'The Last Waltz' made music and cinema history. The final concert by The Band, starring their famous friends, it became a Martin Scorsese film, rated the best rock movie of all. But behind the scenes, there was mayhem. Levon Helm of The Band tells the inside story.
IN 1976 The Band was "perhaps America's most respected rock group" ('New York Times'). It had gone from backing rock'n'roller Ronnie Hawkins, to backing Bob Dylan, to standing on its own as a folk-rock group which, despite being four-fifths Canadian, made a string of albums that showed a perfect grasp of the musical traditions of the Deep South. The odd man out was Levon Helm, from Arkansas, one of The Band's three singers and two drummers. He takes up the story:
SOME TIME in September 1976 we got word that Robbie Robertson and our management wanted to put it away. Robbie had had enough, and they decided to kill The Band and go out with a bang. I thought it might be a joke, but Robertson was dead serious. In fact, they had a plan. Robbie wanted us to play a farewell show in San Francisco, where it all started for us, around Thanksgiving. He wanted everyone we'd played with along the way - from Ronnie Hawkins to Bob Dylan - to perform, but without their own musicians. We would be the back-up band for our guests. They were already lining people up: Muddy Waters, Paul Butterfield, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Ringo, Eric Clapton, Allen Toussaint. It was gonna be the concert of the century, maybe the show to end the whole so-called rock era. That's what they told me, anyway.
I didn't want any part of it. I didn't want to break up The Band. And I told this to Robbie one day in October at our lawyer's office. It was one of many acrimonious meetings. Although I always got there on time, I always had the feeling the meeting had started an hour earlier.
The lids of his eyes drooped as I spoke. I think he'd been up all night producing a Neil Diamond album, and he looked burnt out. He lit a cigarette with the end of the one he'd just smoked. I'd known him - or thought I had - for 17 years, since we were both teenagers. Eight years in the bars and eight years on the arena circuit had come down to this.
He was saying he was sick of it all. He wanted to keep on recording with us, but not go on the road. "We're not learning anything, man. It's not doing anything for us, and in fact it feels dangerous to me. Look what's happening, Levon. I'm getting superstitious. Look at Dayton Stratton a friend and associate of The Band who had died in an air crash . Every time I get on the plane I'm thinking about this stuff. The whole thing just isn't healthy any more."
"I'm not in it for my health," I said. "I'm a musician, and I wanna live the way I do."
He said: "That's what I want to do. I want to live. I'm tired of the danger out there. How long before the odds run out? How long before someone dies? I am through with the road, man, and that is that. It's a done deal."
There was a silence. He lit a cigarette.
I said: "What if the rest of us want to continue as The Band?"
Robbie's face darkened. "We could stop it." By "we" he meant that big business had taken over. I knew he and our management had already approached Warner Bros about a new record deal, and Warners was real interested. Bill Graham had been contacted about the last concert, and there was even talk of documenting the show for a feature film. Robertson was saying the rest of us didn't have any choice.
"The fuck you could stop it," I said. "I know big business is running this thing now, but if you think you have control over my life, I'll meet you back here in the morning with my lawyer and we'll see who has control. We'll go over the goddamn contracts and see who ends up running the show, because I'll fight you tooth and nail just to feel better about it. I'll show you, you son of a bitch!"
"Aw, Levon, come on - "
"No, man, you come on. I don't completely understand what your motives are to destroy this group, but I do know it's a crying shame to take this band from productivity to retirement because you're superstitious, or for the sake of a final payday. I know you got all our lawyers and accountants and whatever on your side but this whole thing is dead wrong."
He didn't say anything. I walked out.
I didn't really know what to do. I thought of fighting it, but then I called Jim Gallman, my lawyer in Arkansas, and told him the story. He told me, in short: "You can't fight 'em and win anything, so my advice is, do whatever the contract says, even if it makes you puke. Do it, puke, and get out of the way."
