Episode 167: “The Weight” by The Band

A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs
A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs
Episode 167: "The Weight" by The Band

The Band

Episode one hundred and sixty-seven of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “The Weight” by the Band, the Basement Tapes, and the continuing controversy over Dylan going electric. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.

Patreon backers also have a half-hour bonus episode available, on “S.F. Sorrow is Born” by the Pretty Things.

Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/

Also, a one-time request here — Shawn Taylor, who runs the Facebook group for the podcast and is an old and dear friend of mine, has stage-three lung cancer. I will be hugely grateful to anyone who donates to the GoFundMe for her treatment.


At one point I say “when Robertson and Helm travelled to the Brill Building”. I meant “when Hawkins and Helm”. This is fixed in the transcript but not the recording.


There are three Mixcloud mixes this time. As there are so many songs by Bob Dylan and the Band excerpted, and Mixcloud won’t allow more than four songs by the same artist in any mix, I’ve had to post the songs not in quite the same order in which they appear in the podcast. But the mixes are here — one, two, three.

I’ve used these books for all the episodes involving Dylan:

Dylan Goes Electric!: Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties by Elijah Wald, which is recommended, as all Wald’s books are.

Bob Dylan: All The Songs by Phillipe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon is a song-by-song look at every song Dylan ever wrote, as is Revolution in the Air, by Clinton Heylin.

Heylin also wrote the most comprehensive and accurate biography of Dylan, Behind the Shades.

I’ve also used Robert Shelton’s No Direction Home, which is less accurate, but which is written by someone who knew Dylan.

Chronicles Volume 1 by Bob Dylan is a partial, highly inaccurate, but thoroughly readable autobiography.

Information on Tiny Tim comes from Eternal Troubadour: The Improbable Life of Tiny Tim by Justin Martell.

Information on John Cage comes from The Roaring Silence by David Revill

Information on Woodstock comes from Small Town Talk by Barney Hoskyns.

For material on the Basement Tapes, I’ve used Million Dollar Bash by Sid Griffin.

And for the Band, I’ve used This Wheel’s on Fire by Levon Helm with Stephen DavisTestimony by Robbie Robertson, The Band by Craig Harris and Levon by Sandra B Tooze.

I’ve also referred to the documentaries No Direction Home and Once Were Brothers.

The complete Basement Tapes can be found on this multi-disc box set, while this double-CD version has the best material from the sessions. All the surviving live recordings by Dylan and the Hawks from 1966 are on this box set.

There are various deluxe versions of Music From Big Pink, but still the best way to get the original album is in this twofer CD with the Band’s second album.


Just a brief note before I start – literally while I was in the middle of recording this episode, it was announced that Robbie Robertson had died today, aged eighty. Obviously I’ve not had time to alter the rest of the episode – half of which had already been edited – with that in mind, though I don’t believe I say anything disrespectful to his memory. My condolences to those who loved him – he was a huge talent and will be missed.

There are people in the world who question the function of criticism. Those people argue that criticism is in many ways parasitic. If critics knew what they were talking about, so the argument goes, they would create themselves, rather than talk about other people’s creation. It’s a variant of the “those who can’t, teach” cliche.

And to an extent it’s true. Certainly in the world of rock music, which we’re talking about in this podcast, most critics are quite staggeringly ignorant of the things they’re talking about. Most criticism is ephemeral, published in newspapers, magazines, blogs and podcasts, and forgotten as soon as it has been consumed — and consumed is the word .

But sometimes, just sometimes, a critic will have an effect on the world that is at least as important as that of any of the artists they criticise. One such critic was John Ruskin.

Ruskin was one of the preeminent critics of visual art in the Victorian era, particularly specialising in painting and architecture, and he passionately advocated for a form of art that would be truthful, plain, and honest. To Ruskin’s mind, many artists of the past, and of his time, drew and painted, not what they saw with their own eyes, but what other people expected them to paint. They replaced true observation of nature with the regurgitation of ever-more-mannered and formalised cliches. His attacks on many great artists were, in essence, the same critiques that are currently brought against AI art apps — they’re just recycling and plagiarising what other people had already done, not seeing with their own eyes and creating from their own vision.

Ruskin was an artist himself, but never received much acclaim for his own work. Rather, he advocated for the works of others, like Turner and the pre-Raphaelite school — the latter of whom were influenced by Ruskin, even as he admired them for seeing with their own vision rather than just repeating influences from others.

But those weren’t the only people Ruskin influenced. Because any critical project, properly understood, becomes about more than just the art — as if art is just anything. Ruskin, for example, studied geology, because if you’re going to talk about how people should paint landscapes and what those landscapes look like, you need to understand what landscapes really do look like, which means understanding their formation. He understood that art of the kind he wanted could only be produced by certain types of people, and so society had to be organised in a way to produce such people. Some types of societal organisation lead to some kinds of thinking and creation, and to properly, honestly, understand one branch of human thought means at least to attempt to understand all of them. Opinions about art have moral consequences, and morality has political and economic consequences. The inevitable endpoint of any theory of art is, ultimately, a theory of society.

And Ruskin had a theory of society, and social organisation. Ruskin’s views are too complex to summarise here, but they were a kind of anarcho-primitivist collectivism. He believed that wealth was evil, and that the classical liberal economics of people like Mill was fundamentally anti-human, that the division of labour alienated people from their work. In Ruskin’s ideal world, people would gather in communities no bigger than villages, and work as craftspeople, working with nature rather than trying to bend nature to their will. They would be collectives, with none richer or poorer than any other, and working the land without modern technology.

in the first half of the twentieth century, in particular, Ruskin’s influence was *everywhere*. His writings on art inspired the Impressionist movement, but his political and economic ideas were the most influential, right across the political spectrum. Ruskin’s ideas were closest to Christian socialism, and he did indeed inspire many socialist parties — most of the founders of Britain’s Labour Party were admirers of Ruskin and influenced by his ideas, particularly his opposition to the free market. But he inspired many other people — Gandhi talked about the profound influence that Ruskin had on him, saying in his autobiography that he got three lessons from Ruskin’s Unto This Last:


1) the good of the individual is contained in the good of all.

2) a lawyer’s work has the same value as the barber’s in as much as all have the same right of earning their livelihood from their work.

3) a life of labour, i.e., the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman is the life worth living.

The first of these I knew. The second I had dimly realized. The third had never occurred to me. Unto This Last made it clear as daylight for me that the second and third were contained in the first. I arose with the dawn, ready to reduce these principles to practice”

Gandhi translated and paraphrased Unto this Last into Gujurati and called the resulting book Sarvodaya (meaning “uplifting all” or “the welfare of all”) which he later took as the name of his own political philosophy. But Ruskin also had a more pernicious influence — it was said in 1930s Germany that he and his friend Thomas Carlyle were “the first National Socialists” — there’s no evidence I know of that Hitler ever read Ruskin, but a *lot* of Nazi rhetoric is implicit in Ruskin’s writing, particularly in his opposition to progress (he even opposed the bicycle as being too much inhuman interference with nature), just as much as more admirable philosophies, and he was so widely read in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that there’s barely a political movement anywhere that didn’t bear his fingerprints.

But of course, our focus here is on music. And Ruskin had an influence on that, too.

We’ve talked in several episodes, most recently the one on the Velvet Underground, about John Cage’s piece 4’33. What I didn’t mention in any of the discussions of that piece — because I was saving it for here — is that that piece was premiered at a small concert hall in upstate New York. The hall, the Maverick Concert Hall, was owned and run by the Maverick arts and crafts collective — a collective that were so called because they were the *second* Ruskinite arts colony in the area, having split off from the Byrdcliffe colony after a dispute between its three founders, all of whom were disciples of Ruskin, and all of whom disagreed violently about how to implement Ruskin’s ideas of pacifist all-for-one and one-for-all community.

These arts colonies, and others that grew up around them like the Arts Students League were the thriving centre of a Bohemian community — close enough to New York that you could get there if you needed to, far enough away that you could live out your pastoral fantasies, and artists of all types flocked there — Pete Seeger met his wife there, and his father-in-law had been one of the stonemasons who helped build the Maverick concert hall. Dozens of artists in all sorts of areas, from Aaron Copland to Edward G Robinson, spent time in these communities, as did Cage.

Of course, while these arts and crafts communities had a reputation for Bohemianism and artistic extremism, even radical utopian artists have their limits, and legend has it that the premiere of 4’33 was met with horror and derision, and eventually led to one artist in the audience standing up and calling on the residents of the town around which these artistic colonies had agglomerated:

“Good people of Woodstock, let’s drive these people out of town.”

[Excerpt: The Band, “The Weight”]

Ronnie Hawkins was almost born to make music. We heard back in the episode on “Suzie Q” in 2019 about his family and their ties to music. Ronnie’s uncle Del was, according to most of the sources on the family, a member of the Sons of the Pioneers — though as I point out in that episode, his name isn’t on any of the official lists of group members, but he might well have performed with them at some point in the early years of the group. And he was definitely a country music bass player, even if he *wasn’t* in the most popular country and western group of the thirties and forties. And Del had had two sons, Jerry, who made some minor rockabilly records:

[Excerpt: Jerry Hawkins, “Swing, Daddy, Swing”]

And Del junior, who as we heard in the “Susie Q” episode became known as Dale Hawkins and made one of the most important rock records of the fifties:

[Excerpt: Dale Hawkins, “Susie Q”]

Ronnie Hawkins was around the same age as his cousins, and was in awe of his country-music star uncle. Hawkins later remembered that after his uncle moved to Califormia to become a star “He’d come home for a week or two, driving a brand new Cadillac and wearing brand new clothes and I knew that’s what I wanted to be.” Though he also remembered “He spent every penny he made on whiskey, and he was divorced because he was running around with all sorts of women. His wife left Arkansas and went to Louisiana.”

