Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Rick Danko
Riffling through my big sister’s stack of records I found an album that many people would consider a lost classic: Rick Danko, the 1977 solo debut album from the bass player and singer from the Band. It was the first solo LP by a member of that beloved group, which had famously disbanded the year before with its “Last Waltz” concert in San Francisco.
And of all the solo projects by the members of the Band, only Rick Danko features each member of the group. Other friends and guests included Eric Clapton, Ron Wood, Doug Sahm, Blondie Chaplin (then of the Beach Boys), Gerry Beckley (of America) and David Paich (who would later become part of Toto). Danko wrote most of the tracks with lyrics by actor/comedian Emmett Grogan and Louisiana singer/songwriter Bobby Charles, who was a friend of the Band.
Many people have said this is the best solo effort by any member of the Band, but I think those assessments were made before Levon Helm’s more recent success (Dirt Farmer, Electric Dirt). Rick Danko would certainly rank up there among the best, though.
Songs like the opener “What A Town,” “New Mexico” and “Small Town Talk” – all co-written with Charles – sound most like the Band. “What A Town” is an uptempo lope a lot like “Ophelia” and Ron Wood, who was in the Rolling Stones by this time, contributes a sweet guitar solo. Another highlight is “New Mexico,” flavored by the accordion of Garth Hudson and the guitar of Eric Clapton.
“Tired of Waiting” sounds a lot like a Doug Sahm tune, and in fact Sir Doug himself lays down some vocal harmonies and a guitar solo on this track. When Bobby Charles did “Small Town Talk” on his own solo album he took an almost acoustic, singer/songwriterly approach. Danko’s version of the song lays on the horns for fuller production – and Danko himself plays lead guitar on this highlight.
Robbie Robertson takes a turn on guitar with “Java Blues” and it’s one of his better solo riffs. By the time Levon Helm lends his singular vocal twang to harmonies on “Once Upon A Time,” you can close your eyes and hear the Band at Woodstock. But that was the final tune on the album – although a rich experience, it seems very short to me.
Danko would of course be part of the reunion of the Band (minus Robertston) in the 1990s. After Richard Manuel’s suicide, Danko and Helm handled most of the vocals on the three studio albums under the Band imprint. Danko also cut a few folk-oriented albums with singer/songwriter Eric Andersen and Norwegian roots artist Jonas Fjeld and one of them, Danko/ Fjeld/ Andersen from 1991, won a Grammy Award. Danko would tour with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band and cut a few more solo albums before his death in 1999.