August 17, 2006, “A History of the Band,” Liner Notes to a 10CD Set

CD1: A History of the Band, Volume I

Further on Up the Road/Nineteen Years Old: These are the first recordings of the basic line-up of what become later become the Band (Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, and Rick Danko), recorded during some leftover time in the studio while still members of Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks. With five minutes left to go, they rush through “Nineteen Years Old,” barely 19 years old themselves. Although there’s nothing especially surprising to us listening to these recordings today, it is important to remember that these were recorded in September 1961, a year and a half before the formation of the Rolling Stones, two years before Eric Clapton picked up a guitar, in the days before white guys–especially Canadian white guys—didn’t play blues guitar, at least not like this.

Who Do You Love: The bass player on this track is Roy Buchanan. Yes, that Roy Buchanan. By this time, Richard Manuel has also joined the Hawks.

Honky Tonk/Leave Me Alone/He Don’t Love You (And He’ll Break Your Heart)/(I Want to Be) The Rainmaker: After breaking with Ronnie Hawkins, the musicians who would become the Band formed Levon and the Hawks. These are from their first studio recordings, looking for a hit (it didn’t happen).

I’ll Keep It with Mine/Jet Pilot/Can You Please Crawl Our Your Window (45 version): Dylan worked with a lot of different backing musicians during his transition from acoustic-based music to electric and, although his best recordings from this period did not feature the members of the Hawks, Dylan must have heard something in these recordings that made him choose the Hawks to accompany him on his world-wide 1966 tour. Another studio recording from this period featuring the Hawks is included on CD9, “She’s Your Lover Now.” Dylan wrote “I’ll Keep It with Mine” for Nico … or Judy Collins … depending on who he was hitting on at the time. There are several versions of “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window”—this is the one that was released, also known as the “fast version.” It was recorded as the follow-up to “Like a Rolling Stone,” which was Dylan’s first crossover hit. One day Dylan was driving around with his entourage and David Blue, one of the musicians that shared the stage with him several times in the early days. Dylan played “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” and David had the audacity to suggest that it wasn’t likely to be a hit like “Like a Rolling Stone” was, and Dylan threw him out of the limo. (For being right.) Interestingly enough, Jimi Hendrix actually performed a version of “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” on the BBC.

Tell Me Momma/Baby Let Me Follow You Down/Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues/Crowd Noise/Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat/One Too Many Mornings/Ballad of a Thin Man/Like a Rolling Stone/God Save the Queen: To recreate the electric portion of that tour, I’ve recreated the second (electric) set featuring versions still not officially released. I chose performances that were relatively spirited or involved interesting between song patter. The version of “Like a Rolling Stone” here is the last song performed on the tour, and the only one where Dylan introduced the members of his backing band. “Tell Me Momma” was never officially released until the Bootleg series release of the 1966 tour.

You Don’t Come Through/Caledonia Mission: Early demos before the retreat to Woodstock and Big Pink.

CD2:  A History of the Band, Volume II: The Basement Tapes, Part I

Bring It on Home: I had to use this version of “Bring It on Home” to open this CD of songs recorded in Woodstock 1967-1968, known collectively as The Basement Tapes, for the audible studio banter that begins the song: Dylan: “Richard, sing a verse.” “What’s the song?” “Any song, man, take a verse.” That exchange captures the spirit behind the Basement Tapes. This begins a section of still unreleased Basement Tape performances. Greil Marcus will say more than I can about these.

Too Much of Nothing/On a Rainy Afternoon/One Kind Favor/I’m Not There/Sign on the Cross/Get Your Rocks Off/Nothing Was Delivered: “I’m Not There” and “Sign on the Cross” are the most important unreleased songs from the Basement Tapes.

This Wheel’s on Fire/Tears of Rage/You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere/I Shall Be Released/Crash on the Levee/Don’t Ya Tell Henry/Please Mrs. Henry/Million Dollar Bash/Clothes Line Saga/Apple Suckling Tree/Quinn the Eskimo/Goin’ to Acapulco/Open the Door Homer: From the officially released (and sweetened) recordings. Greil has more to say about these than I possibly could. In relistening to this, I realize that “Sante Fe” was supposed to be where “Don’t Ya Tell Henry” is. Sorry for the disjunct of hearing Levon Helm’s voice.