Hawkins knew that he wanted to be a music star like his uncle, and he started performing at local fairs and other events from the age of eleven, including one performance where he substituted for Hank Williams — Williams was so drunk that day he couldn’t perform, and so his backing band asked volunteers from the audience to get up and sing with them, and Hawkins sang Burl Ives and minstrel-show songs with the band. He said later “Even back then I knew that every important white cat—Al Jolson, Stephen Foster—they all did it by copying blacks. Even Hank Williams learned all the stuff he had from those black cats in Alabama. Elvis Presley copied black music; that’s all that Elvis did.”

As well as being a performer from an early age, though, Hawkins was also an entrepreneur with an eye for how to make money. From the age of fourteen he started running liquor — not moonshine, he would always point out, but something far safer. He lived only a few miles from the border between Missouri and Arkansas, and alcohol and tobacco were about half the price in Missouri that they were in Arkansas, so he’d drive across the border, load up on whisky and cigarettes, and drive back and sell them at a profit, which he then used to buy shares in several nightclubs, which he and his bands would perform in in later years.

Like every man of his generation, Hawkins had to do six months in the Army, and it was there that he joined his first ever full-time band, the Blackhawks — so called because his name was Hawkins, and the rest of the group were Black, though Hawkins was white. They got together when the other four members were performing at a club in the area where Hawkins was stationed, and he was so impressed with their music that he jumped on stage and started singing with them. He said later “It sounded like something between the blues and rockabilly. It sort of leaned in both directions at the same time, me being a hayseed and those guys playing a lot funkier.” As he put it “I wanted to sound like Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland but it came out sounding like Ernest Tubb.”

Word got around about the Blackhawks, both that they were a great-sounding rock and roll band and that they were an integrated band at a time when that was extremely unpopular in the southern states, and when Hawkins was discharged from the Army he got a call from Sam Phillips at Sun Records. According to Hawkins a group of the regular Sun session musicians were planning on forming a band, and he was asked to front the band for a hundred dollars a week, but by the time he got there the band had fallen apart. This doesn’t precisely line up with anything else I know about Sun, though it perhaps makes sense if Hawkins was being asked to front the band who had variously backed Billy Lee Riley and Jerry Lee Lewis after one of Riley’s occasional threats to leave the label.

More likely though, he told everyone he knew that he had a deal with Sun but Phillips was unimpressed with the demos he cut there, and Hawkins made up the story to stop himself losing face. One of the session players for Sun, though, Luke Paulman, who played in Conway Twitty’s band among others, *was* impressed with Hawkins though, and suggested that they form a band together with Paulman’s bass player brother George and piano-playing cousin Pop Jones.

The Paulman brothers and Jones also came from Arkansas, but they specifically came from Helena, Arkansas, the town from which King Biscuit Time was broadcast.

King Biscuit Time was the most important blues radio show in the US at that time — a short lunchtime programme which featured live performances from a house band which varied over the years, but which in the 1940s had been led by Sonny Boy Williamson II, and featured Robert Jr. Lockwood, Robert Johnson’s stepson, on guiitar:

[Excerpt: Sonny Boy Williamson II “Eyesight to the Blind (King Biscuit Time)”]

The band also included a drummer, “Peck” Curtis, and that drummer was the biggest inspiration for a young white man from the town named Levon Helm. Helm had first been inspired to make music after seeing Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys play live when Helm was eight, and he had soon taken up first the harmonica, then the guitar, then the drums, becoming excellent at all of them. Even as a child he knew that he didn’t want to be a farmer like his family, and that music was, as he put it, “the only way to get off that stinking tractor  and out of that one hundred and five degree heat.”

Sonny Boy Williamson and the King Biscuit Boys would perform in the open air in Marvell, Arkansas, where Helm was growing up, on Saturdays, and Helm watched them regularly as a small child, and became particularly interested in the drumming. “As good as the band sounded,” he said later “it seemed that [Peck] was definitely having the most fun. I locked into the drums at that point. Later, I heard Jack Nance, Conway Twitty’s drummer, and all the great drummers in Memphis—Jimmy Van Eaton, Al Jackson, and Willie Hall—the Chicago boys (Fred Belew and Clifton James) and the people at Sun Records and Vee-Jay, but most of my style was based on Peck and Sonny Boy—the Delta blues style with the shuffle. Through the years, I’ve quickened the pace to a more rock-and-roll meter and time frame, but it still bases itself back to Peck, Sonny Boy Williamson, and the King Biscuit Boys.”

Helm had played with another band that George Paulman had played in, and he was invited to join the fledgling band Hawkins was putting together, called for the moment the Sun Records Quartet. The group played some of the clubs Hawkins had business connections in, but they had other plans — Conway Twitty had recently played Toronto, and had told Luke Paulman about how desperate the Canadians were for American rock and roll music. Twitty’s agent Harold Kudlets booked the group in to a Toronto club, Le Coq D’Or, and soon the group were alternating between residencies in clubs in the Deep South, where they were just another rockabilly band, albeit one of the better ones, and in Canada, where they became the most popular band in Ontario, and became the nucleus of an entire musical scene — the same scene from which, a few years later, people like Neil Young would emerge.

George Paulman didn’t remain long in the group — he was apparently getting drunk, and also he was a double-bass player, at a time when the electric bass was becoming the in thing. And this is the best place to mention this, but there are several discrepancies in the various accounts of which band members were in Hawkins’ band at which times, and who played on what session. They all *broadly* follow the same lines, but none of them are fully reconcilable with each other, and nobody was paying enough attention to lineup shifts in a bar band between 1957 and 1964 to be absolutely certain who was right. I’ve tried to reconcile the various accounts as far as possible and make a coherent narrative, but some of the details of what follows may be wrong, though the broad strokes are correct.

For much of their first period in Ontario, the group had no bass player at all, relying on Jones’ piano to fill in the bass parts, and on their first recording, a version of “Bo Diddley”, they actually got the club’s manager to play bass with them:

[Excerpt: Ronnie Hawkins, “Hey Bo Diddley”]

That is claimed to be the first rock and roll record made in Canada, though as everyone who has listened to this podcast knows, there’s no first anything. It wasn’t released as by the Sun Records Quartet though — the band had presumably realised that that name would make them much less attractive to other labels, and so by this point the Sun Records Quartet had become Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks.

“Hey Bo Diddley” was released on a small Canadian label and didn’t have any success, but the group carried on performing live, travelling back down to Arkansas for a while and getting a new bass player, Lefty Evans, who had been playing in the same pool of musicians as them, having been another Sun session player who had been in Conway Twitty’s band, and had written Twitty’s “Why Can’t I Get Through to You”:

[Excerpt: Conway Twitty, “Why Can’t I Get Through to You”]

The band were now popular enough in Canada that they were starting to get heard of in America, and through Kudlets they got a contract with Joe Glaser, a Mafia-connected booking agent who booked them into gigs on the Jersey Shore. As Helm said “Ronnie Hawkins had molded us into the wildest, fiercest, speed-driven bar band in America,” and the group were apparently getting larger audiences in New Jersey than Sammy Davis Jr was, even though they hadn’t released any records in the US.

Or at least, they hadn’t released any records in their own name in the US. There’s a record on End Records by Rockin’ Ronald and the Rebels which is very strongly rumoured to have been the Hawks under another name, though Hawkins always denied that. Have a listen for yourself and see what you think:

[Excerpt: Rockin’ Ronald and the Rebels, “Kansas City”]

End Records, the label that was on, was one of the many record labels set up by George Goldner and distributed by Morris Levy, and when the group did release a record in their home country under their own name, it was on Levy’s Roulette Records. An audition for Levy had been set up by Glaser’s booking company, and Levy decided that given that Elvis was in the Army, there was a vacancy to be filled and Ronnie Hawkins might just fit the bill.

Hawkins signed a contract with Levy, and it doesn’t sound like he had much choice in the matter. Helm asked him “How long did you have to sign for?” and Hawkins replied “Life with an option”

That said, unlike almost every other artist who interacted with Levy, Hawkins never had a bad word to say about him, at least in public, saying later “I don’t care what Morris was supposed to have done, he looked after me and he believed in me. I even lived with him in his million-dollar apartment on the Upper East Side.”

The first single the group recorded for Roulette, a remake of Chuck Berry’s “Thirty Days” retitled “Forty Days”, didn’t chart, but the follow-up, a version of Young Jessie’s “Mary Lou”, made number twenty-six on the charts:

[Excerpt: Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, “Mary Lou”]

While that was a cover of a Young Jessie record, the songwriting credits read Hawkins and Magill — Magill was a pseudonym used by Morris Levy.

