Levon & The Hawks
The Stones I Throw (Will Free All Men)
Release Date: September 28th, 1965
Words by: Jeff Schwachter
February 28th, 2017
From June to mid-August 1965, (thanks to a tip from friend, Conway Twitty), Levon & the Hawks had a summer-long gig on the New Jersey Shore. The joint, Tony Mart's, was about 15 minutes outside of Atlantic City in the bay-side town of Somers Point and it was one of the hottest night spots on the Jersey Shore at the time. The quintet, (Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson), performed three shows, seven days a week during their residency.Bob Dylan would contact the club in August, just weeks after famously “going electric” at the Newport Folk Festival...
In their spare time, the boys, still years away from becoming the Band, were preparing for a change. Perhaps not as big a change as what they had coming, though. Bob Dylan would contact the club in August, just weeks after famously “going electric” at the Newport Folk Festival on July 25th, to inquire about recruiting the Hawks as his backing band. Dylan called the club on the corner of Bay Avenue, (which would shut its doors in 1982 following the filming of the movie Eddie & The Cruisers), wondering if Levon and Robbie would be interested in joining him for his first electric shows post-Newport ’65. The initial concerts would be held at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens, NYC, on August 28, 1965 and the Hollywood Bowl just days later.
Eventually, the entire unit would be poached from Tony Mart’s to become Dylan's backing band on his subsequent 1965-66 concerts and tours, ending the Hawks’ summer stint at the club.
Before Dylan called, however, while his new single “Like a Rolling Stone” was blasting out of radios across the country and his fifth studio album Bringing it All Back Home was being released, the members of the Hawks were writing and recording songs of their own.
The Hawks, aside from being one of the hottest bar bands in North America, (including their home base in the Toronto area, where they started out with Ronnie Hawkins as Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks), had recorded in the studio on several occasions. One of the earliest sessions took place during September 1961 with Rick Danko on bass, Levon Helm on drums and vocals, Robbie Robertson on guitar, Ronnie Hawkins on vocals and Jerry Penfound on saxophone.
The sessions, produced by Henry Glover at Bell Sound Studio in NYC, resulted in tracks like Jimmy Reed’s “You Know I Love You”, “Further On Up the Road” and Muddy Waters’ “Nineteen Years Old” (featuring Roy Buchanan on rhythm guitar). These tracks would appear with others from those sessions on official Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks albums, originally released on the Roulette label.
Before the Hawks changed their name to the Canadian Squires, then soon after to Levon & the Hawks after parting ways with Ronnie Hawkins, members of the band — credited as Mark Levon Helm, Eric Hudson and Jamie R. Roberston, along with jazz and R&B bassist Jimmy Lewis, a young Michael Bloomfield on piano and Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica —recorded an electric blues session with John Hammond Jr., which would become his Vanguard album So Many Roads, released at the beginning of 1965.
In the fall of 1964 and spring of 1965, the band — now including Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson, as well as Helm, Danko and Robertson — recorded in the studio on a few occasions with producers Duff Roman and Henry Glover respectively. The Roman sessions, as they became known, resulted in fine examples of early Robertson compositions such as “Bacon Fat”, “Robbie’s Blues” and “Uh Uh Uh”. In 2014, Hudson would allude to the Roman sessions in the liner notes of The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: Bob Dylan & The Band, The Basement Tapes Complete, thanking Duff Roman for recording the sessions that “helped them meet Bob Dylan”.
“The Stones I Throw”, Levon & the Hawks’ first single, was released on the Atco imprint of Atlantic Records in the fall of 1965. The song was recorded in September 1965, most likely at Empire Sound in NYC. Aside from being significant as the Hawks’ first single (and pretty much their last, until they would start working with Dylan and morph into the Band), the song is tangled up in the Dylan and Tony Mart’s connection and is an early touchstone in the history of the Dylan and the Band partnership, a collaboration that would change music forever.
In 2005, Capitol/EMI released The Band – A Musical History, equipped with five CDs and a DVD of live performances. Along with all of the Band’s hits, deep-album cuts, live performances and a slew of early recordings, the collection includes several “song sketches”. Two of the earliest song sketches on the compilation are dated from September 1965 and feature members of Levon & the Hawks recording into what sounds like a primitive tape recorder while staying in Somers Point, in the apartment above the Tony Mart’s club during their residency. The sketches were both recorded right around the time Dylan first contacted and connected with the band.
On the two earliest “sketches” included in the set, one can easily detect an evolution in the sound and direction of the Hawks’ music and a changing attitude towards creating new and original music for the ever-changing times. The first, “(I Want to Be) The Rainmaker”, is a sparse “bedroom recording” with a young Danko singing, Robertson on acoustic guitar and Helm and Manuel clapping and snapping their fingers as the rhythm section.
The second sketch is an early version of “The Stones I Throw”, with only Manuel on vocals and Robertson on guitar and vocals.
Just barely two minutes long, this sketch is a treasure as it offers a glimpse of an early, lo-fi version of this first Hawks single, recorded while the group was playing and staying in Somers Point, NJ, but just before they would split the Jersey Shore to hit the road as Dylan’s back-up band and change the course of music forever.
Interestingly enough, Levon & the Hawks’ second single would be “Go Go Liza Jane”, a traditional number arranged by Robertson that the band would play nearly every night at Tony Mart’s.
Although the up-tempo song was recorded in the studio during the same sessions that “The Stones I Throw” came from, this single wouldn’t be released until 1968, following Dylan and the Hawks’ groundbreaking world tour of 1966; Dylan’s motorcycle accident that same year; the members of the Hawks moving up to the Woodstock, NY, area to work on and record songs with Dylan during 1967 and early 1968 (which would become known and be released as The Basement Tapes sessions, also lo-fi home recordings); and the same year as The Band’s debut, Music from Big Pink, would be released on Capitol (in July).