McCartney Times



May 02
14:19 2017


A review by: Bill Harry

A 1978 United Artists film, 117 minutes in length, directed by Michael Scorsese and produced by Robbie Robertson.

The Band comprised Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson.

They’d originally begun their career in Canada as the Hawks, a backing band for Ronnie Hawkins. In 1965 they became the electric backing band for Bob Dylan and in 1967 they embarked on a solo career.

The Last Waltz is a documentary of their farewell concert which took place at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on 25 November Thanksgiving Day 1976.

The audience of 5,000 were able to see and listen to a remarkable line-up of guest performers. The numbers performed by the Band were: Chest Fever, Don’t Do It, Genetic Method, It Makes No Difference, Theme From the Last Waltz, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Ophelia, Old Time Religion, Shape I’m In and Stage Fright.

Numbers on the Warner Bros soundtrack performed by the guest artists were: Further On Up The Road, Eric Clapton; Sip the Wine, Rick Danko; Dry Your Eyes, Neil Diamond; Such A Night, Dr John; Baby Let Me Follow You Down, Forever Young, Bob Dylan; Evangeline, Emmylou Harris; Who Do You Love? Ronnie Hawkins; Coyote, Joni Mitchell; Caravan, Van Morrison; Mannish Boy, Muddy Waters; Helpless, Neil Young; I Shall Be Replaced, all.

The concert lasted for four hours and the musicians appearing were: Joe Willie ‘Pinetop’ Perkins, keyboards’ Staple Singers, vocals; Paul Butterfield, harmonica/vocals; Bobby Charles, vocals; Eric Clapton, guitar/vocals; Richard Cooper, horns; Neil Diamond, vocals/guitar; Mac ‘Dr John’ Rebennack, keyboards/percussion; Bob Dylan, vocals/guitar; James Gordon, horns; Emmylou Harris, vocals/guitar; Ronnie Hawkins, vocals; Jerry Hey, horns; Howard Johnson, horns; Charlie Keagle, horns; Tom Malone, horns; Bob Margolin, guitars; Joni Mitchell, vocals/guitars; Larry Packer, violin; John Simon, keyboards/horns; Dennis St. John, drums; Ringo Starr, drums; Muddy Waters, guitar/vocals; Ron wood, guitar; Neil Young, vocals/guitar’ Wayne Neuendorf, engineer.

Dylan agreed to appear but his management stipulated that he couldn’t be filmed as his own documentary ‘Renaldo & Clara’ was due to be issued imminently. Five minutes before he was due to go on stage, Dylan said that he would allow himself to be filmed performing two numbers. Filming began with his fourth number with the Band, ‘Forever Young’. He then followed with a reprise of ‘Baby Let Me Follow You Down’ which he had already performed. The cameras continued filming when he led an all star cast on ‘I Shall Be Released’ and some of Dylan’s entourage attempted to prevent the cameras filming, but were stopped in a brief struggle with Winterland owner Bill Graham.

Robbie Robertson, discussing Dylan’s appearance, was to comment, “He looked amazing in the film, almost like a Christ figure: A Christ in a white hat. I mean, what more can you ask for?”

A review in the Village Voice read: “While ostensibly about the Band, Scorsese’s editing makes no bones about how much a Dylan event it became, everything else disappears behind his presence. Scorsese does nothing to hide or minimise this effect.”

The Chicago Tribune commented, ‘The Last Waltz is the greatest rock concert movie ever made – and maybe the best rock movie, period.”

In an interview with Scorsese, Robertson comments, “That’s what ‘The Last Waltz’ is: 16 years on the road. The numbers start to scare you. I mean, I couldn’t live with 20 years on the road. I don’t think I could even discuss it.”

The triple soundtrack album was originally issued on 16 April 1978 and includes songs not featured in the film, including ‘Down South In New Orleans’ with Bobby Charles and Dr John and ‘Tura Lura’ by Van Morrison. In 2002 United Artists, MGM Entertainment and Rhino Records issued a special re-mastered DVD which featured performances from the concert which hadn’t appeared on the original film or album. The same year Rhino Records/Warner Bros Records issued a DeLuxe four CD box set.

Levon Helm, who is currently active with his Levon Helm Band, was critical of ‘The Last Waltz’, saying that too much emphasis was given to Robbie Robertson and that Robertson’s microphone was turned off for most of the concert and that his vocals were overdubbed later. He also alleged that so much time was devoted to featuring Robertson that the rest of the band looked like his sidemen and Manuel was hardly to be seen.

Richard Manuel committed suicide by hanging himself in Florida on 4 March 1986.

Rick Danko died in his sleep on 10 December 1999, due to heart failure.

The emphasis on Robbie Robertson in ‘The Last Waltz’ could have resulted because of his close friendship with director Martin Scorsese. Robertson and Scorsese lived together during the editing of ‘The Last Waltz’ and Robertson went on to compose the music for a number of Scorsese’s films, including ‘Raging Bull’, ‘The King of Comedy’, ‘The Color Of Money’ and ‘Casino.’ He was also executive music director of ‘Gangs Of New York.’

Written by: Bill Harry ©2017. All rights reserved. No unauthorised copying or re-publishing of this material is allowed by law. Please contact the writer for re-print permission.
(Contributor, McCartney Times)

About Author

Martin Nethercutt

Martin Nethercutt

Martin A Nethercutt is a writer, singer, producer and loves music. Creative Director at McCartney Studios Editor-in-Chief at McCartney Times Creator-in-Chief at Geist Musik President (title) at McCartney Multimedia, Inc. Went to Albert-Schweitzer-Schule Kassel Lives in Playa del Rey From Kassel, Germany Married to Ruth McCartney

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