This Saturday, I’ll be playing the music of The Band with my fellow Elegant Bachelors at Venkman’s in Old Fourth Ward. From time to time we will play an entire night of a band’s catalog. In the past we’ve played an entire night of music by The Beatles, The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers.
For me, it is always great to revisit these catalogs and absorb myself in the songs. Although I have played these songs many times, there is always something exposing itself for the first time. Whether it’s a new lyric, different chord or riff, or a new version that I haven’t heard before.
The Band are a musicians’ band. They were road tested, solid players with great vocals, musicianship and stage presence (some of the many reasons they made a great backing band for Bob Dylan). Other classic bands can be put in this category, Little Feat, Steely Dan, etc., but the Band possessed a rawness that is difficult to capture. They were Americana before it was a musical genre. How did this Canadian-American band so perfectly capture the essence of American music, blues, soul and country?
Much like The Band are a musicians’ band, Robbie Robertson is a guitarists’ guitarist. He has a unique style that is understated, tasteful, funky, sensitive and confident. Perhaps his most trademark technique is the use of pinch harmonics (picking the string with the thumb of the right hand immediately after the pick strikes the string). Add to that unapologetic bends, string squealing and chunky double stops and you’ve got a force to be reckoned with. He was a songwriter, singer and lead guitarist of one of the most influential rock and roll bands of the 20th century. Have a listen here for the band at their peak with some live recordings released a few years ago from 1971. They are not just any band, they are THE BAND.