Because of the sheer cultural importance of Bob Dylan in the canon of American music, it is impossible to talk about The Band (and most music from the 1960’s, for that matter) without it coming back to a discussion about Bob Dylan. For The Band, the connection is quite immediate.
In 1965, Dylan was looking for a band to accompany him on his quite controversial electric tour after his manager introduced him to their music at a live show. When they, initially called The Hawks, were billed as “Bob Dylan and the Band” they came to appreciate the title and renamed themselves The Band. Much like the original electric Dylan, they received negative press and reception as they toured – folk music was not electric and fans were not ready to change their minds.
Disregarding press – negative or positive – they continued touring, pausing to help Dylan record Blonde on Blonde, touring Europe, and playing for the infamous JUDAS moment. At his most hated, Dylan – with the help of The Band – turned a musicians’ intuition into the most powerful force in American popular culture. PLAY IT FUCKING LOUD became a rallying cry for musicians who were more interested in playing what they wanted than playing what their crowds expected.
Due to the relatively new practice of fans bootlegging and repackaging live concerts, Dylan’s electric move gained positive momentum and when Dylan was injured in a motorcycle accident and retreated from public life for some time, The Band was in prime position to take his position in Americana folk rock.
The rented a big pink house in New York, not far from a reclusive Dylan who had invited them to come record, and released the album Music from Big Pink. Many of the songs featured Dylan cowriting and this release seemed to scratch the itch left when Dylan went away. While some of the band members rejected the constant association with Dylan, it was certainly a career bolster and was reflected in album sales.
Music from the Big Pink was widely acclaimed, hugely bootlegged, and resulted in countless rerelease and basement tapes. Dylan lent his pen to the songs and his paint to the cover art, but beyond that they decided that having him sing on the album would look too much like a Dylan and The Band release rather than a The Band release.
The album’s single The Weight peaked at #63 on the Billboard charts, it was featured in the film Easy Rider, it’s been covered and released endlessly since it came out, and it holds a spot on nearly every list of America’s most important songs. And with every basement tape recording that comes out from Dylan, also comes a resurgence of The Band as an Americana benchmark in music.