Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Distant echoes of the Band

Shannon McNally had opened for Son Volt at Jannus Landing in St. Pete, and she stopped playing her acoustic guitar long enough to introduce the final song of her set. She was moved, she said, to hear Rick Danko sing the ballad shortly before he died. Then she dedicated the song to him, while giving proper credit to the man who made it famous, Johnny Cash.

The song was "Long Black Veil'', and McNally gave a stirring rendition. You had to be stone drunk if you didn't get goosebumps or shed a tear. Even then it should have moved you.

She walks these hills in a long black veil
She visits my grave when the night winds wail
Nobody knows, nobody sees
Nobody knows but me

Listening to Levon Helm's new CD and recalling McNally's comment about Danko bring back memories of the Band and its unique blend of characters and musicians. I've followed Helm's post-Band career and listened to nearly everthing Robbie Robertson has offered as a solo artist. My one regret is that I never paid much attention to Danko, even though it was easy to be drawn to his infectious personality and that beautiful bare-boned tenor voice. His bouncy bass playing was also a treat to watch.

Click here to watch and hear Danko sing "It Makes No Difference'' with Helm on backing vocals from the splendid Martin Scorcese rockumentary "The Last Waltz.'' What a matchless sound. "Stage Fright'' and "The Weight'' are among Danko's other lasting vocal imprints, and those clips are available online as well.

Alas, there's no video of Danko singing "Long Black Veil'' live, which must have been a rare treat. But I did find a clip of him teaching electric bass guitar techniques. Click here, and hang in there until the end to hear him sing a few bars of Little Walter's "Just Your Fool.''

I'm taking up bass guitar today.

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