Rick’s Early Years
Rick’s Early Years
Rick Danko (December 29, 1943 – December 10, 1999) was a Canadian musician, bassist, songwriter and singer, best known as a member of The Band.
He was born in Norfolk County, Ontario, and lived with his father Maurice (Tom), mother Leola, and brothers Maurice Jr (Junior), Dennis and Terry near the small crossroads of Blayney, west of the former town of Simcoe.
Many of his family members played instruments and sang, and music was a way of life for him from the beginning.
He listened to Hank Williams and Sam Cooke as a small child, and was “ready to go to Nashville” by the age of seven.
With his oldest brother Junior, Rick sang and performed at family get-togethers and made his public debut on four-string tenor banjo before an audience of his first-grade classmates.
Before The Band
The Starlights & The Hawks
Rick quit school at 14 to pursue music full-time and toured local dance halls such as the Summer Garden in Port Dover, Highlands in Long Point, and the Hillcrest in Simcoe.
Rick’s band, The Starlights, opened for many well known musicians that toured through the area, including rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins.
Local drummer Glen Silverthorn recalls the night that Ronnie Hawkins asked Rick to join his backup group, The Hawks.
“We all followed Ronnie’s Cadillac out to Blayney, west of Greens Corners, to where Rick lived with his three brothers and Mom and Dad. Tom Danko said ‘Yah, let him go’. But Leola, his mother, said “He’s just a kid. He’s only 16.’ The next week he was playing with them in Port Dover with the Lou Myles suit and skinny tie. That was the birth of The Band.” – Glen Silverthorn (video)
Levon Helm & Robbie Robertson
By the early 1960s, Rick and the other Hawks (Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel) had outgrown the limited roadhouse and honky-tonk circuit and left Hawkins to pursue greener pastures.
Bob Dylan saw them perform in the mid-60s and was so impressed that he signed The Hawks to accompany him on his 1965-66 World Tour.
Their collaboration with Dylan, initially greeted with boos and catcalls around the globe, changed the course of popular music by spawning one of the most significant musical hybrids of the rock era, “Folk Rock.”
In 1968, after toying with a host of politically incorrect names, like the Crackers and the Honkies, The Band made its official debut with the release of its seminal and eclectic album, Music From Big Pink (Capitol), which became the fulcrum for the country rock and roots rock of the coming decades.
The music of The Band was at once traditional and contemporary, and the combination made it timeless.
In the eye of the psychedelic hurricane, The Band virtually pioneered the use of traditional instruments like mandolins, accordions and fiddles in rock & roll, and Rick Danko was one of the first non-rockabilly players to use stand-up acoustic bass on a rock record.
“The Band was one of the most influential musical groups of the 20th century. They weren’t chart-toppers, and they weren’t the kind of group that went on American Bandstand and had Number One singles. They were more like Jimi Hendrix: virtuosos, innovators, the kind of musicians whom other musicians copied and revered.” – Reclusive Leftist blog
“It is probably impossible to overstate the impact of The Band’s first two albums (Music From Big Pink in 1968 and The Band in 1969) on their musical peers. After hearing Music From Big Pink, Eric Clapton quit Cream and asked if he could join The Band. (They turned him down.) The Beatles were similarly bowled over; the Get Back/Let It Be sessions represented the guys from Liverpool trying to sound like the guys in Woodstock. Almost single-handedly, The Band wrenched popular music away from psychedelia and into a rootsy, backwoods, bluesy-country American groove—where it stayed until punk and New Wave took over in the late 70s.” – Reclusive Leftist blog
“Even before they started recording albums, the group … had made history as the kickass live band that helped Dylan go electric, accompanying him on the infamous 1965-1966 world tour. Then Dylan had his motorcycle accident, and he and the guys all settled down in Woodstock to make music in private. (That’s why, by the way, Woodstock was in Woodstock; the promoters were hoping to get Dylan to play the concert. He didn’t, but The Band did.)” – Reclusive Leftist blog
“Together with bass player Rick Danko, [Levon] Helm formed one of the finest rhythm sections to ever put a groove to a beat, and a partnership that formed the backbone of The Band. In Danko, he had the perfect complementary player, one of the finest bassists and one of the gentlest souls. His music was subtle, his instinct for just the right note unwavering – he could play one beat in four bars, but lord could he make it count. Their subtle, intense rhythmic conversation brought shape and distinction to the Band’s music – it gave it heart and soul. . .” – Laurence Mackin, The Irish Times
Rick Danko and other members of The Band were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1989 and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 1994. Rick died in 1999 at the age of 56. He is buried in Woodstock, New York. Levon Helm, in his autobiography, wrote bitterly of Rick’s death: “He wasn’t that old and he wasn’t that sick. He just worked himself to death. And the reason Rick had to work all the time was because he’d been [expletive] out of his money.”
He brought us Mumford & Sons
Rick Danko was cited as one of the reasons why Mumford & Sons, the famous U.K. folk rock band, chose Norfolk County as the Canadian stopover on their second annual “Gentlemen of the Road Tour” in August 2013.
Their first tour, the Railroad Revival Tour organized in 2011, was inspired by the Festival Express Tour across Canada in 1970 that included The Band. Live Nation, promoter for this summer’s event, has acknowledged that Mr. Danko’s musical legacy helped bring Mumford & Sons to our community.
“You have a famous son from [Norfolk County] who is known and respected by musicians around the world, and that is Rick Danko from The Band, whose musical legacy has lived on beyond him and beyond what many people here maybe thought it would. When we mentioned to [Mumford & Sons] that this is his hometown, they lit up immediately. Their response was instantly trying to think of a way to honour his musical legacy as part of this event.” – Jason Grant of Live Nation — Video: Visit to Simcoe by Mumford & Sons band members
The Band plays “The Weight” (from the movie The Last Waltz, 1976)
The Band reunites with Ronnie Hawkins: “Who Do You Love” (from The Last Waltz)
The Band with Bob Dylan (from The Last Waltz)
Mumford & Sons plays “The Weight” by The Band (New York City, 2013)
Rick Danko teaches bass (date unknown)
Rick Danko joins The Hawks (1961) by Port Dover Harbour Museum (2013)
Getting to know Rick Danko by Ben Hauser (2010)
Authorized biography by Carol Caffin
The forgotten legend by Trevor Haché, Simcoe Reformer
Tribute to Levon Helm by Laurence Mackin, The Irish Times
Interview with Rick Danko by Dominick A. Miserandino (1999)
Article about Norfolk County tribute (May 17, 2013) by Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer
Article about the ‘Simcoe Sound’ (2009) by Monte Sonnenberg
Hometown Concert Memorializes Rock Legend (2006) by Chris Thomas
Gentlemen of the Road Simcoe Stopover in Norfolk County (August 23-24, 2013)
More about Rick Danko (Wikipedia)
Route > Footsteps of Rock Music Legends
Drummer Glen Silverthorn talks about the ‘good old days’ with Rick Danko at the dance halls of Norfolk County in video, right.
Excerpts from the biography by Carol Caffin plus additional material