Rick Danko (The Band)

Courtesy of Wolfgang’s Vault

By Thomas Semioli



“I don’t play bass, I just fill space!”


Along with drummer Levon Helm, Richard Clare Danko anchored one of American music’s most potent and influential ensembles: The Band.


Whereas most bassists tend lock in with the kickdrum and go with the flow, Danko’s bass passages defied convention, dancing betwixt the melodies and rhythms forged by Helm, guitarist Robbie Robertson, and keyboardists Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson.


Adept on guitar, mandolin, upright, cello, accordion, trombone, banjo, piano, and fiddle: Danko was also an accomplished vocalist and composer. Akin to Johnny Cash and Billie Holiday, you could feel the weight of the world in Rick’s impassioned vocal style – which directly translated to his bass playing.


His greatest work was in the company of his Band mates. Their ten studio slabs (with and without Robertson), archival, and live platters are essential. Whether they realize it or not, every Americana artist and ensemble owes a debt to Rick and The Band that can never be repaid.



Not to be overlooked is Rick’s extraordinary body of work with The Band’s mentor Bob Dylan. Throughout the grooves of Planet Waves (1974), Before the Flood (1974), and The Basement Tapes (1975) and assorted vault releases, Danko served as Bob’s most formidable harmonic and rhythmic foil.


Though Danko waxed several concert and collaborative platters, his true signature solo outing was his eponymous 1977 gem, which was overlooked during the punk era zeitgeist. Though weary from his tenure in The Band, Danko was still a force to be reckoned with. Sadly Rick’s career was beset by personal problems and substance abuse, passing at the age of 56 in 1999.


Rick’s weapons of choice were equally legend. No matter what instrument he chose, Danko’s rich tone was unmistakable. Among his tools of the trade was the Fender Jazz which he used on the legendary Dylan 1966 Tour, Music From Big Pink (1968) and The Band (1969). Rick’s command of the fretless Ampeg AMUB is astonishing, given the fact that he sang and played countermelodies simultaneously. Danko also commandeered a fretted Ampeg bass, an Ampeg baby electric upright, and several Gibson Rippers which featured custom pick-ups. 



Rick Danko Sound & Vision


Rick Danko, The Band, The Staples Singers “The Weight” https://youtu.be/TCSzL5-SPHM

With The Band

“Stage Fright” https://youtu.be/NZMfZe7OFFk

“King Harvest Has Surely Come” https://youtu.be/yeKY5PUMgvQ

“Acadian Driftwood” https://youtu.be/GoV52WsmDG4

“Look Out Cleveland” https://youtu.be/9igu3Ht3Jvs

“Life is a Carnival” https://youtu.be/a2L7SrUWZWY

“A Change is Gonna Come” https://youtu.be/byqq8iqKZv8

With his Bobness:

“Something There Is About You” https://youtu.be/mtfyuYKYO4M

 Solo Rick:

“What a Town” https://youtu.be/sMNjhzBh7k0

“Brainwash” https://youtu.be/rzz26zGFQgQ