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SoundTRAX: The Band's "The Last Waltz"

The poster for The Band's "The Last Waltz" has the title above a silhouette of the group with their arms raised in victory.
Warner Music
United Artists

SoundTRAX is a dive into notable music from iconic films and TV shows every Monday-Thursday at 8:10.

"This film should be played loud."

That's what the title card read.

It was 45 years ago this week when The Band said goodbye as a band with what is now considered one of the greatest music documentaries of all time.

The Last Waltz film was released on April 26th of 1978, and is the personification of the adage "go big or go home."

The show itself happened on Thanksgiving Day in 1976, complete with turkey dinners and ballroom dancing for attendees, with legendary promoter Bill Graham acting as producer and manager, while acclaimed film director Martin Scorsese captured it all on film.

And joining The Band for their last hurrah? Luminaries like Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Dr. John, Eric Clapton, and more. Emmylou Harris and The Staple Singers taped additional segments on a soundstage.

Even The Band's former employers Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan were on board.

Except Dylan decided to drop a bombshell during intermission. Despite agreeing to do so, he suddenly decided he didn't want to be filmed after all.

Everyone panicked.

It seems Warner Bros. had only agreed to finance the film if Dylan was involved. So Graham was dispatched to do damage control.

The Band's Levon Helm said of the chaos:

"Man, they were all biting their nails. I think Bill really pleaded with Bob for us, for the sake of the history of it all. He was in there for a couple of minutes, but it seemed like an hour. No one could believe this. With about five minutes left, word came down that the last two songs in Bob's part of the show could be filmed, and only the last two. Bill Graham saved their asses that night."

Crisis averted. And the rest is history.

So in honor of the film's 45th anniversary this week, today's SoundTRAX selection is "Up On Cripple Creek" from The Last Waltz.

Mel is the WFPK morning host. Email Mel at mfisher@lpm.org.

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