Early musical collaborator Glen Silverthorn remembers the moment Rick Danko began his journey toward membership in the Band, though his friend eventually had to make the switch from guitar to bass.
Silverthorn, a drummer, worked occasionally with a then-teenaged Danko in a Canadian amalgam called the Starlights beginning in 1959. Later, Silverthorn and Danko served as a local fill-in group for Ronnie Hawkins — the rockabilly performer who helped bring the future members of the Band together.
Silverthorn tells Ian Bell, curator of the Port Dover Harbour Museum, that he’d first seen Hawkins during a multi-group show in Simcoe that also included Conway Twitty: “Rick dragged me down there. He says, ‘I want to front that band, and I think we can do it.'”
They kept at it, with the Band’s legendary bass player appearing instead on lead guitar, and eventually Danko’s prediction came true: “When Ronnie finally hired him, this was a memorable Sunday night,” Silverthorn tells Bell in the video below. “Ronnie and Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson came out and watched us play. I thought, ‘When does Ronnie Hawkins come out and stand with the crowd? Something’s happening tonight.’ At one of the breaks, they called Rick out and he said to his brother Junior Danko, who also played in our band: ‘They’ve invited me to go back to Grand Bend with them tonight.'”
Rebel Payne had been serving as bassist in this edition of the Hawkins band, but Silverthorn said Payne’s wife was urging him to return home from the road. “He ended up going back to Buffalo, so Ronnie needed a bass player,” Silverthorn says. “He had always played guitar. He asked me, ‘What do you think I should I do?’ I said, ‘You never know where it could go. It might be a big career for you.’ Well, and you see what happened.”
Danko initially played rhythm guitar for the Hawks, before switching to bass. By the mid-1960s, the Band had begun collaborating with Bob Dylan; their debut album appeared in 1968. A memorable reunion with Hawkins followed as part of 1976’s The Last Waltz.
Danko and the Band were inducted into Canada’s Juno Awards Hall of Fame in 1989, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. When Danko passed in 1999, the Band was no more.