So I went back to Woodstock and waited to see what would happen. I talked to the other guys in the group. Some of us figured that The Band could go on as a recording unit, and use that as an umbrella to do our own things. We rationalised that this last big show would give us a running start to the next phase in our lives.
Eventually I got to the point of saying, OK, I'll put my own band together and see what happens. I was the still the least in favour of "The Last Waltz", as Robertson was calling this final show of ours. I was the one who wasn't tired of travelling and sleeping late in good hotel suites and eating in fine restaurants and playing for people, but I didn't want to put myself in any intractable position. I could even understand wanting to stay home with your family and work on movie music, but I didn't want to be that guy.
So "The Last Waltz" got set up with very limited input from me. I wish we could have put out 50 albums, and reached out to 10 times more people than we already had. But I also resolved not to have too many regrets and not to put up with too much horseshit concerning "The Last Waltz". I went along with it like a good soldier, but for the record, I didn't get a lot of joy from seeing The Band fold itself up.
Nor, so we heard, did a lot of people when they were approached to play. Bob Dylan said it made him real sad. Neil Young said he wasn't ready to hear this bit of news. Bill Graham was shocked as well but saw the dramatic possibilities. He offered the Winterland Ballroom, site of our first show as The Band, on Thanksgiving night, complete with a full turkey dinner with all the fixin's, dancing to an orchestra, followed by our show. In other words, one of Bill Graham's patented extravaganzas, at 25 bucks a ticket. We took the date.
On 18 October details were released to the press. Next day the Los Angeles Times reported: "After 16 years on the road, The Band - which has put together the most distinguished body of work of any rock group of the last decade - is apparently calling it quits. At least for touring purposes." The New York Times quoted Robbie saying that The Band would not tour "ever again" after Thanksgiving, but would continue to make records: " 'The Band will never break up,' he said. 'It's too late now."'
This was also what Robbie and our management boys said when they went in and tried to con Mo Ostin the boss at Warner Bros. They told Mo we weren't retiring, just quitting the road. Gonna continue recording, developing new product until the cows come home.
Warners was assured that we would deliver our last album to Capitol by the end of 1976 and be free agents, ready to sign another deal. The record and movie rights to our Thanksgiving show were also part of the negotiations.
The way it ended up, Warner Bros put us on retainer instead of under contract. They paid the group $ 2,000 a week each for the next 28 months, and in return got the album and movie rights to what became The Last Waltz.
JIMMY CARTER had been kind enough to receive us in the Georgia governor's mansion when we passed through Atlanta back on the 1974 Dylan tour, and now he was running for president against Gerald Ford. We'd been getting calls asking us to help, so we released a single of "Georgia on My Mind" in Mr Carter's honour. Richard Manuel sang it with the soul factor turned pretty high. On 30 October, 1976, we played "Georgia" on Saturday Night Live, and a few days later Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States.
When they first told me about making a movie out of "The Last Waltz", I was against the idea. I figured that with all the guest artists coming in, we already had to learn more than 20 new songs - chord changes and dynamics - that we'd never played in our lives, and new artists were being added to the show all the time. In fact, no one turned us down. They just said "Where and when?". Musicians got their expenses, but no fees. Bill Graham was in for 10 per cent to take care of his expenses, but he always maintained he went about $ 50,000 in the hole for "The Last Waltz". Dr John came in, then Joni Mitchell was added - we'd known her in Toronto. When I heard that Neil Diamond was going to play, I asked: "What the hell does Neil Diamond have to do with us?"
Robbie just produced his album, I was told.
"But what does he represent to The Band?"
Robbie called me at the Miramar. "Neil is like Tin Pan Alley," he said. "That Fifties, Brill Building scene, songwriters like Doc Pomus.
"Why don't we just get Doc Pomus?"
He said that he and Neil had written a couple of songs together, and maybe they could do one of 'em in the show.
I was glad I insisted on Muddy Waters.
