The Band's take on "I'm A Country Boy" has quite the story attached. The Band had hit a resurgence in the early 1990s. Taking part in a massive Bob Dylan tribute, being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and releasing their first studio album in several decades entitled Jericho.
Jericho saw The Band blend their blues roots, something that very much was driven by Helm with more of a modern pop approach. The Band was now down to three original members: Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson. Robertson never rejoined or got the invitation to rejoin (former manager Joe Forno Jr. has since said there were some preliminary talks), and Manuel had passed away. However, The Band wanted Richard to be included in The Band's release.
"Country Boy" was pieced together using a taped concert performance and a little studio magic, it arrived some seven years after a desperate evening ended in Manuel’s suicide. Manuel had started performing "I'm A Country Boy" some years earlier during his solo engagements. According to writer Jimmy Nelson, "Manuel admitted before a 1985 performance that he had no idea where “Country Boy” originated — offering a crowd at the Getaway the suggestion that it might have been from a Broadway play."
The song was first performed in 1954 and was recorded by Harry Belafonte accompanied by Hugo Winterhalter And His Orchestra. Most famously, American country music artist Don Williams released his version in July 1977 as a single. It quickly became Don Williams' seventh number one on the country chart.
While Richard had for some time given up on songwriting, his effort in other areas was still present. His unique voice paired with his background in covering and in early years emulating lend very nicely to his take on "Country Boy".
As Nelson suggests, "Manuel, however, was on to something — and that made cleaning up these recordings worthwhile. “Country Boy” finds him amid a journey away from the Americana ethos that had defined so much of his work with both the Hawks and then the Band, and more toward ageless pop, country and show tunes. Certainly, with his muse long since departed, Manuel found himself in a position where exploring connective cover songs made sense."
And while "Country Boy" might not fit in with the rest of what The Band was doing on Jericho, let alone fit along with more R&B material in Manuel's pocket, the raw, and emotion-packed performance along with some beautiful, yet delicate post-production work to dub over a series of additional instruments from drums to brass, it is a reminder that Manuel was significant importance to The Band and his legacy lives on through the later work of the group.
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