CD3: A History of the Band, Volume 3: Bob Dylan & the Band: The Basement Tapes, Part II:

Ferdinand the Imposter/Katie’s Been Gone/Ain’t No More Cane on the Brazos/Will the Circle Be Unbroken: I’ve always had a weakness for the Band version of “Ain’t No More Cane on the Brazos”—they’ll be a live version as well of this set, which they never officially released. But, other than that, what a huge leap in material from these demos recorded before the sessions that brought us “Music from Big Pink.” They record a version of “Katie’s Been Gone” for “Big Pink,” but it was left off the final release, feeling that it was too lose to “Lonesome Suzie.”

Music from Big Pink:

5. Tears of Rage

6. To Kingdom Come (unedited)

7. In a Station

8. The Weight

9. We Can Talk

10. Long Black Veil

11. Chest Fever

12. Lonesome Suzie (alt. version)

13. This Wheel’s on Fire

14. I Shall Be Released
I’ve included the entire Music from Big Pink LP. Oddly enough, this was my least favorite Band LP at the time (at least up until Moondog Matinee). Thirty-five years later, it’s sounds perfect to me. Each song is a complete universe, and—in this context—such a leap from what’s come before. Of course I didn’t know it at the time. It was just an angular weird old-timey LP—I didn’t get it.

Yazoo Street Scandal (outtake)

Bob Dylan with the Band: Guthrie Memorial: Ain’t Got No Home/Dear. Mrs. Roosevelt/Grand Coulee Dam

In late 1968, Dylan and the Band were asked to participate in the Woody Guthrie memorial in Carnegie Hall. This would be Dylan’s first live appearance since his 1966 tour, and the folkies who had organized the concert were worried that Dylan would create controversy. Robbie Robertson even went out and bought a special over-size acoustic guitar for the concert so as to look more acoustic.

Long Distance Operator (outtake)

Key to the Highway (outtake)

CD4: A History of the Band, Volume 4

The Band:Across the Great Divide/Rag Mama Rag/The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down/Up on Cripple Creek/Whispering Pines/King Harvest (Has Surely Come): How embarrassing! I misread my own notes and failed to include  both “Rockin’ Chair” and “The Unfaithful Servant” from The Band here. It’s especially tragic to miss the effect of ending the LP with the amazing epiphany of “The Unfaithful Servant” into “King Harvest (Has Surely Come).” Other than that, most of The Band is represented here (or would be, had I included “Rockin’ Chair” and “The Unfaithful Servant”), but what became immediately clear to me in putting this set together was that each subsequent studio LP would have less and less songs included. Of note (to me, at least) is that “Whispering Pines” (one of what I believe to be the best songs ever written) was for all intents of purposes the last song written by Richard Manuel.

Get Up Jake (outtake)

Stage Fright:Jemima Surrender (rehearsal)/Time to Kill/All La Glory (rehearsal)/The Shape I’m In/Stage Fright

After the runaway success of The Band, Columbia Records put Todd Rundgren in charge of the next LP, hoping for a popular success. The results were mixed, but “The Shape I’m In” and “Stage Fright” showed that  Robbie Robertson could still write great songs. The problem was, nobody else was. Success came with a handful of heroin, and Levon, Richard, and Rick for all intents and purposes became session musicians. I’ve always loved “All La Glory,” a song about the birth of Robbie Robertson’s first child. By this time, Robertson had moved his family to Canada and the disparity between his life there and the deepening drug use by the other members of the band who remained in Woodstock eliminated the communal atmosphere that created the varied sonic textures and chorale harmonies that had created the first two LPs.

Bob Dylan & the Band: Isle of Wight, 31 August 1969: She Belongs to Me/Quinn the Eskimo/Like a Rolling Stone: How bad was Self Portrait? Well, this version of “Like a Rolling Stone” was included, even though neither Dylan nor the Band could remember the lyrics. This live performance by Dylan and the Band also created its share of controversy. Dylan and the Band (who also performed a complete set) received a phenomenal amount of money (for the time) to perform, and this was Dylan’s only headlining live performance (excepting the Guthrie and Bangladesh shows and showing up unannounced at the Band’s New Years performance in 1971-1972) between the 1966 tour and his return to the stage (also with the Band) in 1974. But Dylan’s short (60-minute) and reserved countrified performance left the audience wanting in the year of Woodstock and an audience who had just seen electrifying performances by bands including the Who (performing “Tommy”) who at least appeared to be trying.

Slippin’ and Slidin’ (live, 7/5/70): The Band’s years as a bar band came in handy for their standard encore during their early years.

