One of the best rock groups around in the 1970s was The Band led by Robbie Robertson, a Canadian guitarist, singer, and song-writer.
Most of the group started off playing in Toronto as The Hawks backing Ronnie Hawkins ( a cousin of Dale Hawkins of “Susie Q” fame). After leaving Hawkins in 1964 they toured and played under different names before being invited to back Bob Dylan on his 1965 tour of America and his world tour three years later. They backed Dylan on his album “The Basement tapes” released in 1967.
The band began to perform officially as The Band in 1968 and made 10 studio albums before they celebrated the end of their touring careers with Martin Scorcese’s Film “The Last Waltz” in 1978.
The multi-instrumental lineup of the band was Robbie Robertson on guitar and vocals, Levon Helm on drums, guitar, mandolin and vocals; Garth Hudson on keyboards, sax and trumpet; Rick Danko on bass, fiddle, trombone and vocals;, and Richard Manuel on piano, drums, baritone sax, and vocals.
My two favourite songs from the Band are “The Weight” and “The Night they drove old Dixie down” but it’s the latter, although not their greatest hit (Joan Baez’s version did much better in the charts in the UK and in the USA) that is such a good song, telling a story about the despair of the South and the celebrations of the North.
This is the album version: released in 1969.
This is the version from the Last Waltz:
The Dixie song is based on historical fact: Dixie refers to the southern states of course, the Danville train was the supply line to Richmond, the capital of the confederacy, which the Union troops did their best to disrupt, the Confederate Commander-in-Chief General Robert E Lee surrendered in 1865 and the reference to him in the second verse is to the Mississippi steam boat named after him which was built the following year.
Lancashire was linked to the South through the import of cotton. At that time there were 300,000 men, women, and children working in the cotton industry in Lancashire and the civil war created the Cotton Famine which lasted throughout the war (1861-1865) and it’s estimated that there were half a million people starving and destitute during that period.
Australia and New Zealand offered free passage to cotton workers and about a thousand emigrated. Some diversified into other things like making hats in Stockport. Some even moved to Yorkshire to work in the woollen industry!