Anyway, that was another one we had to learn. I know this put me under a lot of pressure. I asked Robertson how many chances we'd get on each song.
"We're filming the show live," he answered. "One take each song."
And so the film was more or less shoved down our throats too, and we went along with it. Do it, puke, and get out.
MARTIN SCORSESE was part of the movie crew at the Woodstock festival and had edited the three-screen movie Woodstock. Later he made his mark with Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, personal, small-scale films that put him at the top of most people's favourite-director lists. The producer of both was Jon Taplin, our former road manager. Robbie thought nervous, fast-talking Marty was his ticket into Hollywood and asked him to film The Last Waltz.
"Van Morrison?" Scorsese said. "Are you shitting me? I've got to do this!" This was in early October, six weeks before the show.
Scorsese had just finished shooting New York, New York, a big-budget big-band picture with Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro. Scorsese's crew had been working with a proscenium stage like the one planned for Winterland, but on a soundstage. Many Hollywood production legends, including cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs, were still available. Almost overnight, Scorsese and Robertson produced a 150-page shooting script so detailed that lighting cues were matched to chord changes.
They went to Mo Ostin and asked him to pay for it, and he said Warners would put up the money if Bob Dylan was in the movie. So Bob was approached about this, and they told us that Bob didn't really want to be in the movie because he was working on his own movie, Renaldo and Clara, shot during the Rolling Thunder Revue tour. So we explained the situation, and I think Bob said he would think about it. They went ahead and told Warners that Bob was in on the whole deal. That's how we got Mo Ostin to loan us $ 1.5m for the film, even though we weren't on his label.
Bill Graham wasn't into the movie either. He saw The Last Waltz as a historic live event, The Band bonding in farewell with the audience that had greeted us on our debut seven years before. He was more concerned with the logistics of feeding the 5,400 customers, and didn't want big movie cameras and booms blocking their view. There was a lot of reassuring before Bill went for the whole film idea.
John Simon music director of the show will give you an idea of the atmosphere surrounding the group. "In the old days working with The Band," he says, "there was nothing on paper, no clearcut deal. I was usually so high that I didn't much notice or even care. If you were broke, you called Albert Grossman the manager , and he'd give you money.
"Over the years, I noticed that I didn't get any royalties for the two Band albums I produced. In early 1976 I asked Albert, and he sent me to Robbie. Robbie referred me to their accountant, who said he would check and get back to me. No royalties were due, he claimed.
"That autumn Robbie called about 'The Last Waltz'. He said: 'We want you to be the music director. You're the man to do it.' I said: 'Sure, I'd love to do it. And while we're at it, would you ask the accountant one more time if you owe me any money?' A couple of weeks later, a cheque arrives for $ 62,000. Then Robbie called with some cockamamie story asking if, just for bookkeeping purposes, we could make this the last cheque for the two albums. Besides, he assured me, the Last Waltz album would be so huge, there wouldn't be any more financial problems. Being the credulous type, I signed away all future royalties from the first two Band albums - and of course never saw a penny from The Last Waltz. I don't think many people have, because Warners eventually charged the cost of the film against the album. A lot of people got conned, and you let yourself be conned because they were so attractive.
"I flew out there, and we had rehearsals at Shangri-La, which was a fun place to hang out. It had a bar-lounge, a good pool table, and the master suite had been turned into a recording studio. No one but Garth Hudson read music, so I had to arrange and work with The Band to learn the songs. Everything was complicated. Bob Dylan was expected to show up at any minute to rehearse, but never actually made it.
"Joni Mitchell came to rehearsals and couldn't name the weird tunings her songs were written in, so Garth had to figure out the chords. Ronnie Hawkins was living there, attending the rehearsals and getting to know the big English musicians who liked to hang around the bar at Shangri-La: Eric Clapton, Ringo, Ron Wood. Hawk was like a cheerleader. 'All these big-time English guys,' he told me, 'I've never seen this. This is it, baby!"'