Don’t Do It (outtake): Interesting to compare this flat, weak studio version with the spirited live versions which bookended the Band’s live recordings (literally—Rock of Ages begins with “Don’t Do It” and it was also the last song performed at the Last Waltz.

Live, 2nd of June, 1971: Strawberry Wine/Rockin’ Chair/Look Out Cleveland

4% Pantomime (outtake): At the time, Van Morrison was also living in Woodstock, which led to this mostly improvised lyric. Apparently “4%” refers to the difference in alcohol content in Johnnie Walker Red and Black.

CD5: A History of the Band, Volume V

Cahoots: Life Is a Carnival/When I Paint My Masterpiece/The River Hymn: Apparently Dylan was over one day and Robbie asked him if he had any songs he could give them for Cahoots and Dylan played him a verse of a new song he was working. When Robbie said he liked in, Dylan went into the other room and finished it. Ah, the sweet smell of genius.

Rock of Ages: Live, 12/28-31/71, Part I

  1. Introduction
  2. Don’t Do It
  3. Across the Great Divide
  4. King Harvest (Has Surely Come)
  5. The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show
  6. This Wheel’s on Fire
  7. Rag Mama Rag
  8. The Weight
  9. The Shape I’m In
  10. Unfaithful Servant
  11. Smoke Signal
  12. Loving You Is Sweeter
  13. The Genetic Method
  14. Chest Fever

Robbie Robertson called Allan Touissant one day to ask him to score several songs for a live 4-night stand on New Years Eve, which would be recorded for a live release. Robertson was surprised to discover that Touissant was a fan of Band, and so Robertson sent him about two dozen songs to work on. A week before the first show, on the way to Woodstock for rehearsals, the briefcase containing all of the charts Touissant had spent months laboriously transcribing by hand disappeared. And then, to make matters worse, it was soon discovered that the tapes Robertson had sent to Touissant were recorded at a slightly faster speed, which meant that all of the song charts had been scored in the wrong key. So Touissant retreated into a cabin and two days later came out with scores for the entire evenings.

Meanwhile, Robertson had hired the best horn players in New York City—people who had performed with Count Basie and Duke Ellington, etc.—and when they arrived and were handed their charts, they immediately began to laugh and argue with Touissant—“Certainly you mean a B-flat here,” etc. Instruments entered and exited seemingly at random, never played the standard melody line in harmony with each other, and, one complained, seemed to have been written by a musical illiterate. Anyway, when the horn section began to play and they could hear what Touissant had done, they were suddenly as excited as everyone else at the music they would be making.

I’m not that crazy about the performance of Rag Mama Rag, but that piano coda gets me every time. Loving You Was Sweeter and several original songs were recorded at these concerts but not included on the initial release. Several songs—such as the rare performance of Smoke Signal—were somehow misplaced and didn’t turn up again until late 2005. Some songs—and I’m thinking of Smoke Signal and the earlier version of Strawberry Wine—don’t have a lot of impact on the LPs, but seem to come alive in later live recordings.

The Genetic Method is the name given for the improvisation that Garth performed as a prelude to Chest Fever late in every set. This gave the other members of the band a chance to get off-stage for a minute, and Garth a chance to showboat. The title of the piece (which originally appears as a very brief intro to Chest Fever on Music from Big Pink) comes from a book with the same title that Garth carried onstage when the Band were on tour. It claimed that musical history had evolved much the same way that humans did. So what Garth would do—night by night—was to string together as many of those genes as possible, from opera to early rock and roll, usually beginning with the early hymnal style, on tonight, on New Years Eve, incorporating “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight.

CD6: A History of the Band, Volume VI

Rock of Ages, 12/28-31/71 Part 2

The Band with Bob Dylan: Crash on the Levee/When I Paint My Masterpiece/Don’t Ya Tell Henry/Like a Rolling Stone: Dylan’s appearance at the final performance (on New Year’s Eve) was actually in dispute for many years, until the re-issue of “Rock of Ages” included these tracks. It’s interesting that Dylan forgets that they’d actually played “Like a Rolling Stone” a little over two years ago—and also interesting that he forgets the lyrics in just about the same place. Dylan certainly seems to enjoy being back onstage.

