December 10, 1999 – Richard Clare Rick Danko was born on December 29, 1943 in Blayney, Ontario-Canada, a farming community 6 miles outside of the town of Simcoe, six miles from Delhi and ten miles from Turkey Point. There were three stores, a couple of fruit stands, and a juke box. He grew up in a musical family of Ukrainian descent. Dank knew very early on that music was going to be his life.
Like his father, Rick also played accordion, violin, mandolin, guitar, and fiddle.
He quit school at 14 to purse music full-time and in 1960, when he was 17, he joined rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins’ group, the Hawks, initially as rhythm guitarist. He soon moved to bass and, with the help of the Hawks’ piano player Stan Szelest.
Under Ronnie Hawkins’ tutelage, Danko began a three-year tenure of non-stop gigging and rigorous rehearsals that fellow Band-mate Richard Manuel once likened to ‘boot camp.’ By the time he was 20, he was a seasoned pro, having spent most of his teenage years playing in bars that you were supposed to be 21 to play in.
By the early 60s, Rick and the other Hawks 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.
The Band’s 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.’
After the tumultuous world tours with Dylan (the European leg of which was documented in the obscure film, Eat the Document), Danko relocated from Manhattan to upstate New York, along with Dylan and the other members of the still un-named Band. He rented a big pink house in West Saugerties, near Woodstock, and with Dylan and The Band began recording songs which soon surfaced on bootlegs and were officially released in 1975 as The Basement Tapes. In 1968, after toying with a host of politically incorrect names, like the Crackers and the Honkies, The Band made its official debut with ‘Music From Big Pink’.
The album shot The Band into folklore. A succession of albums and tours followed, and, The Band, now a firm fixture in the rock aristocracy, played virtually every major festival from Woodstock to Watkins Glen. In 1976, on Thanksgiving day, The Band officially called it quits with a farewell concert at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom.
The concert, which featured an unprecedented all-star lineup to which The Band graciously played back-up, was documented in Martin Scorsese’s much lauded film, The Last Waltz, regarded by many as the finest concert film of all time.
Following ‘The Last Waltz’, Danko continued to perform and record as a solo artist. His 1978 self-titled debut, though overshadowed at first by The Band, later gained critical and popular acclaim. During the early 1980s, he maintained a low profile, and in 1983, reunited with The Band (minus Robbie Robertson, who pursued a solo career). During that period, he began playing acoustic guitar as well as bass on-stage, and his unique style of tuning and playing (revealing the bass player in his soul), has become another of his signature sounds. Throughout the 80s, never one to ‘sit at home’, Rick continued to play solo, with The Band, in pairings with Richard Manuel, Levon Helm, Paul Butterfield, Jorma Kaukonen and others. In 1985, he appeared (with Manuel, Helm and Hudson) in a feature film, Man Outside, and in 1987 he released an instructional video, ‘Rick Danko’s Electric Bass Techniques’ (Homespun).
In 1989, he and Band drummer/vocalist Levon Helm toured as part of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band. That same year, The Band was inducted into the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Hall Of Fame. In 1990, Danko, along with Helm, Hudson, Sinead O’Connor, Van Morrison and others appeared in Roger Waters’ ‘The Wall’ concert in Berlin.
Danko recorded with Folk legend Eric Andersen and Norwegian singer/songwriter Jonas Fjeld in 1991 and one sidebar of the trio’s collaboration was an award-winning album, Danko Fjeld Andersen (Stageway), which was honored in Norway with a Spellemans Pris (the Norwegian Grammy) for ‘Record of the Year’ and was released in late 1993 by Rykodisc. The Rykodisc release was honored by NAIRO the following year.
In October, 1992 he performed with The Band at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary tribute at Madison Square Garden and, in January 1994, he and The Band were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Eric Clapton.
1993 saw The Band record their first studio album in 17 years, ‘Jericho’, which featured a radically extended line-up of members including Richard Bell. They followed this up with another album, ‘High On The Hog’, in 1996.
In February, 1997, Rykodisc released ‘Ridin’ On The Blinds’, the follow-up to Danko/ Fjeld/ Andersen, which was recorded in Norway in 1994.
Danko passed away in his upstate New York home on Friday, December 10, 1999 three days after his last performance, just weeks before his 56th birthday.