A Band New Perspective : A Reunion With Robertson and Busey’s Enthusiasm Have Recharged Rick Danko

It has been 12 1/2 years since the legendary Band called it quits, going out in style with the equally legendary “Last Waltz” concert.

Since then, songwriter and guitarist Robbie Robertson has pursued film work and a solo recording career. Drummer Levon Helm went into acting. Organist Garth Hudson fronted a country band and scored movies. Bassist Rick Danko has led his own groups and worked on assorted sessions. Pianist Richard Manuel died in an apparent suicide.

Though the remaining members have played together in various combinations, Robertson has always kept his distance from anything smacking of a Band reunion.

But according to Danko, a surprise jam session with him, Robertson and Hudson in April at a tiny Toronto room called the Horseshoe Club changed the pattern.


“When Robbie walked out on stage with me, man, a roar went up like the Coliseum--the roof almost came off,” said Danko, who is to play three Southland shows with Hudson and actor-singer Gary Busey, including Sunday at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano.

The night after the Toronto jam session, the three reunited at Canada’s Juno Awards for a broadcast of the Band’s induction into the Canadian Hall of Fame, which included a live performance of “The Weight” (with the Canadian group Blue Rodeo) on national TV.

The whole experience was as inspiring for Danko as it was for his audience.

“The two of us put our hands together that weekend--we really had a lot of fun,” Danko said recently. “As a result, I think Robbie is going to help me record this next one.”

Danko released his one solo LP, “Rick Danko,” on Arista Records 10 years ago, but he says promotion and distribution problems soured his enthusiasm to the point that he resolved never to do another album. Since 1969 he has lived on a 150-acre estate in the Catskill Mountains and kept busy touring and performing on sessions. His playing is featured on albums by Robert Palmer, Charlie Sexton, Robertson and the Del Fuegos, among others.

The Robertson reunion changed his view about solo albums, so he plans to begin production in the fall. He said that three labels are interested in the project, which will feature all new material, plus a composition by Manuel, Gerry Goffin and Carole King called “Breaking New Ground.”

“I want this new record to span the entire emotional gauntlet--something up, something down, something sideways,” Danko said.

“It’s like this: The dog has died, the children have grown, and I think it’s time for me to take this music a little more serious. I’m too young to retire.”


After this week’s dates, Danko and Hudson are scheduled to play the Soviet Union and Italy with John Sebastian, Richie Havens and others as part of a ‘60s entourage entitled “the 69/89 Woodstock Generation Tour.” In July, Danko is scheduled to open a 30-city tour in Los Angeles with Helm, Dr. John, Joe Walsh and others.

The Southland shows with Busey and Hudson (they will also be at the Strand in Redondo Beach tonight and the Palomino on Friday) came together when Busey phoned Danko shortly after the actor’s highly publicized motorcycle crash. During recovery, Busey spent many hours listening to tapes from gigs that he and Danko had performed in years past.

“Gary called me up and told me about how the Grim Reaper had visited him,” Danko said. “I think the accident kind of alerted him to get back into life and pass those gifts along that God has given him. He was so enthusiastic about us playing some live music together, it really got my wheels turning.

“It’s going to be a family kind of show,” Danko added. “We’re not setting out to change the world, just hoping to improve the neighborhood.”


Rick Danko, Gary Busey and Garth Hudson play Sunday at 9 p.m. at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano. San Juan Capistrano. Tickets: $17.50. Information: (714) 496-8930.