Levy hoped to make Ronnie Hawkins into a really big star, but hit a snag. This was just the point where the payola scandal had hit and record companies were under criminal investigation for bribing DJs to play their records. This was the main method of promotion that Levy used, and this was so well known that Levy was, for a time, under more scrutiny than anyone. He couldn’t risk paying anyone off, and so Hawkins’ records didn’t get the expected airplay.

The group went through some lineup changes, too, bringing in guitarist Fred Carter (with Luke Paulman moving to rhythm and soon leaving altogether)  from Hawkins’ cousin Dale’s band, and bass player Jimmy Evans. Some sources say that Jones quit around this time, too, though others say he was in the band for  a while longer, and they had two keyboards (the other keyboard being supplied by Stan Szelest. As well as recording Ronnie Hawkins singles, the new lineup of the group also recorded one single with Carter on lead vocals, “My Heart Cries”:

[Excerpt: Fred Carter, “My Heart Cries”]

While the group were now playing more shows in the USA, they were still playing regularly in Canada, and they had developed a huge fanbase there. One of these was a teenage guitarist called Robbie Robertson, who had become fascinated with the band after playing a support slot for them, and had started hanging round, trying to ingratiate himself with the band in the hope of being allowed to join. As he was a teenager, Hawkins thought he might have his finger on the pulse of the youth market, and when Hawkins and Helm travelled to the Brill Building to hear new songs for consideration for their next album, they brought Robertson along to listen to them and give his opinion.

Robertson himself ended up contributing two songs to the album, titled Mr. Dynamo. According to Hawkins “we had a little time after the session, so I thought, Well, I’m just gonna put ’em down and see what happens. And they were released. Robbie was the songwriter for words, and Levon was good for arranging, making things fit in and all that stuff. He knew what to do, but he didn’t write anything.”

The two songs in question were “Someone Like You” and “Hey Boba Lou”:

[Excerpt: Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, “Hey Boba Lou”]

While Robertson was the sole writer of the songs, they were credited to Robertson, Hawkins, and Magill — Morris Levy. As Robertson told the story later, “It’s funny, when those songs came out and I got a copy of the album, it had another name on there besides my name for some writer like Morris Levy. So, I said to Ronnie, “There was nobody there writing these songs when I wrote these songs. Who is Morris Levy?” Ronnie just kinda tapped me on the head and said, “There are certain things about this business that you just let go and you don’t question.” That was one of my early music industry lessons right there”

Robertson desperately wanted to join the Hawks, but initially it was Robertson’s bandmate Scott Cushnie who became the first Canadian to join the Hawks. But then when they were in Arkansas, Jimmy Evans decided he wasn’t going to go back to Canada. So Hawkins called Robbie Robertson up and made him an offer. Robertson had to come down to Arkansas and get a couple of quick bass lessons from Helm (who could play pretty much every instrument to an acceptable standard, and so was by this point acting as the group’s musical director, working out arrangements and leading them in rehearsals). Then Hawkins and Helm had to be elsewhere for a few weeks. If, when they got back, Robertson was good enough on bass, he had the job. If not, he didn’t.

Robertson accepted, but he nearly didn’t get the gig after all. The place Hawkins and Helm had to be was Britain, where they were going to be promoting their latest single on Boy Meets Girls, the Jack Good TV series with Marty Wilde, which featured guitarist Joe Brown in the backing band:

[Excerpt: Joe Brown, “Savage”]

This was the same series that Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent were regularly appearing on, and while they didn’t appear on the episodes that Hawkins and Helm appeared on, they did appear on the episodes immediately before Hawkins and Helm’s two appearances, and again a couple of weeks after, and were friendly with the musicians who did play with Hawkins and Helm, and apparently they all jammed together a few times.

Hawkins was impressed enough with Joe Brown — who at the time was considered the best guitarist on the British scene — that he invited Brown to become a Hawk. Presumably if Brown had taken him up on the offer, he would have taken the spot that ended up being Robertson’s, but Brown turned him down — a decision he apparently later regretted.

Robbie Robertson was now a Hawk, and he and Helm formed an immediate bond. As Helm much later put it, “It was me and Robbie against the world. Our mission, as we saw it, was to put together the best band in history”.

As rockabilly was by this point passe, Levy tried converting Hawkins into a folk artist, to see if he could get some of the Kingston Trio’s audience. He recorded a protest song, “The Ballad of Caryl Chessman”, protesting the then-forthcoming execution of Chessman (one of only a handful of people to be executed in the US in recent decades for non-lethal offences), and he made an album of folk tunes, The Folk Ballads of Ronnie Hawkins, which largely consisted of solo acoustic recordings, plus a handful of left-over Hawks recordings from a year or so earlier.

That wasn’t a success, but they also tried a follow-up, having Hawkins go country and do an album of Hank Williams songs, recorded in Nashville at Owen Bradley’s Quonset hut. While many of the musicians on the album were Nashville A-Team players, Hawkins also insisted on having his own band members perform, much to the disgust of the producer, and so it’s likely (not certain, because there seem to be various disagreements about what was recorded when) that that album features the first studio recordings with Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson playing together:

[Excerpt: Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, “Your Cheatin’ Heart”]

Other sources claim that the only Hawk allowed to play on the album sessions was Helm, and that the rest of the musicians on the album were Harold Bradley and Hank Garland on guitar, Owen Bradley and Floyd Cramer on piano, Bob Moore on bass, and the Anita Kerr singers. I tend to trust Helm’s recollection that the Hawks played at least some of the instruments though, because the source claiming that also seems to confuse the Hank Williams and Folk Ballads albums, and because I don’t hear two pianos on the album. On the other hand, that *does* sound like Floyd Cramer on piano, and the tik-tok bass sound you’d get from having Harold Bradley play a baritone guitar while Bob Moore played a bass. So my best guess is that these sessions were like the Elvis sessions around the same time and with several of the same musicians, where Elvis’ own backing musicians played rhythm parts but left the prominent instruments to the A-team players.

Helm was singularly unimpressed with the experience of recording in Nashville. His strongest memory of the sessions was of another session going on in the same studio complex at the time — Bobby “Blue” Bland was recording his classic single “Turn On Your Love Light”, with the great drummer Jabo Starks on drums, and Helm was more interested in listening to that than he was in the music they were playing:

[Excerpt: Bobby “Blue” Bland, “Turn On Your Love Light”]

Incidentally, Helm talks about that recording being made “downstairs” from where the Hawks were recording, but also says that they were recording in Bradley’s Quonset hut.  Now, my understanding here *could* be very wrong — I’ve been unable to find a plan or schematic anywhere — but my understanding is that the Quonset hut was a single-level structure, not a multi-level structure. BUT the original recording facilities run by the Bradley brothers were in Owen Bradley’s basement, before they moved into the larger Quonset hut facility in the back, so it’s possible that Bland was recording that in the old basement studio. If so, that won’t be the last recording made in a basement we hear this episode…

Fred Carter decided during the Nashville sessions that he was going to leave the Hawks. As his son told the story:

“Dad had discovered the session musicians there. He had no idea that you could play and make a living playing in studios and sleep in your own bed every night. By that point in his life, he’d already been gone from home and constantly on the road and in the service playing music for ten years so that appealed to him greatly. And Levon asked him, he said, “If you’re gonna leave, Fred, I’d like you to get young Robbie over here up to speed on guitar”…[Robbie] got kind of aggravated with him—and Dad didn’t say this with any malice—but by the end of that week, or whatever it was, Robbie made some kind of comment about “One day I’m gonna cut you.” And Dad said, “Well, if that’s how you think about it, the lessons are over.” ”

(For those who don’t know, a musician “cutting” another one is playing better than them, so much better that the worse musician has to concede defeat. For the remainder of Carter’s notice in the Hawks, he played with his back to Robertson, refusing to look at him.

Carter leaving the group caused some more shuffling of roles. For a while, Levon Helm — who Hawkins always said was the best lead guitar player he ever worked with as well as the best drummer — tried playing lead guitar while Robertson played rhythm and another member, Rebel Payne, played bass, but they couldn’t find a drummer to replace Helm, who moved back onto the drums. Then they brought in Roy Buchanan, another guitarist who had been playing with Dale Hawkins, having started out playing with Johnny Otis’ band. But Buchanan didn’t fit with Hawkins’ personality, and he quit after a few months, going off to record his own first solo record:

[Excerpt: Roy Buchanan, “Mule Train Stomp”]

Eventually they solved the lineup problem by having Robertson — by this point an accomplished lead player — move to lead guitar and bringing in a new rhythm player, another Canadian teenager named Rick Danko, who had originally been a lead player (and who also played mandolin and fiddle). Danko wasn’t expected to stay on rhythm long though — Rebel Payne was drinking a lot and missing being at home when he was out on the road, so Danko was brought in on the understanding that he was to learn Payne’s bass parts and switch to bass when Payne quit. Helm and Robertson were unsure about Danko, and Robertson expressed that doubt, saying “He only knows four chords,” to which Hawkins replied, “That’s all right son. You can teach him four more the way we had to teach you.”

He proved himself by sheer hard work. As Hawkins put it “He practiced so much that his arms swoll up. He was hurting.”

By the time Danko switched to bass, the group also had a baritone sax player, Jerry Penfound, which allowed the group to play more of the soul and R&B material that Helm and Robertson favoured, though Hawkins wasn’t keen.

