Rick Danko: The Man Behind the Music

December 20th, 2013
Carol Caffin and Rick Danko in Pennsauken, NJ, September 1990

Carol Caffin and Rick Danko in Pennsauken, NJ, September 1990

On December 29, Rick Danko, the bass player and singer in The Band, would have been 70. Danko grew up in Ontario, Canada, and left school at 14 to become a rock musician. His break came when he was tapped by Ronnie Hawkins to join The Hawks, one of Canada’s hottest bands at the time. It was there that he met Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel. In 1963 Danko, Helm, Robertson, Hudson and Manuel broke away from Ronnie Hawkins to form their own group. According to Rick’s obituary in the New York Times they toured under such names as the Canadian Squires. After performing session work for John Hammond, Jr., the group met John Hammond, Sr., who in turn introduced them to Bob Dylan. They soon joined Dylan in Woodstock. During Dylan’s hiatus from touring, they began to record in the basement of the big pink house in West Saugerties, which was found by Rick Danko. The tapes from those sessions became known as The Basement Tapes. The group became known as The Band and went on to record ten albums that are considered among the most influential of all time. In 1994, Rick joined fellow group members Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson on stage when The Band were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

To get a sense of the man behind the touring persona, I recently talked with Carol Caffin, Rick’s friend and longtime publicist. She described Rick as a “badass,” but in the next breath spoke of him as having an “innocent quality”—one of looking at the world around him with a sense of wonder. He was also by turns goofy, crazy, and shy. Not book-educated, he was thrust into the spotlight, into the world of rock and roll, and was able to adapt. “Stage Fright,” the song, was a good fit for his personality. He had a charismatic, one-of-a-kind spirit. Read the rest of this entry »


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