Rick Danko was born Richard Clare Danko on December 29, 1943, in Green's Corners, near Simcoe, Ontario. Despite what the "official" records (e.g., his passport, driver's license, etc.) indicate, Rick was not born in 1942. This date was used on his headstone to adhere to the only existing records, but Rick was born at home, and his birth was erroneously reported. Rick never corrected the error, because he "got to do everything a year earlier."
Rick was the third of four boys born to Maurice ("Tom") and Leola Danko. His older brothers are Maurice, Jr. ("Junior"), now deceased, and Dennis; his younger brother is Terry.
Rick was born into a musical family--all of his brothers and his father played an instrument and his mother sang--and began listening to the Grand Ole Opry as an "escape" from what he called a "sickly" childhood. "I was this far from being a sickly shut-in," Rick had said about his youth. He suffered from severe eczema and asthma as a boy.
Rick quit school at 14 to pursue music full-time. He played in a number of bands, including the Starlites, before being recruited by Ronnie Hawkins in 1960.
Rick joined Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks initially as rhythm guitarist, then later switched to bass.
It was Garth Hudson who advised Rick to visit a music teacher to learn how to play a perfect scale, and to play using all of his fingers.
The Hawks left Ronnie Hawkins in 1965 and were performing at a club called Tony Mart's in Somers Point, NJ, as "Levon and the Hawks" when they were whisked away by Bob Dylan to perform as back-up band on Dylan's historic 1965-66 electric world tour. Levon Helm, not wanting to back a "strummer" left the group and did not perform on most of the tour.
Rick was the first member of the Hawks to sing individually onstage with Bob Dylan in the form of a harmony vocal on Dylan's "One Too Many Mornings."
Rick and his band mates, with Levon, who'd rejoined after the tour, moved to Woodstock, NY, in 1967 and began recording in the basement of a big pink house rented by Rick in West Saugerties, near Woodstock. The songs they recorded came to be known as The Basement Tapes. It was during this time that the Hawks' became known as The Band.
The Band's first album, Music From Big Pink, was released in 1968. The famous "Next of Kin" gatefold photo, taken by Elliott Landy, featured The Band, their parents, and many of Rick's relatives. The photograph was taken on the Danko family farm.
Rick was in a near-fatal auto accident soon after the release of BigPink, and, while he was in traction, his girlfriend, Grace Seldner, delivered the news that she was pregnant. Rick and Grace were married in 1969.
Rick's first child, Lisa, was born in May, 1970. His son, Eli, was born in November, 1971.
Rick and Grace separated when Eli was a baby.
Around this time, Rick met Elizabeth Grafton, who had a son, Justin, who was about the same age as Eli, and began living together soon afterward.
In 1974, The Band was recruited by Bob Dylan to back him on what became known as "Tour '74," a sold-out world-class tour that set the bar for subsequent rock tours of the decade. Performances from the tour were recorded and released as a live album--ushering in the "golden era" of live concert recordings--called Before the Flood.
The Band, encouraged by Robbie Robertson, who'd had enough of "the road," called it quits on Thanksgiving Day, 1976, with a star-studded farewell concert at Bill Graham's Winterland in San Francisco. The Martin Scorsese-directed film of the concert, together with interviews and a couple of soundstage performances, was released as The Last Waltz and is still considered by many to be the best concert film of all time.
Rick was the first member of The Band to release a solo album, 1977's eponymous Arista release, which featured much-loved songs like "Sip the Wine."
Rick was also the first member of The Band to go out on tour as a solo artist, since he much preferred performing and touring to studio recording.
The Band, minus Robbie, reunited in 1983, and played in various incarnations until the suicide of Richard Manuel on March 4, 1986. After Richard's death, The Band performed with former Hawk Stan Szelest on piano. After Stan's death in 1990, Billy Preston sat in for a few shows before another old colleague, Richard Bell, joined on piano.
In March 1989, Rick suffered an unimaginable loss when his teenage son, Eli, died tragically.
Rick and Elizabeth, who'd been together for nearly 18 years, married that spring.
Rick and Levon, with guest appearances by Garth, joined Ringo Starr's All Star Band that spring.
In 1990, The Band performed with Pink Floyd at The Wall concert in Berlin. They also signed with Sony Music, and began sessions for the album that would be released, on Great Pyramid Records (after The Band was dropped from Sony) in 1993, as Jericho.
Rick began performing with Eric Andersen and Norwegian singer/songwriter Jonas Fjeld and, in February 1991, the trio recorded an album in Norway called Danko Fjeld Andersen.
That album was released in the States by Rykodisc in September, 1993, and The Band's critically acclaimed album Jericho was released two months later.
Rick and The Band recorded two more albums and toured intermittently for the next few years.
In the summer of 1999, Rick recorded a mostly live album called Live on Breeze Hill, and began sessions for a follow-up, Times Like These.
Rick Danko passed away in the early morning hours of December 10, 1999. His legend lives on.
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