Around these parts, stories about The Band abound. They’re part of the legacy of Woodstock as a magical music haven and most of the natives know them by heart: Big Pink, The Basement Tapes, the car wrecks, mysterious recluses suddenly on the cover of Time magazine, the tours with Dylan, the birth of what is now called Americana in pop music, The Last Waltz…
Less well known in general circles, is what happened after that. Oh sure, in general terms people know about the drugs, the Levon-Robbie Robertson feuds, the cataclysmic suicide of Richard Manuel…
But the story of some lost years and the struggle of musicians who were once at the top to regain relevance is honestly told in a new book by Joe Forno Jr., who managed The Band from 1986 to 1994.
The book is entitled Levon’s Man: Woodstock, the Death of Richard Manuel and My Decade Managing The Band, and Forno will read from it and talk about those years and more from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, December 12 at Colony Woodstock, 22 Rock City Road.
“Some of the reviews of my book say it fills in the gap in what they call the post-Robbie Robertson period of The Band’s existence,” says Forno, who points to the music they turned out in that time. “They did some good work. I’m sort of biased about the Jericho CD. I think there’s stuff on there that’s as good as anything they ever did, when you listen to ‘Blind Willie McTell’ and ‘Too Soon Gone,’ ‘Atlantic City,’ some of those songs are pretty good.”
Forno starts the book, though, with some fine old fashioned Woodstock history. His mom was a Shultis, the venerable Woodstock family, who grew up in Wittenberg in the 1920s, and he shares her memories of the small Catskill town. He takes us through the years into the 1940s, 50s and 1960s, when his father Joe Sr. ran the Colonial Pharmacy in town. Later he became a pharmacist himself.
He weaves the town’s history into the narrative of The Band’s early years in Woodstock.
The hard times came in the years after The Last Waltz, in 1976, when Robbie Robertson left the group. Meant to be the demise of The Band, drummer Levon Helm, bassist Rick Danko, pianist Richard Manuel and keyboard and saxophone genius Garth Hudson reconstituted the group in the early 1980s and struggled to find a footing in the disco and punk eras.
In 1986 Manuel committed suicide after a dismal gig in Florida.
“That takes up a big piece of emotional space in the book,” says Forno, who had been working for The Band for some time, and whose handling of the arrangements regarding Manuel’s funeral won him the confidence of the members to become the manager. They decided to go on.
Three new albums followed, along with some prestigious gigs. But Forno’s tenure as manager was tumultuous and wearing and he left the job after Woodstock ’94.
“Yeah, The Band had a second life, as Garth said, speaking at the Rock and Roll Hall induction,” he says. “That was really my job, getting them through that period. When it came up, they were just happy I stepped up.”
Forno steps up again with this book, telling the missing story of The Band and contributing an important chapter in the musical history of both Woodstock and American music.
Editor’s note: Disclosure — Brian Hollander will be moderating the event Sunday.
Joe Forno Jr. will read from, answer questions about and sign copies of his book Levon’s Man: Woodstock, the Death of Richard Manuel and My Decade Managing The Band, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, December 12 at Colony Woodstock, 22 Rock City Road, Woodstock. The event is sponsored by The Golden Notebook in Woodstock and is free to the public. For more information, see goldennotebook.com or call 845-679-8000.