Rick Danko

This site is all about Rick Danko, the charismatic bass and acoustic guitar player and one of the three lead singers for the legendary rock group, The Band. Rick's iconic plaintive tenor, his ethereal, one-of-a-kind harmonies and his loping, melodic, percussive bass playing were a large part of The Band's signature sound. Equally integral to The Band's mystique--and to their secure and enviable perch high atop the upper crust of rock and roll--was Rick's magnetic, larger-than-life persona--part innocent country boy, part wandering troubadour, part reluctant rock star.

Rick Danko was about music. He was about melody. He was about harmony. He was about authenticity. He was about vulnerability. Rick was--and always will be--the epitome of unadorned, unaffected, unparalleled cool.

I worked with Rick for many years. He was a dear friend and a major influence who "taught me how to seek the path." This site is part of a promise I made to him a long time ago. I hope you enjoy it.

Please note that all content on this site is copyright-protected. All articles, essays, and other written materials (c) Carol Caffin, unless otherwise noted. Do Not Reproduce.

Rick Danko in Song: An Addition

Thanks to Jan Hoiberg, who’s always on the ball, particularly where The Band is concerned, for letting me know about a song that I missed in my previous article, Rick Danko in Song.

I have to admit, I was not familiar with the tribute, “You Made a Difference” by Norwegian-American singer/songwriter Martin Hagfors and his band, Home Groan. “He first published the song by posting a link to it in The Band Guestbook in December ’99,” Jan says. “A lot of fans loved it back then.”

I’m sure there are—and will be—other songs dedicated to or inspired by Rick. I believe, for instance, that Woodstock-based singer/songwriter Tom Pacheco, a friend and collaborator of Rick’s, was working on such a song last year, though I’ve heard nothing further about it.

I’ll keep you posted but, in the meantime, if you know of any other songs about Rick, please feel free to contact me and I’ll happily post them.

Coming soon…Rick in session: guest appearances on recordings by other artists.

Two Band Press Photos From the Early 90s

These photos were used for publicity and promotion by The Band in 1991, after the death of the great Stan Szelest, a former Hawk whose playing style greatly influenced Rick's approach to bass playing.

Though Stan's tenure with The Band was brief--beginning in 1990 and ending unexpectedly when he died of a heart attack in January, 1991--he was an asset to the group, adding a bluesiness and a funkiness to their live sound without being overpowering or heavy-handed; I think part of that came from the fact that he'd had a history with The Hawks, as well as a love and respect for Richard Manuel, whom he never tried to replace.

After Stan's death, The Band, who were enjoying a bit of a resurgence, were without a piano player, and the piano stool was occupied by a seemingly unlikely candidate, Billy Preston, who enjoyed 15 minutes as a Band member, before Richard Bell--who fit like a glove--was added to the lineup, and remained for the rest of the decade.

These are the photos (one with Billy Preston and one without) that were used for the media after Stan Szelest, but before Richard Bell.

Fax From 1993 re: DFA's E-Town Appearance

This is an original fax which I'd sent to the radio program E-Town with last-minute arrangements/details for Rick's appearance as part of Danko Fjeld Andersen in October, 1993. Just some interesting little tidbits, like their basic sound requirements, etc.

Rick Danko in Song: Tributes and Dedications by Other Artists

IIt's interesting--and, in many cases, heartwarming--to note how many artists have paid homage to Rick Danko in song.

Of course, there are the countless musicians, artists, and writers who've been influenced and inspired by Rick and The Band (a topic for a future article). Rick always felt honored and got a little flustered whenever an interviewer mentioned a musician or group--like Jakob Dylan's Wallflowers or Counting Crows--who claimed to be influenced by him or The Band. "You must remember that before you can be an influence, you must be influenced," he'd say humbly, deflecting attention from himself, as was his way, and then going on to name some of his own influences.

But then there are those who've written songs for or about Rick--most of them in the past 10 years. I can only imagine how Rick would feel, how deeply touched he'd be, knowing that he was loved by so many--enough to be immortalized in song.

Some of these songs, like Jonas Fjeld's poignant and lovely "Rick" (from his 2001 album Tidevann), co-written by Ole Paus and featuring Eric Andersen on guitar and Garth Hudson on accordion, are heartfelt tributes from close friends and collaborators. If you haven't heard this song, you must. It is a tearjerker, for sure, particularly to those who loved Rick. To some of us, it is painful to listen to; though the lyrics aren't in English, we can feel their meaning. Jonas wrote the music; Paus wrote the lyrics. Here is a passage:

Den dagen var som en helt vanlig dag/Du veit; en sånn dag da ikke noe skjer/
Så ringer noen et sted langt borte fra/Og sier at han som var her, han er ikke mer

which translates (thanks to the efforts of my dear friend, Jan Hoiberg) as:

That day was just like any other day/You know, a day when nothing much happens/
Then someone calls from a place far away/and says that he who was here, he isn't anymore

Jonas and I keep in touch and he is still often at a loss for words when it comes to Rick. "I can't believe it's been nine years," he said just the other day, when we were talking about Rick. Even now, the pain is palpable.

