Rick Danko Biography

Richard Clare Danko, 29 December 1942, Simcoe, Ontario, Canada, d. 10 December 1999, Marbletown, New York, USA. Danko is fondly remembered as the beating heart of the Band, one of North America’s greatest ever rock bands. His Motown-inspired bass playing underpinned the quintet’s loose-limbed instrumental interplay, while his solid vocals provided the perfect foil for Levon Helm’s earthy realist and Richard Manuel’s doomed romantic.

Danko learned his trade playing alongside his future Band colleagues (Helm, Manuel, Robbie Robertson, and Garth Hudson) as backing musicians for Ronnie Hawkins, an old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll singer who was a hot draw on the North American club circuit in the early 60s. Known as the Hawks, the quintet later worked with Bob Dylan before changing their name to the Band and launching their own recording career in 1968 with Music From Big Pink. This celebrated debut included ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’, co-written by Danko with Dylan. Six albums later the quintet announced their retirement from the road with the star-studded 1976 farewell concert, The Last Waltz.

Danko released his self-titled debut shortly before the Band’s studio swansong, the lacklustre Islands. Danko’s vocals shone on tracks such as ‘Sip The Wine’ and ‘Small Town Talk’ (co-written with Bobby Charles), although a surfeit of average material denied the album classic status. No immediate follow-up was forthcoming, and Danko chose to reunite with his former Band colleagues (minus key songwriter Robertson) in 1983. Despite the suicide of Manuel in March 1986, the Band struggled on into the 90s, even returning to the studio to record three new albums. During this period, Danko had a sideline touring and recording with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band. He also recorded two well-received folk albums in collaboration with Eric Andersen and Jonas Fjeld. The second of these, Ridin’ On The Blinds, released on the Grappa label in 1994, included a reworking of the rare Band track, ‘Twilight’. The same year Danko was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame with the Band.

When Band activity began to dry up in the late 90s, Danko revived his solo career with the release of two live albums. Despite the ravages of time and personal excess, his voice still had recognisable elements of the nervous boyish energy he brought to the Band. Danko was in the process of recording a new studio album when he died of a heart attack in his sleep at his home in Marbletown. The tracks he had been working on at the time of his death were collected together on Times Like These, released posthumously in August 2000.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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