I remember bringing home the Big Pink lp (borrowed) when it came out and thinking, "These guys are okay, but they have a peculiar way of playing that is kind of sloppy. And although this guy Helm fits in perfectly on the drums, his voice is TOO hillbilly for me." I did not know any details of their background, only that they were kinda hot at the time. "The Weight" was okay, "I Shall Be Released", "Long Black Veil" and "Chest Fever" were okay too.
Somewhere down the road I bought the second album (the masterpiece) and brought it home for a listen. This album is different, and I like EVERY song but the ones Helm sings lead vocal on, and even those are okay to me as long as he's not singing. What didn't take a lot of serious listening to realize was, "The more I listen, this peculiarly sloppy way of playing is turning into just about the tightest damn band I ever heard." Of course, even though on their bad nights nobody was as tight as The Mothers, these guys made you proud to be an American. Until somebody filled you in and told you THEY weren't American. Which made the whole affair more incredible. Helm couldn't possibly have filled the other four in on everything about rural American life, and then said, "Okay, now that I filled you guys in, start writing very poignant songs from the I Was/Am There perspective."
Hudson looked like a small bear to me. Danko acted like he'd be more fun to be around than anybody else on earth. Richard Manuel came off like a gruff mountain man, and then when he opened his mouth and that falsetto came out, wow.
Yesterday I sat down for a couple hours and gave them a good overdue listen. "The Last Waltz" is especially worthwhile. Not only are they doing some of their own hits at the last show they will ever perform, but they are also doing what they did best for years before fame came. Being just about the best, tightest sidemen a star could ask for.