drummer/vocalist Levon Helm toured
as part of Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band. That same year, The
Band was inducted into the Canadian Academy of Recording
Arts and Sciences Hall Of Fame. In 1990, Danko, along with
Helm, Hudson, Sinead O'Connor, Van Morrison and others,
appeared in Roger Waters' 'The Wall' concert in Berlin.
Danko recorded with Folk legend Eric Andersen and
Norwegian singer/songwriter Jonas Fjeld in 1991 and one
sidebar of the trio's collaboration was an award-winning
album, Danko Fjeld Andersen (Stageway), which was
honored in Norway with a Spellemans Pris (the Norwegian
Grammy) for 'Record of the Year' and was released in late
1993 by Rykodisc. The Rykodisc release was honored by
NAIRO the following year.
In October, 1992 he performed with The Band at the Bob
Dylan 30th Anniversary tribute at Madison Square Garden
and, in January 1994, he and The Band were inducted into
the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Eric Clapton.
1993 saw The Band record their first studio album in 17
years, 'Jericho', which featured a radically extended line-up
of members including Richard Bell. They followed this up
with another album, 'High On The Hog', in 1996.
In February, 1997, Rykodisc released 'Ridin' On The
Blinds', the follow-up to Danko Fjeld Andersen, which was
recorded in Norway in 1994.
Danko passed away in his upstate New York home on
Friday, December 10, 1999.
With notes from Jan Høiberg and Rob Bowman
Band's Rick Danko Revs Up Legendary Career
by Matthew Lewis
From Variety, March 1997.
HARTFORD, Conn. (Reuter) - It's been
nearly 30 years since the Band helped define American rock music, but singer
and bassist Rick Danko feels he's just getting warmed up.
After a long layoff from making records in the 1980s and early '90s, Canadian
Danko is brimming over with recording and concert projects.
"I love to play; a stage is a safe place for me to be," Danko told Reuters
in an interview. "It's not that way for most folks, but I'd be lost without
Still one of rock's great voices at age 53, Danko is more visible these
days than at any time since The Last Waltz, director Martin Scorsese's
celebrated documentary of the Band's star-studded 1976 "farewell" concert.
One of Danko's side projects, the critically acclaimed trio Danko/Fjeld/Andersen,
in February released its second album, Ridin' on the Blinds, on the Rykodisc
The project reunited Danko with his friends Jonas Fjeld, one of Norway's
biggest stars, and Eric Andersen, the respected songwriter who sprang from
the 1960s New York folk scene.
The new album is an intoxicating blend of American roots music seasoned
with exotic, centuries-old Norwegian folk instruments. One highlight is
Danko's poignant, acoustic rendition of "Twilight," an obscure 1975 Band
In addition, the Band will soon start work on its next album, targetted
for release in early 1998. The legendary group, which reunited without
Richard Manuel, who committed suicide in 1986, and key songwriter Robbie
Robertson, has released two albums in the last three years.
The group plans a 35-concert U.S. tour this summer.
Then there is Danko's revved-up solo career. He will tour Japan in April
and May, and is planning a live album that would serve as the long-awaited
followup to his 1978 solo album, which featured Eric Clapton and the Rolling
Stones' Ron Wood.
Danko, who lives in Woodstock, N.Y., also says he'd like to make a "rock
'n' roll duo" album with Rolling Stones great Keith Richards, but no plans
have been set yet.
Asked about the flurry of activity, Danko said, "I get bored pretty easy,
but I'm lucky to have a lot of musical friends that help me take care of
A recent solo concert in tiny Foxboro, Mass., captured Danko in fine voice.
Expertly backed by drummer Randy Ciarlante and pianist/accordionist Aaron
Hurwitz, Danko romped through old classics like "Stage Fright" and "Mystery
Train," and a funked-up "Chest Fever" from the Band's famous debut album.
Originally formed in 1960 as the backing group for Arkansas rockabilly
wild man Ronnie Hawkins, the Band combined good-time rock 'n' roll with
American folk traditions like no group before or since. The group's first
two albums, Music From Big Pink (1968) and The Band (1969), still rate
highly on many critics' all-time "best" lists.
At the heart of the Band's distinctive sound was the deeply soulful singing
of Danko, drummer Levon Helm and Manuel.
"Rick's voice is incredibly unique," said Hurwitz, who is also the Band's
co-producer. "It's a gutsy sound, t's haunting, and it really appeals
Asked about his vocal influences, Danko lists Hank Williams, Otis Redding,
Sam Cooke, Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline, and Muddy Waters, among many others.
Danko's heartfelt style was developed the hard way. He quit school in Simcoe,
Ontario, at age 14 and went to work as an apprentice meatcutter. He was
still a teenager when he ran away to join Hawkins's rockabilly roustabouts.
Never a prolific songwriter, Danko has co-written some gems over the years.
"This Wheel's on Fire," which he wrote with Bob Dylan in 1967, has rolled
in its share of royalties -- most recently as the theme music for the British
TV series "Absolutely Fabulous."
Danko said there are many old Band songs on which he and the others should
have been credited as co-writers, instead of being credited solely to Robbie
Robertson wrote the group's best-known songs, including "The Weight," "The
Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "Up on Cripple Creek."
"He'll say he did it all, if you give him the opportunity," Danko said
of Robertson. Danko said he empathizes with Mike Love, the Beach Boy who
sued bandmate Brian Wilson for withholding songwriting credits on many
well-known songs. "Maybe I'll have to end up hiring his lawyer," he laughed.
The surviving original Band members have turned down offers in the millions
of dollars to reunite, Danko said. "Money isn't the object anymore. We're
not looking for a job."
He strongly disagrees with some critics who have carped that the Band without
Robertson is like "Hamlet" without the prince. "Robbie chose to do what
he chose to do, and more power to him. I think he's regretted some of those
movements, but that's not my problem."
Robertson has released three solo albums as well as some movie soundtracks
for Scorsese since leaving the Band.
Danko feels that the "new" Band -- with original members Danko, Helm and
Garth Hudson augmented by Ciarlante, Jim Weider and Richard Bell -- is
every bit as valid as the "old" Band. "I appreciate the chemistry of the
Band over the years and everybody's contribution," he said. "I would like
to see that continue for just as long as we can breathe good air."
Copied from an article posted in the newsgroup rec.music.dylan by Mike