It's All in the Name

The Band helped invent altcountry before disbanding

Stage Fright, the Band's third full-length recording, sounded solid on the surface, but the group was beginning to fray and unravel behind the scenes. By 1970 three members (Manuel, Danko, and Helm) were using heroin on a more than recreational basis. Touring and fame also were wearing the band down and tearing it apart. Add jealousy and writer's block to this mix, and you've got Stage Fright, a cheerful-sounding record that unintentionally was confessional. From the title cut about performance fear, to Levon Helm's heroin croak on “Strawberry Wine,” to “Sleeping,” Robertson's paean to watching his bandmates on the nod, Stage Fright was a spirited romp through a dispirited period in the group's history.

The Band, Mach III: Old, but still not in the way
Elliott Landy
The Band, Mach III: Old, but still not in the way

The Band toured hard behind Stage Fright in the fall of 1970 but repaired back to Woodstock in the winter of 1971 to record Cahoots at the newly opened Bearsville Studio, owned by Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman. The new studio had a lot of technical bugs that had not yet been worked out when recording for the album commenced, and this caused some problems. And the group had no material written for their fourth long-player; the entire album was written in the studio, a first for the Band. Almost all the songs were penned by Robertson, who wrote mostly about his newfound love for classic cinema. Cahoots was the record on which the Band stopped being one. What came to the group naturally and almost effortlessly before now had to be pulled and stitched together entirely by Robertson. The record sounds bright, tired, and slick, a miserable combination for the group and the listener. The Band's cover of Marvin Gaye's “Don't Do It” is included as a bonus track, almost enough reason to purchase this remastered version of Cahoots.Well, almost enough reason. The rest of the Band's tale is mainly sad. The group kept touring and recording until the end of 1976, when Robertson decided to call a halt to things with the all-star gala documented in Martin Scorsese's acclaimed The Last Waltz. Individual members went on to faltering but worthy solo careers before reuniting as the Band in the mid-Eighties (sans Robertson, it must be noted; he declined all offers to perform with the reconstituted Band ensemble). Manuel cleaned up for a while but hung himself while on tour in 1986 after returning to booze and drugs. Danko recorded sporadically and was arrested on a heroin charge in 1997; two years later he died of heart failure. Helm has been battling throat cancer the past few years. Hudson putters and keeps a low profile. Robertson has indulged in a senseless solo career full of inflated self-regard for his dwindling talent. Typical twentieth-century-rock-band-in-decline drama. Forget the past 30 years. Remember Music from Big Pink and The Band, and be grateful someone invented the phonograph record.

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