This new lineup of the group (which also had Stan Szelest on piano) recorded Hawkins’ next album. This one was produced by Henry Glover, the great record producer, songwriter, and trumpet player who had played with Lucky Millinder, produced Wynonie Harris, Hank Ballard, and Moon Mullican, and wrote “Drowning in My Own Tears”, “The Peppermint Twist”, and “California Sun”.

Glover was massively impressed with the band, especially Helm (with whom he would remain friends for the rest of his life) and set aside some studio time for them to cut some tracks without Hawkins, to be used as album filler, including a version of the Bobby “Blue” Bland song “Farther On Up the Road” with Helm on lead vocals:

[Excerpt: Levon Helm and the Hawks, “Farther On Up the Road”]

There were more changes on the way though. Stan Szelest was about to leave the band, and Jones had already left, so the group had no keyboard player. Hawkins had just the replacement for Szelest — yet another Canadian teenager. This one was Richard Manuel, who played piano and sang in a band called The Rockin’ Revols. Manuel was not the greatest piano player around — he was an adequate player for simple rockabilly and R&B stuff, but hardly a virtuoso — but he was an incredible singer, able to do a version of “Georgia on My Mind” which rivalled Ray Charles, and Hawkins had booked the Revols into his own small circuit of clubs around Arkanasas after being impressed with them on the same bill as the Hawks a couple of times.

Hawkins wanted someone with a good voice because he was increasingly taking a back seat in performances. Hawkins was the bandleader and frontman, but he’d often given Helm a song or two to sing in the show, and as they were often playing for several hours a night, the more singers the band had the better. Soon, with Helm, Danko, and Manuel all in the group and able to take lead vocals, Hawkins would start missing entire shows, though he still got more money than any of his backing group.

Hawkins was also a hard taskmaster, and wanted to have the best band around. He already had great musicians, but he wanted them to be *the best*. And all the musicians in his band were now much younger than him, with tons of natural talent, but untrained. What he needed was someone with proper training, someone who knew theory and technique.

He’d been trying for a long time to get someone like that, but Garth Hudson had kept turning him down. Hudson was older than any of the Hawks, though younger than Hawkins, and he was a multi-instrumentalist who was far better than any other musician on the circuit, having trained in a conservatory and learned how to play Bach and Chopin before switching to rock and roll. He thought the Hawks were too loud sounding and played too hard for him, but Helm kept on at Hawkins to meet any demands Hudson had, and Hawkins eventually agreed to give Hudson a higher wage than any of the other band members, buy him a new Lowry organ, and give him an extra ten dollars a week to give the rest of the band music lessons. Hudson agreed, and the Hawks now had a lineup of Helm on drums, Robertson on guitar, Manuel on piano, Danko on bass, Hudson on organ and alto sax, and Penfound on baritone sax.

But these new young musicians were beginning to wonder why they actually needed a frontman who didn’t turn up to many of the gigs, kept most of the money, and fined them whenever they broke one of his increasingly stringent set of rules. Indeed, they wondered why they needed a frontman at all. They already had three singers — and sometimes a fourth, a singer called Bruce Bruno who would sometimes sit in with them when Penfound was unable to make a gig.

They went to see Harold Kudlets, who Hawkins had recently sacked as his manager, and asked him if he could get them gigs for the same amount of money as they’d been getting with Hawkins. Kudlets was astonished to find how little Hawkins had been paying them, and told them that would be no problem at all. They had no frontman any more — and made it a rule in all their contracts that the word “sideman” would never be used — but Helm had been the leader for contractual purposes, as the musical director and longest-serving member (Hawkins, as a non-playing singer, had never joined the Musicians’ Union so couldn’t be the leader on contracts). So the band that had been Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks became the Levon Helm Sextet briefly — but Penfound soon quit, and they became Levon and the Hawks.

The Hawks really started to find their identity as their own band in 1964. They were already far more interested in playing soul than Hawkins had been, but they were also starting to get into playing soul *jazz*, especially after seeing the Cannonball Adderley Sextet play live:

[Excerpt: Cannonball Adderley, “This Here”]

What the group admired about the Adderley group more than anything else was a sense of restraint. Helm was particularly impressed with their drummer, Louie Hayes, and said of him “I got to see some great musicians over the years, and you see somebody like that play and you can tell, y’ know, that the thing not to do is to just get it down on the floor and stomp the hell out of it!”

The other influence they had, and one which would shape their sound even more, was a negative one. The two biggest bands on the charts at the time were the Beatles and the Beach Boys, and as Helm described it in his autobiography, the Hawks thought both bands’ harmonies were “a blend of pale, homogenised, voices”. He said “We felt we were better than the Beatles and the Beach Boys. We considered them our rivals, even though they’d never heard of us”, and they decided to make their own harmonies sound as different as possible as a result. Where those groups emphasised a vocal blend, the Hawks were going to emphasise the *difference* in their voices in their own harmonies.

The group were playing prestigious venues like the Peppermint Lounge, and while playing there they met up with John Hammond Jr, who they’d met previously in Canada. As you might remember from the first episode on Bob Dylan, Hammond Jr was the son of the John Hammond who we’ve talked about in many episodes, and was a blues musician in his own right. He invited Helm, Robertson, and Hudson to join the musicians, including Michael Bloomfield, who were playing on his new album, So Many Roads:

[Excerpt: John P. Hammond, “Who Do You Love?”]

That album was one of the inspirations that led Bob Dylan to start making electric rock music and to hire Bloomfield as his guitarist, decisions that would have profound implications for the Hawks.

The first single the Hawks recorded for themselves after leaving Hawkins was produced by Henry Glover, and both sides were written by Robbie Robertson. “uh Uh Uh” shows the influence of the R&B bands they were listening to. What it reminds me most of is the material Ike and Tina Turner were playing at the time, but at points I think I can also hear the influence of Curtis Mayfield and Steve Cropper, who were rapidly becoming Robertson’s favourite songwriters:

[Excerpt: The Canadian Squires, “Uh Uh Uh”]

None of the band were happy with that record, though. They’d played in the studio the same way they played live, trying to get a strong bass presence, but it just sounded bottom-heavy to them when they heard the record on a jukebox.

That record was released as by The Canadian Squires — according to Robertson, that was a name that the label imposed on them for the record, while according to Helm it was an alternative name they used so they could get bookings in places they’d only recently played, which didn’t want the same band to play too often. One wonders if there was any confusion with the band Neil Young played in a year or so before that single…

Around this time, the group also met up with Helm’s old musical inspiration Sonny Boy Williamson II, who was impressed enough with them that there was some talk of them being his backing band (and it was in this meeting that Williamson apparently told Robertson “those English boys want to play the blues so bad, and they play the blues *so bad*”, speaking of the bands who’d backed him in the UK, like the Yardbirds and the Animals). But sadly, Williamson died in May 1965 before any of these plans had time to come to fruition.

Every opportunity for the group seemed to be closing up, even as they knew they were as good as any band around them. They had an offer from Aaron Schroeder, who ran Musicor Records but was more importantly a songwriter and publisher who  had written for Elvis Presley and published Gene Pitney. Schroeder wanted to sign the Hawks as a band and Robertson as a songwriter, but Henry Glover looked over the contracts for them, and told them “If you sign this you’d better be able to pay each other, because nobody else is going to be paying you”.

What happened next is the subject of some controversy, because as these things tend to go, several people became aware of the Hawks at the same time, but it’s generally considered that nothing would have happened the same way were it not for Mary Martin. Martin is a pivotal figure in music business history — among other things she discovered Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot, managed Van Morrison, and signed Emmylou Harris to Warner Brothers records — but a somewhat unknown one who doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page.

Martin was from Toronto, but had moved to New York, where she was working in Albert Grossman’s office, but she still had many connections to Canadian musicians and kept an eye out for them. The group had sent demo tapes to Grossman’s offices, and Grossman had had no interest in them, but Martin was a fan and kept pushing the group on Grossman and his associates.

One of those associates, of course, was Grossman’s client Bob Dylan. As we heard in the episode on “Like a Rolling Stone”, Dylan had started making records with electric backing, with musicians who included Mike Bloomfield, who had played with several of the Hawks on the Hammond album, and Al Kooper, who was a friend of the band. Martin gave Richard Manuel a copy of Dylan’s new electric album Highway 61 Revisited, and he enjoyed it, though the rest of the group were less impressed:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan, “Highway 61 Revisited”]

Dylan had played the Newport Folk Festival with some of the same musicians as played on his records, but Bloomfield in particular was more interested in continuing to play with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band than continuing with Dylan long-term. Mary Martin kept telling Dylan about this Canadian band she knew who would be perfect for him, and various people associated with the Grossman organisation, including Hammond, have claimed to have been sent down to New Jersey where the Hawks were playing to check them out in their live setting. The group have also mentioned that someone who looked a lot like Dylan was seen at some of their shows.

Eventually, Dylan phoned Helm up and made an offer. He didn’t need a full band at the moment — he had Harvey Brooks on bass and Al Kooper on keyboards — but he did need a lead guitar player and drummer for a couple of gigs he’d already booked, one in Forest Hills, New York, and a bigger gig at the Hollywood Bowl. Helm, unfamiliar with Dylan’s work, actually asked Howard Kudlets if Dylan was capable of filling the Hollywood Bowl.