There are other artists, too, who've written songs about Rick. Whether or not they are tributes, I suppose, has to do with both the artists' intentions and the listeners' perceptions. A case in point is Steve Forbert's song, "Wild As the Wind"--admittedly a great title and a great visual--which does have some wonderful Rick-like elements. The opening lines, for instance, capture part of Rick's essence beautifully: "Maybe you didn't know him, but he probably was your friend; he was oddly down to earth, and just as wild as the wind." But there's also some imagery I have real problems with, imagery which Forbert defended when I asked him about it. If listeners were hurt or offended by the images of Rick swooping down on piles of cocaine, as depicted by the Romeo's Tunesmith, well, Forbert told me, "They didn't know Rick Danko, then." I beg to differ, Steve. Maybe you didn't know him--but he probably was your friend.

A touching tribute inspired by and dedicated to Rick comes from singer/songwriter Amy Fradon, whose 2000 release Small Town News features the poetic and ethereal "Silver Wings." Amy remembers being introduced to Rick by Happy and Artie Traum in the early 90s. "We did a recording session with Rick and I loved singing with him immediately," Amy recalls. "He was a real 'feel' singer. It was just heavenly singing with him."

When Amy heard of Rick's passing, "I felt devastated," she says. "I had been on the road and I came home and couldn't sleep, thinking about it and thinking about him. I don't know if I'm psychic or if I just have a vivid imagination, but I really had a sense of Rick kind of swirling around everywhere--I could feel his presence very strongly. I was writing in my journal and this poem sort of came through me. I was home, thinking about my little home and how it was so cozy and beautiful, and then there was Rick, and I could either think of him as in the ground, cold, or that maybe he had gone somewhere beautiful, you know? And where was he now? If I'm home, is he home too? So I guess I was thinking spiritually."

The lyrics to "Silver Wings" came easily, but it wasn't yet a song. "The next day, I loved the poem," Amy remembers. "I felt that that was my offering for him, but I couldn't hear the music, so I sat down and said 'Rick, give me the music to this!' and I don't know if it was Rick, but the music came right through as soon as I said that. It felt guided. So that's 'Silver Wings'--snippets of impressions I had about him, feelings I had about him."

Blue Horizon's "Back to Memphis," also dedicated to Rick, has a similarly spiritual feel and poetic lyrics that could have been written only by a woman--in this case, Elizabeth Stephen who, together with Jason Imbesi, is one half of the group. Like Fradon, Stephen has said that she could "feel his presence around me," particularly when she was writing. Though, unlike Fradon, Stephen never had the opportunity to meet Rick, she had a passion for him nonetheless: “If I never saw you, you'd still live in my dreams, calling out from stages and music magazines," she sings. I can just imagine Rick's blushing face upon hearing the words: "If I were a painter, you'd be green and gold, carved out of matches, but broken out of stone." She continues with the wistful, "You could have been my lover, taught me everything I know, but now we are your children, your flowers in the snow.” It's a dreamy, melancholy song rife with longing.

A fairly obscure but beautifully constructed, heartfelt tribute to Rick is singer/songwriter David Munyon's "Song for Danko." Munyon, a talented topical songwriter who had performed as an opener for Rick, was mesmerized with Rick both as a person and as an artist, and believed that he learned a lot about how to treat his fans by observing how Rick treated his, making everyone of them feel genuinely special and appreciated.

Ohio-based guitarist Sonny Miller wrote 2005's rather mournful "Danko's Blues (All in All)" as a dedication to Rick, whom he considers one of his favorite singers of all time. The song features a haunting slide guitar and a chorus/refrain that contains the lament, "All in All, by and by, all I wanted was to say goodbye."

There are songs most Band fans know, like "Danko/Manuel" by Drive-By Truckers, and Luke Doucet's "The Day Rick Danko Died," the title of which, in my opinion, is more of a marketing tool than a topic. I contacted Doucet soon after the release of the song--which does have a catchy intro and some nice bass and guitar work--to ask him about it. He told me it had little to do with Rick, whom, he said, he'd never met, though he was a fan. Instead, the song is the story of a guy meeting another man--a guitarist who supposedly had once played with Bob Dylan--in a bar in Woodstock the day Rick Danko died. The two have a good cry and a couple of cold ones in honor of the "bass man."

Not all songs that mention Rick are tributes, per se, but musicians who never knew him or met him know there's a cachet, a hipness, in liking Rick Danko. There is The Hold Steady's unlistenable cacophany of screams and incongrous lyrics known as "The Swish" whose only saving grace is the mention of Rick's name. The context? Your guess is as good as mine. But here's the line: "She said my name is Rick Danko but people call me one-hour photo." Whatever it means--or doesn't--I'm sure Rick would have gotten a kick out of it.

One of the latest songs to mention Rick is a tune called "Rick Danko (Was an Honest Man)" by the South Carolina-based band Naked Gods. "The song actually has very little to do with Rick Danko," the band's Seth Sullivan tells me, "though Rick and The Band are all big heroes to us musically, and that is the reason we named the song after him." But why the peculiar title? "It's something I said one night when I was stating the reason Rick was my favorite member of The Band."

Coming Up Next...Rick Danko in Song

As his legend looms larger and larger, Rick Danko continues to be an inspiration to other musicians--so much so that a number of songs have been written about or have been inspired by him. Seems like there's a new one every day.

Coming up next...a closer look at a few of those songs.