I THINK we got to San Francisco about a week before Thanksgiving and moved into the Miyako Hotel, which had a pretty good sushi bar.
Down the street at Winterland, nine big movie cameras were pointed at the stage. Scorsese was so hyper, I couldn't understand what he was saying most of the time. Bill was worried about the customers, Marty about his film, and it got adversarial. People were crying about money all the time. They had long rows of tables ready for the banquet. I said: "Let's get some nice amber lamps on those tables, so it'll look elegant and muted," and they said: "Are you kidding? There's no budget for that!"
Famous set designer Boris Leven raided the storage room of the Opera Company of San Francisco for props from La Traviata: columns, chandeliers, crimson wall hangings. That was the "set" of The Last Waltz. Scorsese said it looked like a crazed Visconti movie.
We were having trouble flying in Muddy Waters's guitar player because he wasn't in the original budget. There were a lot of fights, a lot of screaming. When Bill Graham let go, boy, the old spit would fly.
Cocaine was a big deal at the time. Bill had painted one of the dressing rooms white, walls and ceiling, and put a thick white rug on the floor. The only thing in the room was a sleek glass table with razor blades artfully strewn about. They had cut the noses out of Groucho Marx masks and pasted them up on the white walls. Hundreds of big pink noses and nostrils. A tape played sniffing noises. This was the "Cocteau Room", and it was often filled with people tapping the razors on the table.
Two days before the show, our studio manager tried to talk to me. "Levon," he said, "we've invited too many people. The show's gonna run for hours! We, uh, we gotta take someone off the show."
I snarled: "Go tell Robertson to tell Neil Diamond we don't even know who the fuck he is!"
Some of my Arkansas friends were in the room and laughed at this, but I wasn't laughing. I knew what was coming.
This flunky said: "Um, we've all discussed it, and we're thinking about, ah, maybe, you know, taking Muddy off the show."
I just looked at him.
"Anyway, we were hoping maybe you could talk to Muddy for us."
There was silence for an awful 30 seconds. I was trying to get a grip before I answered. We were all under tremendous pressure because of this movie. The whole damn thing had been hijacked to the nth degree.
I had to clear my throat before I could speak. "Not only will I talk to Muddy," I managed, "but I will also take Muddy back to New York, and we will do the goddamn Last Waltz in New York. Him and me. Yes, I'll talk to Muddy, you no-good, low-grade sumbitch! Now get the hell out of my sight, before I have some of these here Arkansas boys stomp you to death!" He disappeared before I could do any more damage. Muddy stayed in the show.
EACH OF our guests had different sound requirements, so our dress rehearsal went on for 12 hours. Stage positions were blocked out for the cameras and the artists ran through their songs while the hall filled up with friends and the press who'd come from all over America and Europe to cover the event. Nine 35mm cameras were positioned and repositioned, and the light guys worked on their cues, but nothing was filmed. Not enough in the budget to film the dress rehearsal, I was told.
A big mistake.
Bob Dylan rehearsed by himself behind locked doors in the Miyako's basement piano lounge, the Osaka Room, keeping his own counsel. We went over and played a few things with him, and not a word was exchanged about the possibility of his being in our film. His people said Bob was still thinking about it.
The lines circled the block well before Winterland opened its doors around six on Thanksgiving. People had dressed up for the occasion, everyone was on their best behaviour. Bill Graham's Thanksgiving feast had been prepared from 220 turkeys, 500lb of cranberry sauce, 90 gallons of brown gravy, a ton of candied yams, 800lb of mincemeat, 6,000 rolls, and 400 gallons of cider.
Everyone got a good meal, and I heard you could go back to the buffet table until you were full. If you didn't eat meat, there was 400lb of fresh salmon from the Alaska fish company owned by Lou Kemp, a Minnesota boyhood friend of Bob Dylan's. He had organised the Rolling Thunder Revue and was looking after Bob during "The Last Waltz".
