Fifty years ago this summer, one of the greatest debut albums in rock history was released. Though when The Band put out 1968’s Music From Big Pink, they weren’t exactly unknown. Two years prior, they had backed Bob Dylan on his first “electric” tour, supporting the iconic singer-songwriter as he faced hostile audiences all around the world. When the tour ended and Dylan retreated to upstate New York, the members of The Band joined him, setting up camp at a large house they dubbed “Big Pink,” because of the faded red siding.
What happened at that house has since become rock legend — Dylan and the Band collaborated on The Basement Tapes, a trove of home recordings that included future classics like “I Shall Be Released,” “Tears Of Rage,” and “This Wheel’s On Fire.” The Band also started working on the songs that would appear on their first record, like “The Weight,” which was written by guitarist Robbie Robertson.
In order to delve deep into the album’s creation, and celebrate the music that was created — which will be reissued Aug. 31 as part of a special anniversary edition — I figured the best person to speak with was Robertson, who fortunately agreed to share some of his favorite stories from that period. We discussed the brilliance of The Band’s troubled piano player Richard Manuel, the identity of the real-life “Fanny” from “The Weight,” how the Band evolved from a loud, bluesy bar band to a pastoral folk-rock outfit, and the way that the band members perfected their unique vocal blend, which Robertson’s likens to “passing the ball around.”