The musicians rehearsed together and got a set together for the shows. Robertson and Helm thought the band sounded terrible, but Dylan liked the sound they were getting a lot.

The audience in Forest Hills agreed with the Hawks, rather than Dylan, or so it would appear. As we heard in the “Like a Rolling Stone” episode, Dylan’s turn towards rock music was *hated* by the folk purists who saw him as some sort of traitor to the movement, a movement whose figurehead he had become without wanting to.

There were fifteen thousand people in the audience, and they listened politely enough to the first set, which Dylan played acoustically, But before the second set — his first ever full electric set, rather than the very abridged one at Newport — he told the musicians “I don’t know what it will be like out there It’s going to be some kind of  carnival and I want you to all know that up front. So go out there and keep playing no matter how weird it gets!”

There’s a terrible-quality audience recording of that show in circulation, and you can hear the crowd’s reaction to the band and to the new material:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan, “Ballad of a Thin Man” (live Forest Hills 1965, audience noise only)]

The audience also threw things  at the musicians, knocking Al Kooper off his organ stool at one point.

While Robertson remembered the Hollywood Bowl show as being an equally bad reaction, Helm remembered the audience there as being much more friendly, and the better-quality recording of that show seems to side with Helm:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan, “Maggie’s Farm (live at the Hollywood Bowl 1965)”]

After those two shows, Helm and Robertson went back to their regular gig. and in September they made another record. This one, again produced by Glover, was for Atlantic’s Atco subsidiary, and was released as by Levon and the Hawks. Manuel took lead, and again both songs were written by Robertson:

[Excerpt: Levon and the Hawks, “He Don’t Love You (And He’ll Break Your Heart)”]

But again that record did nothing.

Dylan was about to start his first full electric tour, and while Helm and Robertson had not thought the shows they’d played sounded particularly good, Dylan had, and he wanted the two of them to continue with him. But Robertson and, especially, Helm, were not interested in being someone’s sidemen. They explained to Dylan that they already had a band — Levon and the Hawks — and he would take all of them or he would take none of them.

Helm in particular had not been impressed with Dylan’s music — Helm was fundamentally an R&B fan, while Dylan’s music was rooted in genres he had little time for — but he was OK with doing it, so long as the entire band got to. As Mary Martin put it “I think that the wonderful and the splendid heart of the band, if you will, was Levon, and I think he really sort of said, ‘If it’s just myself as drummer and Robbie…we’re out. We don’t want that. It’s either us, the band, or nothing.’ And you know what? Good for him.”

Rather amazingly, Dylan agreed. When the band’s residency in New Jersey finished, they headed back to Toronto to play some shows there, and Dylan flew up and rehearsed with them after each show. When the tour started, the billing was “Bob Dylan with Levon and the Hawks”.

That billing wasn’t to last long. Dylan had been booked in for nine months of touring, and was also starting work on what would become widely considered the first double album in rock music history, Blonde on Blonde, and the original plan was that Levon and the Hawks would play with him throughout that time.  The initial recording sessions for the album produced nothing suitable for release — the closest was “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, a semi-parody of the Beatles’ “I Want to be Your Man”:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan with Levon and the Hawks, “I Wanna Be Your Lover”]

But shortly into the tour, Helm quit.

The booing had continued, and had even got worse, and Helm simply wasn’t in the business to be booed at every night. Also, his whole conception of music was that you dance to it, and nobody was dancing to any of this.

Helm quit the band, only telling Robertson of his plans, and first went off to LA, where he met up with some musicians from Oklahoma who had enjoyed seeing the Hawks when they’d played that state and had since moved out West — people like Leon Russell, J.J. Cale (not John Cale of the Velvet Underground, but the one who wrote “Cocaine” which Eric Clapton later had a hit with), and John Ware (who would later go on to join the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band). They started loosely jamming with each other, sometimes also involving a young singer named Linda Ronstadt, but Helm eventually decided to give up music and go and work on an oil rig in New Orleans. Levon and the Hawks were now just the Hawks.

The rest of the group soldiered on, replacing Helm with session drummer Bobby Gregg (who had played on Dylan’s previous couple of albums, and had previously played with Sun Ra), and played on the initial sessions for Blonde on Blonde. But of those sessions, Dylan said a few weeks later “Oh, I was really down. I mean, in ten recording sessions, man, we didn’t get one song … It was the band. But you see, I didn’t know that. I didn’t want to think that”

One track from the sessions did get released — the non-album single “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?”

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan, “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?”]

There’s some debate as to exactly who’s playing drums on that — Helm says in his autobiography that it’s him, while the credits in the official CD releases tend to say it’s Gregg. Either way, the track was an unexpected flop, not making the top forty in the US, though it made the top twenty in the UK. But the rest of the recordings with the now Helmless Hawks were less successful. Dylan was trying to get his new songs across, but this was a band who were used to playing raucous music for dancing, and so the attempts at more subtle songs didn’t come off the way he wanted:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan and the Hawks, “Visions of Johanna (take 5, 11-30-1965)”]

Only one track from those initial New York sessions made the album — “One Of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” — but even that only featured Robertson and Danko of the Hawks, with the rest of the instruments being played by session players:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan (One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)”]

The Hawks were a great live band, but great live bands are not necessarily the same thing as a great studio band. And that’s especially the case with someone like Dylan. Dylan was someone who was used to recording entirely on his own, and to making records *quickly*. In total, for his fifteen studio albums up to 1974’s Blood on the Tracks, Dylan spent a total of eighty-six days in the studio — by comparison, the Beatles spent over a hundred days in the studio just on the Sgt Pepper album.

It’s not that the Hawks weren’t a good band — very far from it — but that studio recording requires a different type of discipline, and that’s doubly the case when you’re playing with an idiosyncratic player like Dylan. The Hawks would remain Dylan’s live backing band, but he wouldn’t put out a studio recording with them backing him until 1974.

Instead, Bob Johnston, the producer Dylan was working with, suggested a different plan. On his previous album, the Nashville session player Charlie McCoy had guested on “Desolation Row” and Dylan had found him easy to work with. Johnston lived in Nashville, and suggested that they could get the album completed more quickly and to Dylan’s liking by using Nashville A-Team musicians.

Dylan agreed to try it, and for the rest of the album he had Robertson on lead guitar and Al Kooper on keyboards, but every other musician was a Nashville session player, and they managed to get Dylan’s songs recorded quickly and the way he heard them in his head:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan, “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine”]

Though Dylan being Dylan he did try to introduce an element of randomness to the recordings by having the Nashville musicians swap their instruments around and play each other’s parts on “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”, though the Nashville players were still competent enough that they managed to get a usable, if shambolic, track recorded that way in a single take:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan, “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”]

Dylan said later of the album “The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in the Blonde on Blonde album. It’s that thin, that wild mercury sound. It’s metallic and bright gold, with whatever that conjures up.”

The album was released in late June 1966, a week before Freak Out! by the Mothers of Invention, another double album, produced by Dylan’s old producer Tom Wilson, and a few weeks after Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys.

Dylan was at the forefront of a new progressive movement in rock music, a movement that was tying thoughtful, intelligent lyrics to studio experimentation and yet somehow managing to have commercial success.

And a month after Blonde on Blonde came out, he stepped away from that position, and would never fully return to it.

The first half of 1966 was taken up with near-constant touring, with Dylan backed by the Hawks and a succession of fill-in drummers — first Bobby Gregg, then Sandy Konikoff, then Mickey Jones. This tour started in the US and Canada, with breaks for recording the album, and then moved on to Australia and Europe. The shows always followed the same pattern. First Dylan would perform an acoustic set, solo, with just an acoustic guitar and harmonica, which would generally go down well with the audience — though sometimes they would get restless, prompting a certain amount of resistance from the performer:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan, “Just Like a Woman (live Paris 1966)”]

But the second half of each show was electric, and that was where the problems would arise. The Hawks were playing at the top of their game — some truly stunning performances:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan and the Hawks, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (live in Liverpool 1966)”]

But while the majority of the audience was happy to hear the music, there was a vocal portion that were utterly furious at the change in Dylan’s musical style. Most notoriously, there was the performance at Manchester Free Trade Hall where this happened:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone (live Manchester 1966)”]

That kind of aggression from the audience had the effect of pushing the band on to greater heights a lot of the time — and a bootleg of that show, mislabelled as the Royal Albert Hall, became one of the most legendary bootlegs in rock music history. Jimmy Page would apparently buy a copy of the bootleg every time he saw one, thinking it was the best album ever made.

But while Dylan and the Hawks played defiantly, that kind of audience reaction gets wearing. As Dylan later said, “Judas, the most hated name in human history, and for what—for playing an electric guitar. As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord, and delivering him up to be crucified; all those evil mothers can rot in hell.”

