Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Band- A Musical History Part II

In my last blog I discussed the formative recordings of The Band, who at that time were known as The Hawks, a backing band for rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins. Following on from their first sessions in September 1961, the band returned to the studio with Hawkins in February 1962 and recorded two tracks Arkansas and Mojo Man. Arkansas featured legendary Brill Building songwriter Mort Schuman on piano and sax player Jerry Penfound on drums. Penfound had joined the Hawks the previous year to add an extra dimension to their sound, as Garth Hudson could also play sax the Hawks had a ready made horn section at their disposal. Arkansas is more in the swamp R&B style that they employed on Susie Q from their 1961 sessions, but it;s not as distinctive, it sounds a little flat, there is no Robbie Robertson lead guitar solo, there is a harmonica solo but it's quite muted there is no particular fire to the song. Garth Hudsons organ is also held way back in the mix so that you can barely hear it.

Mojo Man returns to the funkier style of the previous sessions, with a great honking sax solo from Jerry Penfound. Robbie's guitar is more upfront but is more restrained than say his work on Matchbox. Hawkins whilst being a fan of R&B and blues was more inclined to play it safe rather than adopt an all out approach, the Hawks however were delving further into the R&B canon and wanting to play in that style. It's possible that the two songs were intended to be released as a single but this never occurred, they were released on Hawkins' Mojo Man album in 1964.

In January 1963 they headed back into the Bell Sound Studio in New York to record one of the most significant rock and roll records, although at the time the record was not a hit anywhere except in Canada, over the years the record has begun to receive the attention it deserves. Who Do You Love b/w Bo Diddley was released in June of 1963, as I written previously the guitar solo on Who Do You Love is astounding, Robertson fires off piercing notes right from the opening of the song, Hawkins delivers a suitably dark and ominous vocal performance, there is a thundering bass line from Roy Buchanan that drives the song along. Manuel delivers some nice fills in the bridge, playing off the solos from Robertson. The session notes say both Jerry Penfound and King Curtis play on the session although I can't hear any horns on the record. Bo Diddley is similar to the Hawks earlier work on Matchbox, employing an almost garage rock sound, the record is muck quicker than the Diddley version, once again the searing solo work from Robbie Robertson is on display. The rhythm section is rock solid, a propulsive bass from Buchanan, Danko reverts back to rhythm guitar for these sessions and adds a rockabilly style rhythm to both sides.

The Hawks would record one more session with Hawkins in mid 1963, by the end of the year they would be on their own, wanting to explore their own music and no longer wanting to be merely sidemen. In future blogs I will review their final sessions with Ronnie Hawkins, and the material they recorded before they found fame as The Band.

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