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The Band
Illustration by Dale Stephanos50/100

50. The Band

By Lucinda Williams

I've used the Band as an example for my career. When I first tried to get record deals, nobody knew how to market me, because my sound didn't necessarily fit into any stereotypes. But the Band did a little bit of everything.

I remember when Music From Big Pink came out, in 1968. I was living in Arkansas at the time. You couldn't categorize the Band's sound, but it was so organic — a little bit country, a little bit roots, a little bit mountain, a little bit rock — and their vocal styles and harmonies totally set them apart. Each member brought something, because they were all consummate musicians.

Their work as the Hawks on Bob Dylan's 1966 tour is some of the best rock & roll ever made, with Robbie Robertson playing just amazing guitar. The Band let Dylan branch out stylistically. In his writing, Dylan was getting away from those heavy, metaphorical songs on Blonde on Blonde and writing cool little tunes.

Their songs are uncoverable — who can pull off Richard Manuel's incredible high voice? — but we tried. Any time we sat around singing songs, someone would inevitably pull out a version of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." My favorite song was "It Makes No Difference." The sentiment of it is so heart-wrenching. This guy is saying that his lover has just left him, and he's totally devastated. It's one of the most beautiful melodies I've ever heard.

There is an element of sadness about the Band. The Last Waltz, despite its wonderful music, was sad to see because they had so much more to give. Richard Manuel's death was really tragic. I got to meet Garth Hudson when he played on a demo I did back in the mid-Eighties. I just remember he was really quiet, soft-spoken and real sweet. And he played like an angel.

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