Rick Danko, the bassist whose distinctively high-pitched and soulful voice shaped the music of the Band, died at his home in upstate New York on Friday, the day after he turned 56.
Cause of death was unknown but not considered suspicious, Ulster County, N.Y., medical examiner Walter Dobushak said. A radio station in Woodstock, N.Y., reported that Danko’s wife Elizabeth discovered his body in bed at their home in nearby Marbletown.
Danko was one of the founding members of The Band, an earthy and distinctly North American rock group that also featured Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm. (Pianist Richard Manuel committed suicide in 1986 in Florida.)
Danko sang lead vocals on two of the Band’s better-known numbers, “Up on Cripple Creek” and “Stage Fright.”
Born in Simcoe, Ontario, Danko joined Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks in 1961, breaking away to form Levon Helm and the Hawks later that year.
Danko began working with Bob Dylan in 1967, finding a house in West Saugerties, N.Y., that would later be dubbed Big Pink. At a basement studio, the Band and Dylan made recordings that would eventually be released as “The Basement Tapes” and the Band’s debut album, “Music From Big Pink.”
In 1976, the Band split up after a star-studded concert that became the film “The Last Waltz.”
Danko was the first Band member to release a solo album, reaching No. 119 on the album chart in February 1978. The Band, minus Robertson, reformed in 1986 and continued to record and tour up until Danko’s death. In 1993, Rykodisc issued an album by Danko, Jonas Fjeld and Eric Anderson that had been recorded in Norway in 1991. In September, Danko released the album, “Live on Breeze Hill,” some proceeds of which were to benefit Greenpeace.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by an adult son and daughter. Another son died in 1989 at age 19.