Remembering Richard Manuel: Performing Live With The Band In 1970
Richard Manuel tragically died by suicide on this date in 1986. The pianist for the legendary and massively influential group The Band, Manuel also possessed both a soulful baritone as well as a forlorn falsetto, both of which figured as one-third of the group’s singing structure along with bassist Rick Danko and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Levon Helm (Manuel would also play drums when Levon stepped out from behind the kit).
Manuel met Danko and Helm in 1960 when the latter two were in Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks. At the time, Manuel’s band The Revols were opening for The Hawks. In his autobiography, The Wheel’s On Fire, Helm noted that he remarked to Danko, “See that kid playing piano? He’s got more talent than Van Cliburn,” referencing a contemporary piano prodigy.
The next spring the roles were reversed and Hawkins found himself opening for The Revols at the Stratford Coliseum in Manuel’s (and much of The Band’s) native Ontario. A mover and shaker in the Canadian scene, Hawkins offered to manage The Revols and later recruited Manuel as pianist for The Hawks which by this time included guitarist Robbie Robertson and keyboardist Garth Hudson.
The group — who separated themselves from Hawkins in the mid-1960s — would develop a rollicking, gin-soaked sound from tireless touring in both Canadian and U.S. clubs. After Helm, Robertson and Hudson backed blues musician John Hammond, Hammond suggested the band to Bob Dylan, who was entering his “Dylan Goes Electric” phase. Dylan with an electric guitar and band horrorified his hardcore folk fans, whose ire was directed at Dylan and his new rock band, booing them relentlessly night in and night out.
But rather than deterring the young musicians, the experience with Dylan only seemed to bolster their already road-tested raw rock ‘n’ roll talent. In 1967, Manuel, Robertson, Danko, Helm and Hudson officially became The Band. The group would release their groundbreaking debut, Music From The Big Pink (which Manuel contributed four songs to including the Dylan co-write, “Tears Of Rage”), in 1968. Music journalist Al Aronowitz categorizing The Band as “country soul … a sound never heard before.”
A big part of that “country soul” came from Richard Manuel. His honkytonk piano and high harmonies exuded a soulful sadness which is on full display during The Band’s November 1, 1970 concert at The Syria Mosque, Pittsburgh. The concert features Band classics like opener “The W.S Walcott Medicine Show,” “The Weight,” “Up On Cripple Creek,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” and “The Shape I’m In,” the latter of which Manuel partially inspired Robertson to write through his hard living. The set also sees Manuel using his baritone voice on “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” and also features Manuel’s “We Can Talk” as well as the Robertson-penned “Time To Kill,” a Danko/Manuel duet which showcases Richard’s higher register all while pulling off some amazing piano runs.
To remember Richard Manuel, watch rare concert footage which kicks off with “Time To Kill” and also listen to full-show audio below:
The Band at Syria Mosque
- The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show
- This Wheel's on Fire
- Rockin' Chair
- Strawberry Wine
- The Unfaithful Servant
- The Weight
- We Can Talk
- Up on Cripple Creek
- The Shape I'm In
- Time to Kill
- King Harvest (Has Surely Come)
- Look Out Cleveland
- The Rumor
- Stage Fright
- The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
- Across the Great Divide
- I Shall Be Released
- Slippin' and Slidin' (Peepin' and Hidin')