hen we were kids playing in clubs, everybody played cover songs, and we never wanted to do that. We'd do something else, like playing with Ronnie Hawkins. We never wanted to play what club bands were supposed to play. We had to separate from the pack. Trying to be different was part of the nature of our group.
When we first started playing with Bob Dylan, we did not know a whole lot about him. We knew about these folk songs, and that he was a folk singer, and that he could write good songs. And then we started playing with him. It was a disaster. Our job was to travel to the place, go out and play, have people boo at you, then pack up, leave and go to the next place, where again they'd boo. This happened all over the world. We said, "This is an odd way to make a buck," let alone make a musical mark.
People were always saying to Bob, "Let me give you a little advice. Get rid of these guys. They're killing you." We didn't know, either, if it was such a good idea. Except when we played. It was like thunder, with this Elmer Gantry speaking, going on, talking these words, singing them, preaching them. He was no longer doing this nasally folk thing. He was screaming his songs through the rafters, and it was like thunder. It was very dynamic, very violent, and very exciting.
We thought, "Great," but everywhere we played people threw things at us, night after night. It's very hard to keep your chin up all the time, and you want to say, "Yeah, fuck them. They don't know." And we'd go and listen to the tapes of the concert and we would say, "What is so bad about that? It sounded pretty good." The tapes, of course, went on to become classic bootlegs.
But at the time, people were pissed off because they had this purist attitude about Dylan. We did not see what was wrong musically. We were treating the songs with great respect. We had no idea where we were having a great impact, or whether this entire thing was going to go up in smoke.
Dylan had every opportunity to say, "Fellows, this is not working out. I'm going to go back to folk music, or get another band where they won't boo every time." Everybody told him to get rid of these guys, that it wasn't working. But he didn't. That was very commendable.
Being out with Dylan put us much more in touch with what was going on in the world. We had come out of the swamps, and these back-road clubs, and suddenly we're stuck out on the world with this attitude we brought with us, and now people want us to come back in and find a cute name for this group. The whole thing seemed very childish to us. Names were really goofy at that time. Everybody was thinking up very psychedelic names, and just to go against that we said, "We are not going to name the group."
The record company went crazy. They said, "You have to have a name. Call it Number Seven, anything, but you have to think of something."
We said, OK, we will call ourselves the Crackers."
And they said, "That's a cute name." They were thinking of soda crackers, or biscuits. Then they came back and said, "No, You can't call yourselves the Crackers. That means something else altogether."
From playing with Dylan, and this little neighborhood we lived in called Woodstock, everybody called us The Band. That was about as anonymous as we could get.
We had the record company over the rail. They were printing up our first album, Music from Big Pink, and we came in that afternoon and said, "Well, we're The Band."
They said, "That's not a name."
And we said, "Right."
I thought of a band as like a little workshop. This guy fixes the furniture, this guy takes care of the glass, this one does the plumbing. Everyone has his own little job. That's the biggest reason why I chose not to sing. I was into being the director. I enjoyed saying, "You know, why don't you try singing this in here. When we get to this section, you go up. Then we'll sing the melody, and the characters will change, and you over here come on in and sing the second line." That became a part of the style of the group -- voice interchanging.
I enjoyed being the director, but I wasn't the captain of the ship. Everybody did his part, and that is what made a a true band. We were a unit. John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival were not a true band. It was really John Fogerty and some backup guys. The Band was a true band.
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