The Band were always a mysterious group of musicians, seemingly arriving fully-formed on the scene with their debut record "Music From Big Pink". Their work - at least in the early part of their career - produced a remarkable collection of songs that draw from deep wells of American tradition, folklore and musical styles. Add to that their important role as Bob Dylan's backing band when he took the ground-breaking decision to go electric, and you get some idea of the significant position that they occupy in musical history.
Here, Levon Helm (writer, drummer, singer, mandolin player) tells the story of their musical journey, beginning with his own childhood in rural Arkansas (the rest of the group came from Canada, which added to The Band's sense of other-worldliness), his early attraction to music as a way of getting out of the chores on his family's farm, joining up with singer Ronnie Hawkins, and the evolution of Hawkins' backing group into The Band. He describes the relentless hours of playing and practicing that were the groundwork for their selection by Dylan and their apparently effortless debut, and the way in which they gradually lost momentum, culminating in their farewell concert (captured on film by Martin Scorcese as "The Last Waltz").
This is a very well-written memoir. Helm takes you along on his remarkable journey, introducing you to all the characters that he met along the way, and telling you what happened to them. Along the way, he shows you some extraordinary scenes, including The Band jamming with a very impressed Sonny Boy Williamson shortly before his death, Rick Danko trying to skin roadkill, Robbie Robertson singing "so powerfully" into a switched-off microphone in "The Last Waltz", and the lonely, tragic death of Richard Manuel. I don't think I've read such an interesting, entertaining biography in any field (let alone just that of music) in a long time.