The Band: (I Don’t Want to) Hang Up My Rock ‘n’ Roll Shoes

Moondog Matinee:Ain’t Got No Home/Mystery Train/A Change Is Gonna Come/Didn’t It Rain (outtake): Apparently this LP was created by getting together an just playing some of their favorite songs, and then deciding what to keep. “Didn’t It Rain” didn’t make the cut. I know I said I wouldn’t include “Ain’t Got No Home,” but in my final pass I realized that I couldn’t leave it out.

Endless Highway (outtake): It’s interesting to compare this world-weary performance with the earlier most spirited version. The toll is just beginning to show.

Live at Watkins Glen, July 28, 1973: Back to Memphis/Ain’t No More Cane on the Brazos

Bob Dylan and the Band: Planet Waves: Dirge/Forever Young (fast)/Nobody ‘Cept You (outtake)

Bob Dylan and the Band: Before the Flood, 1/31-2/14/74, Part I: Mostly Likely You Go Your Way/Ballad of Hollis Brown (unreleased version) From the first words of the lyric here, you can tell that Dylan and the Band have something to prove. This ain’t no nostalgia tour.

CD7: A History of the Band, Volume 7

The Band: Before the Flood, 1/31-2/14/74, Part II: When You Awake/Endless Highway/I Shall Be Released:  Compared to the other live tracks included on this set, the material from the Bob Dylan and the Band tour definitely sound nervous, rushed, thin, and strained to me.

Bob Dylan and the Band: Before the Flood, 1/31-2/14/74: Ballad of a Thin Man/Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (unreleased)/It Ain’t Me Babe/Rainy Day Women #12 & 35/All Along the Watchtower/Highway 61 Revisited/Like a Rolling Stone/Blowin’ in the Wind: The live material from this tour (on both this CD and the previous one) are a mixture of officially released tracks and songs that for one reason or not were included in the original set. This version of “Like a Rolling Stone” is my favorite version of all time, and I love the spirited hard-focus of this version of “Blowin’ in the Wind.” These guys weren’t kidding around on this tour.

Northern Lights, Southern Cross: Ophelia/Acadian Driftwood/It Makes No Difference: This was considered the Band’s comeback LP, but, in reality, I think these three songs would have made for a great EP.

Twilight (demo): How terrifying this version is, seemingly recorded late at night in a dark studio, amidst the ashes and dirty needles. Hellish. It strikes me as odd that at the time Robertson was writing songs like this (and “Forbidden Fruit” leading off CD8) for Richard and Levon and Rick to sing. It’s as if he felt that if he could hold a mirror up to them and get them to sing the words, that somehow the information would sink in. More remarkable to me is that Richard made it almost another decade after this before hanging himself in a closet while on tour with (the Robertson-less) “Band.”

Islands:Christmas Must Be Tonight/Ain’t That a Lot of Love/Georgia on My Mind/Living in a Dream: The Band’s Christmas single, collected on the their final “empty the trash” LP. And I’ve just realized that my track listing for this CD is wrong, in that it doesn’t include these final tracks. Sorry! “Georgia on My Mind” was recorded by the Band at the request of their manager, who was friends with members of the Jimmy Carter team, and rush-released as a single in the days leading up to the election. The Band also performed on Saturday Night Live (the only band I think that was ever given the opportunity to sing four songs in one show), and sang this song as the show ended the last Saturday before the election. To everyone listening, the message behind this recording at the time was clear. Interesting to me is that Robbie Robertson left this song off his version of the Band’s greatest hits—he found enough material to fill five full CDS, but not room for one of Richard’s last studio recordings, and I think one of his best. Well, I’ve included both the single version and a rehearsal on the alternates CD.

CD8: A History of the the Band, Volume 8

Live 18 September 1976, The Palladium: Forbidden Fruit

The Last Waltz: Studio: Out of the Blue/Evangeline/The Weight (with the Staples): There’s a mistake here I couldn’t fix—and that is that there’s an error in marking the track, so you get a small taste of the end of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” before you get “The Weight.”

The Last Waltz: 26 November 1976:

The Band: Up on Cripple Creek/It Makes No Difference/Life Is a Carnival/Mystery Train/Stage Fright/Ophelia: For the live material from this show, I concentrated on songs by the Band, rather than songs where they backed other musicians. It was interesting to listen to these performances in relation to other live versions recorded earlier in their career—these aren’t nearly as good, especially as the evening rolls on. But I can remember seeing the film in that New London theater right across the street from where I saw you at one of the “alternative” SBBHS reunions. It was also the first time I saw Michael McClure (coming out to read Chaucer in the original Middle English) and Lawrence Ferlinghetti perform. And how great the Band looked, and Dylan, of course.