As people finished, they could get up and dance to a 38-piece orchestra, encouraged by three teams of professional ballroom dancers. While they were on the floor Graham's staff bussed the tables and made them disappear.
A little yellow badge got you backstage. People told us they couldn't believe this was the last time they'd be hearing our songs, so the atmosphere was actually a bit subdued. Muddy Waters waited like an African statue with his piano player, Pinetop Perkins. Van Morrison and Ringo laughed with Richard Manuel. Joni Mitchell was beautiful in her simple leotard top with a silver thunderbird at her throat. I looked around for a camera: why wasn't anybody there with a hand-held camera to get this? But all the cameras were pointed at the stage.
The show began around nine. We played a full show, beginning with "Up on Cripple Creek" and going through "The Shape I'm In", "It Makes No Difference" (with Garth soloing on that curved soprano), "Life is a Carnival", "This Wheel's on Fire". Then the crack horn section stepped up, and we played "Georgia on My Mind", "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (maybe the best live performance of it we ever gave), "Stage Fright", "Rag Mama Rag", and others.
When the applause died down, someone yelled out " 'Freebird'!" and everyone laughed.
There was no break. We'd been onstage for almost two hours, and the guest set had to happen right away. So we brought out Ronnie Hawkins first, as a tribute to our original chief and mentor. The Hawk was in a snap-brim straw cowboy hat, a black suit over a "Hawk" T-shirt, cowboy boots that made him seven feet tall, and was totally in charge. He prowled and growled and the camera loved it.
Next came Dr John (Mac Rebennack): shades, beret, gold shoes, sequined jacket, the image of a Crescent City hipster, smoking a cigarette. He dedicated "Such a Night" to all the fellas. I loved Mac and appreciated the irony of the lyrics, because he took up with Libby Helm's ex-wife after "The Last Waltz", and the two of them were an item for a long time.
We continued our tribute to Louisiana with Bobby Charles, who did "Down South in New Orleans" with us, because this was the music we all loved the best. Then Paul Butterfield came out for "Mystery Train" and played the harp beautifully under the harsh white spotlight. He and I traded verses, and for me it was a special moment. Then it was Muddy's turn. He came out with Pinetop and Bob Margolin, and Butterfield stayed on. We did "Caledonia", and 61- year-old Muddy was a little shaky at first. I think this annoyed him, because he tore into "Mannish Boy" like an old bull who had something to prove. Butterfield, who'd been studying breathing techniques, held one sheer harp note for five minutes as Muddy gestured and danced. The whole place woke up to the power of Muddy's performance.
I was trying not to be too conscious of the cameras, but I noticed that they didn't seem to be shooting Muddy. Later we realised that because of some fuck-up, all but one camera had been turned off. We almost missed his entire segment. As he was walking offstage, I stood up to applaud, and Muddy grabbed my head in his big hands and kissed my forehead. What a feeling! But the director hadn't bothered to walk Muddy on and offstage, so there was no film of this.
Then Eric Clapton came out and did "All Our Past Times" and "Further on up the Road". Neil Young did "Helpless" and "Four Strong Winds". Joni Mitchell sang three songs from her two most recent albums. Finally, an extremely nervous Neil Diamond did "Dry Your Eyes", which he'd written with Robbie.
IT WAS after midnight, and the crowd was subdued. The momentum of the show had been lost halfway through Joni's set. Richard Manuel began to sing "Tura Lura Lura", the Irish lullaby. Van Morrison (in a maroon suit) made his entrance amid much cheering - it was his first time onstage in two years - and The Last Waltz suddenly revived with a spectacular version of "Caravan". Van burned through his great song - "Turn it up! Little bit louder! Radio!" - complete with kicksteps across the stage at the end. Van turned the whole thing around, God bless him for being the showman that he is.
We were pretty much wrung out, but we did "Acadian Driftwood" as the last tune before intermission, with Joni and Neil Young singing along in a gesture of Canadian solidarity. We'd been on for more than three hours by then, and my hands were bleeding. We were all half past dead.