And this wasn’t the only stress Dylan, in particular, was under. D.A. Pennebaker was making a documentary of the tour — a follow-up to his documentary of the 1965 tour, which had not yet come out. Dylan talked about the 1965 documentary, Don’t Look Back, as being Pennebaker’s film of Dylan, but this was going to be Dylan’s film, with him directing the director. That footage shows Dylan as nervy and anxious, and covering for the anxiety with a veneer of flippancy. Some of Dylan’s behaviour on both tours is unpleasant in ways that can’t easily be justified (and which he has later publicly regretted), but there’s also a seeming cruelty to some of his interactions with the press and public that actually reads more as frustration. Over and over again he’s asked questions — about being the voice of a generation or the leader of a protest movement — which are simply based on incorrect premises. When someone asks you a question like this, there are only a few options you can take, none of them good. You can dissect the question, revealing the incorrect premises, and then answer a different question that isn’t what they asked, which isn’t really an option at all given the kind of rapid-fire situation Dylan was in. You can answer the question as asked, which ends up being dishonest. Or you can be flip and dismissive, which is the tactic Dylan chose.

Dylan wasn’t the only one — this is basically what the Beatles did at press conferences. But where the Beatles were a gang and so came off as being fun, Dylan doing the same thing came off as arrogant and aggressive.

One of the most famous artifacts of the whole tour is a long piece of footage recorded for the documentary, with Dylan and John Lennon riding in the back of a taxi, both clearly deeply uncomfortable, trying to be funny and impress the other, but neither actually wanting to be there:

[Excerpt Dylan and Lennon conversation]

33) Part of the reason Dylan wanted to go home was that he had a whole new lifestyle. Up until 1964 he had been very much a city person, but as he had grown more famous, he’d found New York stifling. Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary had a cabin in Woodstock, where he’d grown up, and after Dylan had spent a month there in summer 1964, he’d fallen in love with the area. Albert Grossman had also bought a home there, on Yarrow’s advice, and had given Dylan free run of the place, and Dylan had decided he wanted to move there permanently and bought his own home there.

He had also married, to Sara Lowndes (whose name is, as far as I can tell, pronounced “Sarah” even though it’s spelled “Sara”), and she had given birth to his first child (and he had adopted her child from her previous marriage). Very little is actually known about Sara, who unlike many other partners of rock stars at this point seemed positively to detest the limelight, and whose privacy Dylan has continued to respect even after the end of their marriage in the late seventies, but it’s apparent that the two were very much in love, and that Dylan wanted to be back with his wife and kids, in the country, not going from one strange city to another being asked insipid questions and having abuse screamed at him.

He was also tired of the pressure to produce work constantly. He’d signed a contract for a novel, called Tarantula, which he’d written a draft of but was unhappy with, and he’d put out two single albums and a double-album in a little over a year — all of them considered among the greatest albums ever made. He could only keep up this rate of production and performance with a large intake of speed, and he was sometimes staying up for four days straight to do so.

After the European leg of the tour, Dylan was meant to take some time to finish overdubs on Blonde on Blonde, edit the film of the tour for a TV special, with his friend Howard Alk, and proof the galleys for Tarantula, before going on a second world tour in the autumn.

That world tour never happened. Dylan was in a motorcycle accident near his home, and had to take time out to recover. There has been a lot of discussion as to how serious the accident actually was, because Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman was known to threaten to break contracts by claiming his performers were sick, and because Dylan essentially disappeared from public view for the next eighteen months. Every possible interpretation of the events has been put about by someone, from Dylan having been close to death, to the entire story being put up as a fake. As Dylan is someone who is far more protective of his privacy than most rock stars, it’s doubtful we’ll ever know the precise truth, but putting together the various accounts Dylan’s injuries were bad but not life-threatening, but they acted as a wake-up call — if he carried on living like he had been, how much longer could he continue?

in his sort-of autobiography, Chronicles, Dylan described this period, saying “I had been in a motorcycle accident and I’d been hurt, but I recovered. Truth was that I wanted to get out of the rat race. Having children changed my life and segregated me from just about everybody and everything that was going on. Outside of my family, nothing held any real interest for me and I was seeing everything through different glasses.”

All his forthcoming studio and tour dates were cancelled, and Dylan took the time out to recover, and to work on his film, Eat the Document.

But it’s clear that nobody was sure at first exactly how long Dylan’s hiatus from touring was going to last. As it turned out, he wouldn’t do another tour until the mid-seventies, and would barely even play any one-off gigs in the intervening time. But nobody knew that at the time, and so to be on the safe side the Hawks were being kept on a retainer. They’d always intended to work on their own music anyway — they didn’t just want to be anyone’s backing band — so they took this time to kick a few ideas around, but they were hamstrung by the fact that it was difficult to find rehearsal space in New York City, and they didn’t have any gigs.

Their main musical work in the few months between summer 1966 and spring 1967 was some recordings for the soundtrack of a film Peter Yarrow was making. You Are What You Eat is a bizarre hippie collage of a film, documenting the counterculture between 1966 when Yarrow started making it and 1968 when it came out.

Carl Franzoni, one of the leaders of the LA freak movement that we’ve talked about in episodes on the Byrds, Love, and the Mothers of Invention, said of the film “If you ever see this movie you’ll understand what ‘freaks’ are. It’ll let you see the L.A. freaks, the San Francisco freaks, and the New York freaks. It was like a documentary and it was about the makings of what freaks were about. And it had a philosophy, a very definite philosophy: that you are free-spirited, artistic.”

It’s now most known for introducing the song “My Name is Jack” by John Simon, the film’s music supervisor:

[Excerpt: John Simon, “My Name is Jack”]

That song would go on to be a top ten hit in the UK for Manfred Mann:

[Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “My Name is Jack”]

The Hawks contributed backing music for several songs for the film, in which they acted as backing band for another old Greenwich Village folkie who had been friends with Yarrow and Dylan but who was not yet the star he would soon become, Tiny Tim:

[Excerpt: Tiny Tim, “Sonny Boy”]

This was their first time playing together properly since the end of the European tour, and Sid Griffin has noted that these Tiny Tim sessions are the first time you can really hear the sound that the group would develop over the next year, and which would characterise them for their whole career.

Robertson, Danko, and Manuel also did a session, not for the film with another of Grossman’s discoveries, Carly Simon, playing a version of “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”, a song they’d played a lot with Dylan on the tour that spring. That recording has never been released, and I’ve only managed to track down a brief clip of it from a BBC documentary, with Simon and an interviewer talking over most of the clip (so this won’t be in the Mixcloud I put together of songs):

[Excerpt: Carly Simon, “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”]

That recording is notable though because as well as Robertson, Danko, and Manuel, and Dylan’s regular studio keyboard players Al Kooper and Paul Griffin, it also features Levon Helm on drums, even though Helm had still not rejoined the band and was at the time mostly working in New Orleans. But his name’s on the session log, so he must have made a brief trip to New York to see his old friends.

There seems to have been a certain amount of overlap in personnel between You Are What You Eat and Dylan’s Eat The Document, which sadly never saw an official release (though copies can be found if you look, and much of the footage ended up in a Martin Scorsese documentary on Dylan). Indeed, Dylan invited Tiny Tim to Woodstock to film some additional scenes for a film project which seems to have been an attempt to finish the documentary.

Robbie Robertson had already been making trips up there — Robertson had always been interested in filmmaking, and was one of several people Dylan brought in to try and help him put a shape to the shapeless project — and when Tiny Tim went up to film, so did Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, who were to act in some of the additional sequences being filmed. Danko, Manuel, and Tim performed some songs together, and stayed together in the Woodstock Motel. Tim was delighted to be reunited with his old friend Dylan, and would later use as a regular onstage anecdote the time during his stay when he had played Dylan a Rudy Vallee song in Dylan’s style and a Dylan song in Vallee’s:

[Excerpt: Tiny Tim, “Mr. Tim Recalls His Visit with Mr. Dylan (Live at Royal Albert Hall)”]

Tim was only there for a few days, but Danko and Manuel were there for longer. Danko later remembered “When I first moved up to Woodstock in 1967 I went up there with Richard Manuel and Tiny Tim to work on Bob’s movie Eat The Document. We stayed at the Woodstock Motel for a couple of weeks and, the country boy that I am, I realized that since I left Ontario and my home neighborhood I’d been living in cities for seven years, or however long it had been, and I realized I did not have to be in cities any more.”

Danko had something else in mind as well. Of all the Hawks he was the one who was most interested in the business side of things, and he knew it made no economic sense for them to keep staying in a motel in Woodstock for weeks at a time while they were making this film. And if they were going to make their own music, as they’d been saying for months that they needed to, they also needed to find somewhere to rehearse. Why not combine the two and rent a place in Woodstock for the entire band?

As it turned out, it wouldn’t be for the entire band — Robertson had got together with the woman who would become his first wife, and he moved in with her a couple of miles away from the rest, though he visited them every single day. But Danko, Manuel, and Hudson rented a large house together, which they nicknamed Big Pink because of the colour of the building.

The group started rehearsing together, first at Dylan’s home, but soon moving to the basement in Big Pink, where Garth Hudson, who was a fastidious musician with an interest in engineering, set up a tape recorder to record parts of the rehearsals — only parts, because tape was expensive and they didn’t have much of it, and so they’d only record something when they were trying something particular out. It wasn’t a professional recording studio, and much of the equipment they were using was borrowed from Peter, Paul, and Mary’s PA system, but Hudson knew what he was doing and while it was only recorded to two-track in a fairly poor acoustic space, the results sounded remarkably good.

By this time it had already been ten months since they played together. They didn’t have a drummer, so most of the time Richard Manuel would play drums, with Robertson occasionally taking over from him. These early sessions seem to have been about Dylan and the Hawks finding more musical common ground, and the Hawks themselves changing their style.

