The Band Photographs 1968-1969

Doug Collette By

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The Band Photographs 1968-1969
Elliott Landy
160 Pages
ISBN: # 149502251X
Backbeat Books

As much as the Band disavowed imagemaking, preferring to focus as strictly as possible on their music when they emerged from the shadows Bob Dylan's backing ensemble, when embarked upon their own career, they definitely nurtured a distinctive collective persona and the photography of Elliott Landy, in the midst of an illustrious career that found him capturing the essence of a range of rock and roll personalities including Hendrix Joplin and Van Morrison, was absolutely essential to that process.

But the image of the Band was nothing if not an understated one, so the appearance of The Band Photographs is more than welcome as it offers credit where credit is due to the man who, for all intents and purposes, became the 'official' photographer of this iconic group, achieving that status, as indicated in the subtitle, within the relatively short time span of two years. The generally chronological arrangement of the chapters accentuates a dream-like quality to which the various essays allude, the combination of which only adds resonance for those who experienced first-hand the earliest phases of the Band's career: the sense of dislocation was much the same even then.

It's important to note, however, that the approach Landy takes places these musicians in a reciprocal context that illuminates their place in musical history as much as their own legacy. And it might not have been apparent at the time these photos were taken, even to the Band itself (they turned out not to be quite as self-aware as they first seemed, except perhaps in comparison to peers of the day like the Doors), that the rustic surroundings in which Landy placed them evoked not just the pastoral air of Woodstock where they first coalesced as a unit, but the bucolic likes of the the Appalachian mountains (or slightly less so the Texas panhandle) where in lie the roots of their own music.

The non-original songs they played with Dylan as contained on The Basement Tapes (Legacy, 2014) like "Ol' Lazarus." as well as covers they retained within their own repertoire, such as "Ain't No More Cane On the Brazos," had as much of an ominous undertone as the comforting simplicity to which the 'back to the land' migration of the psychedelic community aspired at the time Music From Big Pink (Capitol, 1968) was released. And the aura of mystery in that music surrounded the Band as well, which makes the black and white photos here, on the cover and inside the 12x12 hardcover, look very much of a time and place beyond (not necessarily behind), the flower power era that had just passed at the time of the photo sessions.

Thus, it's no coincidence that the color photos here find the group dressed in earth colors that contrast the kaleidoscopic dress styles of that era (and the Joshua Light show in use at the Fillmore East). The Band Photographs 1968-1969 predate the latter stages of their career, including the periods of doldrums in upstate New York, the apparently riotous days of the 1974 tour with Dylan and the phase when they strove to match their early output and, arguably, did so only with Norther Lights, Southern Cross (Capitol, 1975). But Landy and editor Rachel Ana Dobken's ultra-focused concept reveals the truth behind the perceptions of the Band: they were an ensemble not just conscious of their roots, but reverent of them too, albeit just enough so to do them justice while simultaneously elevating their own artistry.

Carefully annotated in the back pages, this sumptuous array photos does further justice to the group by illustrating that, no matter how serous they were about making music, when they were away from their instruments, the stage and the studio (in whatever form it took: homely split-level or sumptuous digs in the Hollywood Hills), they were easygoing good-humored men who enjoyed each others' company and that of friends and family. Although it's never mentioned directly, even in former road manager Jonathan Taplin's essay, this book will ensure that the rancor that arose around the time of The Last Waltz (Warner Bros., 1976) and beyond, remains in its proper perspective.

Even so, the accompanying text from Landy, Taplin producer and musician John Simon, who worked on the group's two earliest landmark albums as well as Dobken, isn't sentimental as it is honestly affectionate toward the people and places documented in the book. As much as the Band stood apart from the mainstream around the time of these photos, so does this book preserve their distinct individual and collective personalities in such a vivid way, these visuals evoke the sounds they created even as they stand on their own terms. Those reciprocal effects are so strong on The Band Photographs 1968-1969, there's no higher compliment to pay the book. .
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