The Band with Bob Dylan: Baby Let Me Follow You Down/Hazel/I Don’t Believe You/Forever Young/Baby Let Me Follow You Down/I Shall Be Released: I have no proof of this, of course, but I have a feeling that the idea of beginning and returning to “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” wasn’t at least a little influenced by the presence of Bill Graham and Winterland and their connection with the Grateful Dead, who at the time were the champions of book-ending a set with, say, a version of “Sugar Magnolia.” It’s interesting that when the LP was released, they edited out “Hazel”—no one has had much luck trying to figure out what exactly Dylan was thinking by including the track (although it was one of the songs from “Planet Waves,” he has rarely performed it in concert—maybe twice in 30 years of constant touring), but in relistening to this I have to say that it’s the best possible performance of “Hazel” imaginable—Dylan sings it as if he really means every word.

Encore: The Band: Don’t Do It: I’m sure you know the story of this performance—the last song performed by the Band. The show was over, jamming had gone on for hours, then everyone left the stage and the houselights came up and the members of the Band partied for a while and then took their showers. Hours after having left the stage, someone in the Band heard noise coming from the theater. Going out to check, hardly anyone from the audience had left, and they were still cheering for more. So the Band, freshly showered, returned to the stage and played one last song.

CD9: A History of the Band, Volume 9: Alternates, Part I.

  1. She’s Your Lover Now (studio 1966, outtake)
  2. Too Much of Nothing (official release)
  3. Nothing Was Delivered (official release)
  4. Tears of Rage (alternate)
  5. To Kingdom Come (official release)
  6. Lonesome Suzie (official release)
  7. Rag Mama Rag (alternate vocal, rough mix)
  8. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (alternate mix)
  9. Up on Cripple Creek (alternate)
  10. Whispering Pines (alternate)
  11. Jemima Surrender (alternate)
  12. King Harvest (Has Surely Come) (alternate)
  13. Daniel and the Sacred Harp (alternate)
  14. Time to Kill (alternate)
  15. The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show (alternate)
  16. All La Glory (alternate)
  17. When I Paint My Masterpiece (alternate)
  18. Twilight (rehearsal)
  19. Christmas Must Be Tonight (rehearsal)

Not much to say here. These are versions of songs that I thought it was important to have or at least listen to, but they duplicate something already included. What strikes me about both the versions of Whispering Pines here and Georgia on My Mind, is how much humor could precede such an emotional performance. Musicians are different than you and I, I’m sure. I find it interesting that sometimes when I find a song like Daniel and the Sacred Harp stiff and flat on record, but it sounds terrific in the context of a live version or rehearsal. The reference in W.S. Walcott Medicine show to the Klu Klux Klan always struck me as insensitive and unfunny, but it turns out the song is based on a real traveling show and when they heard the song they sent Robertson several original Medicine Show posters. Everyone agrees that All La Glory is a song of joy celebrating Robertson’s newborn daughter (i.e., All Her Glory), but it’s difficult for me to understand it in that context—it still strikes me as a very sad sunset song. And if you want to know why people collect bootlegs, just compare this semi-official version of Twilight  and the officially released version that ends this set with the raw solo runthough on CD7.

CD10: A History of the Band, Volume X: Alternates, Part II

  1. Unfaithful Servant (official release)
  2. Georgia on My Mind (alternate)
  3. Knockin’ Lost John (official release)

The Last Waltz rehearsals                               

  1. Caravan
  2. Tura Lura Lura
  3. King Harvest (Has Surely Come)
  4. Such a Night
  5. Rag Mama Rag

The Last Waltz

  1. Caldonia
  2. Acadian Driftwood
  3. This Wheel’s on Fire
  4. Genetic Method/Chest Fever
  5. The Shape I’m In
  6. The Weight
  7. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
  8. Greensleeves


  1. Twilight (45 version)

I did include several songs from “The Last Waltz” that involve the Band backing other musician’s. Several of these are rehearsals, whose between-song banter, not myself being a musician, fascinate me. And there’s the live version of Caldonia that wasn’t released on the original LPs or in the film but it is, after all, Muddy Waters … show some respect! The Genetic Method and Chest Fever included here is the snippet that appears in the film—apparently no complete recording exists. Bill Graham closed every one of his shows with a recording of Greensleeves. Tonight Garth Hudson thought he’d do the honors. But, as we all know now, it wasn’t yet the end of the night.

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