Up to this point, they’d been a loud, raucous, bar band. They were *great* at that — that was why Dylan had hired them — but they’d never had an incentive to be subtle, even though all of them loved different kinds of subtle music, from Danko’s taste for country music to Hudson’s love for old Anglican and Lutheran hymns. They all loved old R&B, and Dylan of course was an expert in folk music, a form of music none of the others had had any time for.

So at first, the recordings seem to show them just learning other people’s songs — the tapes from the very early sessions in Dylan’s home show them doing a lot of Johnny Cash songs in particular, with Dylan leading the band through “Belshazzar”, “Big River”, and “Folsom Prison Blues”:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan and the Hawks, “Folsom Prison Blues”]

There were a lot of country and rockabilly songs — the music that they all shared in common, things like “I Forgot to Remember to Forget” and “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It” — but Dylan was also trying to educate the rest of the musicians about the folk tradition he came from.

He and Robertson had had something between friendly discussion and outright arguments about Dylan’s style of songwriting while on tour the year before. Robertson — who, at this time, remember, had a body of songs that mostly consisted of things like “Uh Uh Uh” — thought that Dylan’s songs were too long, and the lyrics were approaching word salad. Why, he wanted to know, did Dylan not write songs that expressed things simply, in words that anyone could understand, rather than this oblique, arty stuff? He kept holding up Curtis Mayfield songs as a model, like “People Get Ready”, which the group also rehearsed in these sessions:

[Excerpt: The Hawks, “People Get Ready”]

Of course, what Robertson didn’t know, being relatively unfamiliar with Dylan’s work prior to working with him, was that that song was in a way the grandchild of one of Dylan’s own songs — as we heard in the episode on it, that song was inspired by “A Change is Gonna Come”, which was in turn inspired by “Blowin’ in the Wind” — but nonetheless Dylan thought that Robertson had a point. He was getting increasingly disenchanted with the counterculture which he was supposedly the figurehead for, and with psychedelic music. But also, he was aware that you could do a lot even with simple language — more than his backing band perhaps understood. Because the folk tradition he came from had a very different attitude to language than either the Beat poets he’d been recently imitating or the R&B songwriters that the Hawks had been listening to. He started teaching them the old folk songs he’d played himself:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan and the Hawks, “Young But Daily Growing”]

As Robertson said later “He would play songs, songs I had never heard, and after we’d heard it or played it I would say, ‘Did you write that?’ And he would say no, that’s an old song by blah-blah-blah, and frequently he would tell a little story of the song or what was behind the song. And that was interesting, learning some of these old-timey songs.”

As he also said “None of the guys in The Band were about folk music. We were not from that side of the tracks. Folk music was from coffee houses, where people sipped cappuccinos. Where we played as The Hawks, nobody was sipping cappuccino, I’ll tell ya. We were playing hardcore bars.”

But Dylan was teaching the members of the Hawks how to write songs, and how to think about songs. They weren’t just playing folk songs — they were playing Carter Family songs, and “Work With Me Annie”, and doo-wop songs like “Silhouettes”, and Hank Williams and Hank Snow songs, and “Baby Ain’t That Fine” (a Dallas Frazier song that had been recorded by Gene Pitney and Melba  Montgomery on Musicor, the label that had tried to sign the Hawks) — but they were playing in a folk manner. Rather than set up as if they were on stage, when they played in the basement at Big Pink they would sit in a circle, all facing each other, singing harmonies face to face, everyone able to see what everyone else was doing, making music communally rather than as a collection of individuals.

It was a folk style, but these weren’t folk musicians, and they weren’t playing folk. While the Hawks were all Canadian, they’d been trained by Ronnie Hawkins and Levon Helm in how to play rock and roll, and that meant that they had picked up the way music was played in the Deep South. Not only that, but they’d played sessions in Nashville with Hawkins, and Robertson had played with A-team musicians on the Blonde on Blonde sessions.

The result was that they picked up an instrumental style that sounded like the music that came from what the writer Charles L Hughes refers to as the country-soul triangle of Muscle Shoals, Memphis, and Nashville — a style that comes, ultimately, from white country musicians backing Black soul musicians, and which we’ve seen coming up time and again from Arthur Alexander to Aretha Franklin to Otis Redding. The Hawks’ music doesn’t sound anything like the more uptempo music from those musicians, all slashed guitar chords and stabbing horns, but it sounds very, *very* much like the ballads coming out of Memphis and Muscle Shoals, which were dominated by gospel piano, organ pads, and delicate picked guitar, records like Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” or James Carr’s “Dark End of the Street”:

[Excerpt: James Carr, “Dark End of the Street”]

When sung by white singers, rather than Black ones, and coupled with the folk-style lyrics that Dylan was introducing to the Hawks, that style became known as Americana.

As well as teaching the Hawks these old songs, though, Dylan was also teaching them how to write songs like that. He was furiously productive as a writer in 1967, writing something like a hundred songs, depending on what one counts as a song. Often during the basement recordings, what starts as an old folk song goes off in a new direction as Dylan comes up with new verses, while the rock and roll jams they engaged in produced new songs whose inspirations are very clear, like “See You Later, Alan Ginsberg”, or “Open the Door, Homer”, whose “open the door, Richard” chorus clearly comes from the Louis Jordan song of the same name. Other songs, like “Clothes Line Saga”, are just parodies of contemporary hits (in this case “Ode to Billy Joe”)

But he also started writing more focused songs. These were often in the simpler lyrical style that Robertson had wanted him to write in, and often showed a resurgent interest in the Bible and Christianity:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan and the Hawks, “Sign on the Cross”]

The group and Dylan were doing two to three hours’ *focused* performance and rehearsal every day, treating it the same way they’d treat a studio session, and Dylan was often writing material at a typewriter upstairs and then immediately bringing it in for the musicians to run through.

Slowly, the sessions started to become more serious. At some point soon Dylan was going to have to record another album — though as it happened his next album would not involve any of the Hawks or any of the songs he recorded in the basement — but Albert Grossman was pushing for some songs, independently of recordings. Grossman co-owned Dylan’s publishing company, and much of the money they were making was from hit covers of Dylan’s songs. Sara gave birth again in July 1967, and Dylan seems not to have wanted to go back into the studio properly straight away, but after a break for the birth, the group seem to have focused on getting some demos of new, commercial, songs, recorded for Grossman to pitch to other artists.

A fourteen-song demo tape was put together and pitched to various musicians. To start with, there were other clients of Grossman. Peter, Paul, and Mary got “Too Much of Nothing”, which they took into the top forty:

[Excerpt: Peter, Paul, and Mary, “Too Much of Nothing”]

Ian and Sylvia got three tracks:

[Excerpt: Ian and Sylvia, “Tears of Rage”]

But the demo was sent out more widely, starting with people who had had hits with Dylan songs before. The Byrds took two songs for their Sweetheart of the Rodeo album, one of which, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, was released as a single:

[Excerpt: The Byrds, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”]

And the tape made its way to Britain, where it was initially only heard by a handful of musicians, but soon circulated widely enough that it got writeups in the music press, desperate for any news of Dylan at all. Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll, and the Trinity had a hit with “This Wheel’s on Fire”:

[Excerpt: Brian Auger, Julie, Driscoll, and the Trinity, “This Wheel’s on Fire”]

The folk-rock group Fairport Convention took “Million-Dollar Bash” for their Unhalfbricking album:

[Excerpt: Fairport Convention, “Million-Dollar Bash”]

And Manfred Mann, who Dylan had called his favourite interpreters of his work, got their final number one with a basement tapes song, “The Mighty Quinn”:

[Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “The Mighty Quinn”]

Indeed, Manfred Mann had been the first people in the UK to hear the tape, and they were so impressed with it that several years later, in 1972, Manfred Mann’s guitarist Tom McGuinness, whose band McGuinness Flint had just split up, put together a new band, Coulson Dean McGuinness Flint, to record an entire album of Dylan songs, almost all of them basement tape songs. That album was produced by Manfred Mann – the person, not the group – and featured Mike Hugg from the group on piano:

[Excerpt: Coulson Dean McGuinness Flint, “Lo and Behold”]

That album was the first time many of those songs had seen an official release. As Billy Bragg later said “My first inkling of the Basement Tapes was an EP I bought by Coulson Dean McGuinness Flint. I was already into Dylan’s music but I didn’t really know anything about the Basement Tapes or where they were found. This is when ‘Jean Genie’ was a hit and ‘Angel’ by Rod Stewart was a hit. I fell for the Coulson Dean McGuinness Flint version of ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune.’ I noticed ‘Tiny Montgomery’ was on it as well, but when you looked at the Dylan LPs neither ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’ nor ‘Tiny Montgomery’ were found.”

(For clarity, “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” wasn’t a basement tapes song, but “Tiny Montgomery” was)

The actual recordings didn’t see an official release until 1975, when a double-album compilation of some of them (plus some new recordings by the musicians who had been the Hawks) was put out — though oddly that compilation didn’t include many of the more famous songs, on the grounds that people already knew them from the hit versions. That version also had several overdubs recorded in 1975, nearly a decade after the recordings. It wasn’t until 2014 that an official release of the full sessions happened.