It was a madhouse backstage. Jerry Brown, governor of California, wanted to shake hands with us. We had to rehearse a new song called "Evangeline" that Robbie had written only the night before. In fact, it was still unfinished, and Robertson and John Simon were huddled in a corner, trying to figure out an arrangement we could play without rehearsal. As this was going on, the San Francisco poets were declaiming their work onstage. The audience was grateful for the break and gave each poet loud applause that reverberated into our dressing rooms. Meanwhile, all our management had vanished, and someone was telling us there weren't enough limos to get Muddy, Pinetop, and Bob Margolin to the airport to make their flight to Chicago. I grabbed my friend Don Tyson, explained the situation, and Don put Muddy and company in his own limo so those fuckers that worked for us wouldn't try anything stupid, like telling Muddy Waters he had to wait.
Bob Dylan had come in with his people during the first part of the show and retreated to a dressing room off-limits to everyone else. Halfway through the intermission, about 15 minutes before we were due back onstage with Bob, he decided he didn't want to be in the film.
I wasn't that surprised. Howard Alk a film editor and Dylan sidekick had been saying all week it wouldn't work because Bob didn't want to compete with himself by having The Last Waltz and Renaldo and Clara go head to head. But there was never a decision made until the last minute. This was it, the last minute. Bob's lawyer came out of Bob's dressing room with an awful look on his face. Robbie was pale. They said: "Bob doesn't want to be in the movie."
Scorsese went nuts. Without Bob there would be no movie. More than a million dollars were probably down the drain. Scorsese demanded to know why Bob wouldn't be filmed.
Robertson said that Bob just wasn't into it. He felt there was already too much film of him in his present state. There were 10 minutes to go. Albert Grossman was there but couldn't influence Bob; Bob didn't want to be influenced.
So they asked Bill Graham to intercede. He went in and came out shaking his head. Bob, Bill said, claimed he didn't even know anything about being in our movie. Never heard of it. Bob didn't want to be filmed.
They sent Bill back in to explain to Bob how dire the situation was. I think Bill really pleaded with Bob for us, for the sake of the history of it all. He got Bob to the point where any film that might be shot would be scrutinised by Bob before being considered for use. No one could believe this. With about five minutes left, word came down that Bob's last two songs could be filmed, and only the last two.
Bill Graham saved their asses that night.
Garth started the second half with his stately intro to "Chest Fever". Then we managed to play "Evangeline" in a sort of country two- step, reading the lyrics off cue-cards held behind the cameras, but the lack of rehearsal told the story. We finished with "The Weight" - our song - Garth Hudson shining on piano, and the whole house singing along.
At that point Bob Dylan walked out in a big white hat that seemed to glow under the spotlight. Black leather jacket, polka-dot shirt. He plugged right in, said hello, and stormed into "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down". I looked out from behind the drums. The cameras were off. Technicians climbed down from the booms, and the sound people took off their headphones. Dylan's people were stationed in the wings to make sure there was no filming. I hoped that our boys taping the show in the mobile truck parked outside the hall were rolling, but to tell you the truth, I just didn't care that much. Bob knew what he was doing, and it wasn't much skin off my nose. Dylan's people were stationed at the side of the stage to make sure there was no filming.
Bob's guitar was turned way up, so I just took it fast. Things certainly got lively. Bob shouted out the lyrics, feinted back from the mike like he used to when we played this in 1965, and danced around the stage a little. In the audience: pandemonium. I mean, people were excited to have Bob there.
To cool it down, he cut right into "Hazel", from Planet Waves. Then farther back in time with "I Don't Believe You", also from Dylan and the Hawks. Mmm, good performance. Bob was hot and unusually commanding. I looked over at those cameras; they were still cold.
