A-Z of Dead Man Singing: B

A-Z of Dead Man Singing: B

168 days ago

B is for The Beatles, but that’s too obvious; B is also for The Band.

Dead Man Singing is the story of faded rock star Dave Masters. The Band, like the Beatles, are a vital part of Dave Masters’ musical identity. If they aren’t the most influential band in music history (and they’re not, because the Beatles exist), they’re at least on a par with any other claimants for second place. I first drafted this post before the death of Robbie Robertson was announced a couple of weeks ago. The guitarist and chief songwriter for the Band, along with his band-mates, leaves an unparalleled legacy.

They played with Dylan on his controversial first electric tour, and were his collaborators for the legendary Basement Tapes, and when they stepped out from his shadow to stand on their own, their debut album made a huge impact.

Music From Big Pink had roots that drew from every strand of American music. It fused Rhythm and Blues, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Country, Gospel, Cajun, Appalachian and goodness knows what else, creating a rich musical gumbo that was simultaneously groundbreaking and also as old as the land that inspired it. And the inspiration wasn’t all one way: The Band, in turn, inspired countless others; without the Band, we wouldn’t have the genre now known as Americana. Without the Band, British folk-rock wouldn’t have emerged from the psychedelic underground scene (both Fairport Convention and Lindisfarne, among others, have cited them as a formative influence). The Beatles’ response to the Band was the more stripped back sound of Let It Be, and when Eric Clapton first heard Music from Big Pink he broke up Cream because he realised that he was ‘in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing with the wrong people’. Without the Band, all of our record collections would be very different.

I discovered The Band in the mid-80s. BBC2 showed Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Waltz, chronicling their lavish farewell show. Months later, on day one of a family holiday on the Norfolk Broads, I was flipping through the tiny selection of records in the general store where we were collecting our floating home for the week. There in the racks was a triple vinyl album of that very concert. I was drawn by the list of guest stars – Clapton, Dylan and Ringo probably meant the most then, though Neil Young, Dr John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Paul Butterfield and the rest would soon introduce themselves to me – and I faced a dilemma. Should I invest half of my holiday spending money on day 1? I wouldn’t be able to even listen the record until we returned home – no turntable on the boat – but if I left it, who was to say it would still be there a week later? And would I still have enough money to buy it if it was? Suffice to say, I spent hours on the boat pouring over the glossy booklet that accompanied the album, and over time the album nourished me far more than the additional ice cream and plastic tat I might otherwise have purchased.

Which artist from your music collection would you say has had the widest, greatest, influence on other artists?

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