But note that I keep talking about an “official release”. Because these were some of the first rock recordings ever to get an unofficial release, when in 1969 a bootleg double-album called Great White Wonder came out, mixing some tracks from those tapes with some older Dylan demos. That’s now often called the first ever rock bootleg album, though as with all these things it depends on how you define many of those words.

Even before that, though, the tapes were circulating among musicians, and we heard last episode how the tapes inspired Eric Clapton to change his style of music. And of course, his copy of that tape was soon joined by another album:

[Excerpt: The Band, “The Weight”]

Things started to change around October 1967, in multiple ways. That tape started to circulate among musicians. Dylan went off to Nashville for a few days to record his next album, without the Hawks — which we’ll talk about in a future episode, even though it overlaps somewhat with this one — and Levon Helm was back in the picture.

The Hawks were being managed by Albert Grossman, and Grossman had decided that he should make some serious attempts to get them their own record deal. As Dylan had been teaching them songwriting, they’d started to write a lot of songs together, like “Katie’s Been Gone”, written by Robertson and Manuel:

[Excerpt: The Band, “Katie’s Been Gone”]

Grossman had recorded some demos with the group in September 1967 in New York. The sessions, by all accounts, went horribly, but the recordings were enough to get Capitol Records interested. If they were going to do anything, the group needed a drummer, and they wanted to get their old friend Levon back. They called him up and explained to him that they would be making their own music, not just backing Dylan, and he liked the sound of that, He also liked the sound of something else — as Danko put it, “I said we’d be getting a couple of hundred thousand dollars we wanted to share. … He said, ‘I’ll be on the next plane.’”

Helm returned around the time that Dylan went off to record his album, though the expanded group still rehearsed regularly with Dylan. They also realised that the name they’d been using didn’t match the sound they were playing now, and changed it, first to the Honkies, and then when they got some pushback from the record label, the Hawks became The Crackers.

Shortly after Helm moved up to Woodstock, the members of the Crackers moved out from Big Pink, as it was now getting too crowded, but before they did, one more album was recorded there — a five-piece group called the Bengali Bauls were visiting Woodstock, and they came over to Big Pink to jam with the Crackers, and with Charles Lloyd, the former sax player with Cannonball Adderley, who was also visiting. However, it soon became apparent that the Western musicians didn’t understand the Bengali music or culture well enough to gel — one of the Crackers asked one of the musicians, Hare Krishna Das, if he was *the* Hare Krishna — and eventually the Bengali musicians performed by themselves, and Hudson recorded them on the same equipment he’d used for the basement tapes. The recording was eventually released as At Big Pink:

[Excerpt: The Bengali Bauls, “Alone, I Have Caught a Fish”]

Around the same time as they moved into separate houses, the group also got to know John Simon, the music supervisor for You Are What You Eat, who had just come on board. Simon (who, coincidentally, shares a name with John Ruskin’s doctor) had met Peter Yarrow at the Monterey Pop Festival. Yarrow had been impressed with an album Simon had produced — Marshall McLuhan’s “The Media is the Massage”. That title was of course a pun on McLuhan’s famous aphorism “the media is the message”, and the album combined readings from McLuhan’s writing with a collage of bits of music, sound effects, and spoken word:

[Excerpt: Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Massage”]

Simon had had a big career already. He’d produced “Red Rubber Ball” by the Cyrkle, which had been a number two hit single:

[Excerpt: The Cyrkle, “Red Rubber Ball”]

He’d also produced music for the accordion-playing polka musician Frankie Yankovic — no relation to the more famous accordion-playing occasional polka musician “Weird” Al Yankovic — and had also done so much work with people in the Crackers’ general circle that it seemed inevitable they’d end up working together. He’d produced for their friend Charles Lloyd, produced the first album for Leonard Cohen, who was managed by the group’s old friend Mary Martin, and had been asked by Al Kooper to produce Blood, Sweat, and Tears’ first album.

Yarrow had hired Simon to work on the film — though this is another case where the timelines reported by various people don’t quite match up, because the music that the Hawks and Tiny Tim had done for the film was months before Monterey by most accounts, and Simon seems to have both worked on those recordings *and* only met the former Hawks in October 1967 — and Yarrow had introduced Simon to Grossman, and Simon rapidly became the producer of choice for Grossman’s acts like Gordon Lightfoot, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and of course the Crackers.

The album Simon produced for them, titled Music From Big Pink after the house where they’d written most of the tracks, was recorded not quite live, but close to it. Simon explained his methodology as “We tried to get as many of the effects onto the tape as we could, as opposed to adding them afterwards. If we made a commitment, and put the effects on the track, we would be stuck with that and everything else would  conform to that. We would be painting a much fuller picture as we went along.”

The album was recorded on four-track tape, and the guitars, bass, piano, drums, and organ were all recorded live onto two tracks as a single performance. The other two tracks were used for overdubs — one for horns, played by Hudson and Simon, and one for tambourine and vocals.

While Robertson would later go on to dominate the songwriting for the group, this album is very much a group effort arising from the Basement Tapes — even including Dylan, though Dylan didn’t perform on the album. He did, though, paint the cover, which significantly features six musicians, not the five in the group, and three of the songs, though not the performances, came from the Basement Tapes. One, the closing track “I Shall Be Released”, was written by Dylan alone:

[Excerpt: The Band, “I Shall Be Released”]

The other two were collaborations on songs which, as we’ve already heard, had already been released by other people (or would have been by the time the album came out) — “This Wheel’s on Fire”, written by Dylan and Danko, and “Tears of Rage”, written by Dylan and Manuel.

Indeed on this album, Manuel writes almost as much as Robertson. Other than the three Dylan songs, the album features one cover — a version of the country classic “Long Black Veil” — three songs by Manuel, and four by Robertson. There would later be many arguments as to exactly who wrote what on the group’s recordings, but whatever one’s views on the later controversies, and we’ll go into them in a future episode, it’s clear that Robertson wasn’t stealing any credit from anyone here.

But the song generally considered the album’s best was definitely Robertson’s work — though it was such an advance from his earlier songs that he later recalled playing the track for Dylan and Dylan asking who it was by, not understanding that it was written by Robertson.

The inspiration for the song’s first line came directly from Robertson’s guitar. Martin, the guitar manufacturer, was based in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and Robertson saw the name inside the guitar’s soundhole, and its Biblical resonances appealed to him:

[Excerpt: The Band, “The Weight”]

Nazareth made Robertson think of Nazarin, a film by Luis Buñuel, the great Spanish surrealist filmmaker, and he later explained “People trying to be good in Viridiana and Nazarín, people trying to do their thing. In ‘The Weight’, it’s the same thing. People like Buñuel would make films that had these religious connotations to them, but it wasn’t necessarily a religious meaning. In Buñuel, there were these people trying to be good and it’s impossible to be good… In ‘The Weight’ it was this very simple thing. Someone says, ‘Listen, would you do me this favour? When you get there will you say ‘hello’ to somebody or will you give somebody this or will you pick up one of these for me? Oh? You’re going to Nazareth, that’s where the Martin guitar factory is. Do me a favour when you’re there.’ This is what it’s all about. So the guy goes and one thing leads to another and it’s like ‘Holy [here he used an expletive], what’s this turned into? I’ve only come here to say ‘hello’ for somebody and I’ve got myself in this incredible predicament.’ It was very Buñuelish to me at the time.”

But while the song had that intellectual inspiration, it was also rooted in real people the group had known in Arkansas. Lee, for example, was Lee Paulman, and Helm went through the rest of the names — “Young Anna Lee was Anna Lee Williams from Turkey Scratch.” – though here *I* would note that Dylan’s daughter Anna Lea was born not long before the song was written – “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. 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 Caldonia). We recorded the song maybe four times. We weren’t quite sure that it was going to be on the album, but people really liked it. Rick, Richard, and I switched off on the verses and we all sang the chorus—‘Put the load right on me!’”

[Excerpt: The Band, “The Weight”]

The album was a revelation for musicians as soon as it came out, but of all the songs on it, “The Weight” is the one that had the most immediate impact. It was covered by all sorts of people over the years, many of them people in the Americana genre that the album spawned, like Little Feat or New Riders of the Purple Sage. But early on it was covered by more mainstream artists like Jackie DeShannon:

[Excerpt: Jackie DeShannon, “The Weight”]

And it was also, unsurprisingly, popular with soul artists. It was released as a single by Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Temptations:

[Excerpt: Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Temptations, “The Weight”]

And by Aretha Franklin, whose version was the biggest hit, making the top twenty:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, “The Weight”]

But as the album was nearing release, there was one problem left — what was the group actually going to be called? They were still called the Crackers when they backed Dylan on his one show of 1968, a multi-artist tribute show to Woody Guthrie, who had died recently:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan and the Crackers, “Dear Mrs. Roosevelt”]

But Capitol Records decided they were uncomfortable with the band using that name. There are two stories as to how the final name came about. One story, the one later told by the band members, is that people around Woodstock just called them “the Band” because there were no other bands around and they liked it and thought it unpretentious. The other, which I find more believable, is that Capitol refused to put the record out as by the Crackers and just listed the musicians. On the label of the record it’s credited to “Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Jaime Robbie Robertson, John Simon Producer”, with no band name, and the back of the album gives the same credits in a different order, with “the band” written above them, and people just took that to be the name of the band.

Either way, whether by accident or design, the Crackers were now The Band.