Two more numbers left. The technicians scrambled for their head sets, the cameras swung around, the lights went on, and it was movie time again. We did "Forever Young", and when Bob finished he then Bob swung back into "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down". Surprised, We played along, figuring that Bob realizsed we were missing something good by not having any of the old rock'n'roll on film. At the side of the stage Bill Graham shouted down Bob's people, who were trying to get the cameras turned off so the big finale couldinsn'tend - tdl be filmed with Bob in it. So they had this fight during the reprise. , and You could hear Bill yelling: "Fuck you! Roll the fucking cameras! Roll 'em!!!" Meanwhile, Bob's smiling and we are too, so we just kept it up and hoped for the best.
Everyone came out for the finale, "I Shall Be Released". Ringo Starr sat down at Richard's drum kit, and Ron Wood plugged in as well. The night was pretty much over for Richard by then, and the damn cameras couldn't even find him during the verses as he sang. When he missed a cue, Bob jumped in and sang the verse. All our guests sang back-up, and it was a nice moment. Bill Graham tried to get the governor out on stage, but Jerry wanted to stay stayed in the wings with actress/ and singer Ronee Blakely, so Bill threw my towel at him.
It hadn't really hit me that when the song was over, so was The Band.
The stage cleared of our guests,. Ringo Starr and I sat there for a second, looking at each other. The Last Waltz was over. Relieved, I figured it was time to play a little music, so me and Ringo started up.
Dr John came out, then Stephen Stills and Carl Radle, Eric Clapton's bassist, then Neil Young, Garth, and Rick Danko. Bill Graham dragged Clapton out and strapped him into his guitar for the jam, and Ronnie Wood ins Several of the others end came out, and we jammed for maybe 30 minutes, judging by the tapes. Finally The Band came back on, and we did our last a song ins together end, "Don't Do It". When it was over, so was The Band.
We were all spent. "Thank you," Richard told the crowd. "Goodnight." And then, " Goodbye." I looked at the clock. It was two o'clock in the morning. 2am. All The cameramen were slapping one another on the back. Some People were crying at the demise of The Band and placing bouquets on the stage. I got up, stretched, lit a cigarette, shook some hands, and left the stage. In the dressing room was an envelope with a couple of thousand dollars in it. Bill Graham had given a bonus to each member of The Band, just because he was so happy The Last Waltz was over and had gone down well.
IT WAS one of those nights, and NO ONE wanted to let go of it. By 3am our guests were just finishing the turkey dinner we'd laid on at the Miyako hotel, and the Osaka Room turned into a party. Dr John and Paul Butterfield were jamming with Steve Stills. I visited with actor Brad Dourif, a neighbour from Woodstock, who'd just had a big success in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The Arkansawyers were whooping it up while Don Tyson handed out Razorback T-shirts to one and all. Bob Dylan was sitting with some friends, from Minnesota, telling reporters that he was already nostalgic for The Band. "After all," Bob said, "I've been with those guys a long time." John Simon came and sat down, and I asked him how he thought the recording had gone. John He mentioned that said Bob Dylan's lawyer had gone into the truck immediately after the show and seized the tapes Bob was on, so there would have to be negotiations. I thought that was pretty funny.
I wasn't destined to be part of the fun and games. I left the party around four and went back to the hotel.my suite. Amy and Ezra his children were in San Francisco with me and were sound asleep. in my suite. I woke the babysitter and told her she could go. As the sun rose over San Francisco, I thought about the whole story of The Band. The original idea, as I recalled it, had been for us to use Bearsville Studios as a sheltered environment for making American music, using all the traditions we'd learned over the years. That dream had died amid the old divide-and-conquer mentality. My only hope was that it wasn't too late to live that dream and somehow keep the people who loved The Band on our side. Even then Henry Glover was helping me put something together. We were going to try to make my own dream of having my barn replace Bearsville come true.
When the kids woke up, I took them over to FAO Schwarz and said, pick any toy in the place. That's how we celebrated the end of The Last Waltz. A few days later I caught a plane to New York.
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