This documentary explores the relationship between Bob Dylan and The Hawks and their reinvention of American music at the later part of the 1960's and the legendary recording they made together in the basement of a house in Woodstock known as The Basement Tapes.
The first part is a revealing interview with Ronnie Hawkins who was born in Huntsville Arkansas in 1937. It was 'rock n roller’ Hawkins who moved his band from the USA up to Toronto in Canada to tour in 1958 and then decided to perform there permanently. After a while most of the original band members moved back to America with the exception of drummer Levon Helm. The replacements were all resident Canadians, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manual and Garth Hudson who along with Helm made up the most famous incarnation of The Hawks and who would become known simple as The Band. By 1964 The Hawks had outgrown there job as Ronnie's backing band and left to set out on there own.
At this time a Greenwich Village artist called Bob Dylan was finding his feet in the music business singing folk based protest songs accompanied by an acoustic guitar. But in 1965 he completely broke the 'folk singer' mould by going electric and releasing two albums Bring It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. The last of what became known as the Dylan's rock trilogy, Blond on Blond was released in May 1966. It was when Dylan decided to take his electric reincarnation out on the road that The Hawks appeared on his radar. With the exception of Levon Helm, who was replaced by American Mickey Jones, who before joining Dylan played with Trini Lopez and Johnny Rivers, The Hawks joined Dylan’s infamous 1966 World Tour of Europe and Australia. Jeered and heckled by the sell out audiences the tour reached a crescendo while performing at the Manchester Free Hall on May 17th 1966 when one of the audience accused Dylan of being a ‘Judas’. The tour was brought to an abrupt end when in July 1966 Dylan was involved in a motorbike accident, withdrawing to his home in Woodstock and not touring again until 1974. The Hawks returned to America angry and dejected.
The Band was in limbo so they welcomed the chance to join Dylan in Woodstock in 1967. They set up a recording studio in the basement of their house, which was called Big Pink it was there that Dylan joined them in the jam section that was to become The Basement Tapes an album that included a mixture of musical genre's that was eventually released in 1975. 1967, the summer of love, was a period of great change were popular music was being remade. Typically Dylan ignored these changes and moved to a more country style and released John Wesley Hardin in December 1967which hinted at his impending religious conversion. Musically at this time The Band grew up and with Levon Helm recorded Music from Big Pink (1967) a ground breaking record and one of the best debut albums ever made which along with there second album The Band (1969) formed a distinct type of music encouraging some very famous musicians of the day, including Eric Clapton and George Harrison, to stop and reassess their own music. These two albums still remain an influence on today's musicians.
The all out country album Nashville Skyline was released in April 1969. The first track, a duet with Johnny Cash, is one that you will recognize from the soundtrack of Silver Linings Playbook (2012). This album has been credited with being what became known as 'country rock'. In August 1969 backed by The Band, Bob Dylan appeared at the Isle of Wight Festival and to the consternation of both the audience and the members of the musical press played mainly country numbers from his last two albums. It was after this, not very successful live appearance, that The Band released their second album with material written by Robbie Robertson and not reliant on material written by Dylan. Dubbed ‘a novel in song form’ it was homage to America’s Deep South. It was deemed responsible for changing people's perception on how they viewed the south.
|Dylan with The Band at the Isle of Wight.|
In 1974 The Band again backed Dylan on a reunion tour to publicise the album Planet Waves. Although the album was not one of his most successful the subsequent tour was a complete sell out with an unbelievable demand for tickets. The following year Bob Dylan released what was probable his best album Blood on the Tracks. Robbie Robertson decided that the time had come for The Band to stop doing live tours and set up one final concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco in November 1976 called The Last Waltz. The event was filmed by director Martin Scorsese and made into a documentary which was released in 1978 it was in my humble opinion to become one of greatest concert films ever made.
Down in the Flood (2012) proves that the partnership between Bob Dylan and The Band was one of the greatest in modern musical history. Its effect on both the main protagonists was profound which in turn influenced many other musicians and their music. This latest documentary will be of great interest to lovers of rock history.