The critically-lauded “Down In The Flood: Bob Dylan & The Band” documentary chronicles their ten important years together

By on May 24, 2016

Down In The Flood: Bob Dylan & The Band — originally released as Down in the Flood: Bob Dylan, The Band & The Basement Tapes — chronicles the ten years that the Band collaborated with Dylan (born 75 years ago, on May 24, 1941), from their earliest days as the Hawks, backing up Dylan on his first electric tour in 1966, right up to their last concert in 1976, which saw Dylan performing with them once again at The Last Waltz.

The highly-acclaimed and critically-lauded 2012 music documentary, one of the best to yet emerge which examines the careers of both the Band and Dylan, is streaming now on Night Flight Plus.

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The re-titled doc (which focuses on the Band’s “Associations And Collaborations”) features rare footage, including several live performances (many of them making their first official appearance) and interviews with Band producer John Simon (who produced The Band’s 1968 debut, Music from Big Pink, in addition to many other of their albums), tour drummer Mickey Jones (he subbed for the Hawks’ Levon Helm on Dylan’s 1966 UK tour), the Hawks’ original frontman Ronnie Hawkins, Nashville-based Dylan session guitarist Charlie McCoy (he plays on Blonde on Blonde, John Wesley Harding, and Nashville Skyline).

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Also featured are interstitial interviews with Band biographer Barney Hoskyns (author of Across the Great Divide: The Band and America and the more recently published Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock), Basement Tapes archivist Sid Griffin, Isis magazine’s Derek Barker, Robert Christgau (self-proclaimed “Dean of American Rock Critics”), and Rolling Stone magazine’s Anthony De Curtis.

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Dylan himself doesn’t make an appearance, and most of the Band’s membership do not either, except for their multi-instrumentalist Garth Hudson, whose interview segments are a delight to watch because Hudson is such a character, but they could have used subtitles because it’s often difficult to make out what he’s actually saying.

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Featured throughout are also great photographs of the Band, and Dylan, many of them which were taken by Elliott Landy, who Night Flight contributor Pat Thomas interviewed last year after the publication of his book, The Band Photographs 1968-1969. Read about it here.

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The story begins with Arkansas-born Levon Helm, who assembled a band — Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson — for his fellow Arkansas musician/singer Ronnie Hawkins, a rockabilly rebel who had relocated himself and Helm to Toronto, Canada, who they would eventually outgrow, musically, striking out on their own just a couple of years later.

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They would eventually rename themselves The Band, and ended up hooking up with Dylan in Woodstock, New York, the tiny Catskills town where Bob Dylan holed up after his infamous 1966 motorcycle accident. The bucolic little hamlet town — which is apparently still quite lovely, even though it’s a bit too New Age-y — is not actually where the Woodstock Festival was held, over 60 miles away (read more about the Woodstock festival here).

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Early on, Helm was reluctant to join the band, now called the Hawks, to back Dylan on his European tour. He was fairly certain that Dylan’s first electric shows were likely to result in bad shows and bad vibes from the audience, and so he decided to go oil wildcatting in the Gulf of Mexico instead, where — just like Dylan would later sing in one of his songs — he ended up working on a fishing boat right outside Delacroix, Louisiana).

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One of the highlights of the doc is hearing from the drummer who replaced Helm for the tour, Mickey Jones, who — ten years later, after his last band, Kenny Rogers & The First Edition, broke up in 1976 — eventually became a recognizable character actor, making many appearances in dozens of films and popular network television shows.

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Eventually the members of the Band would all move into a house they called “The Big Pink,” which would eventually become name-checked in the title of their first solo record Music from Big Pink , released on July 1, 1968.

Over a hundred of those sessions, taped by Hudson, would eventually be released under the name The Basement Tapes, although the first of these were as a memorable early bootleg album called The Great White Wonder (a two-album set housed in a plain white sleeve stamped with the title).

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Their sporadic relationship with Dylan would continue into the 1970s, as Dylan would float in and out of their lives, using them as a touring band but dropping them before he’d enter the studio to record, and this helped the Band to figure out what to do on their own, which of course leads to many great albums (both both The Band and Dylan, who continued a movement towards recording country music, before reunited together to work on Dylan’s Planet Waves and his ’74 tour), an appearance on TV’s “Saturday Night Live,” and lots of tours, climaxing with their last performance together as The Band on Thanksgiving night, 1976, for The Last Waltz, which was filmed by director Martin Scorsese and released as one of the most beloved live concert documentaries of all time.

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Throughout their careers, it was clear that there was something unique and special whenever Dylan and the Band reconvened to play together.

For instance, in 1974, Dylan turned to Helm and company once again to accompany him on a tour, about which DeCurtis says: “There was a mind meld there that was rare, and it’s certainly rare for an artist as mercurial as Dylan to find musicians that were that in tune with him.”

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Down In The Flood — which clocks in at just under two hours — was produced by Prism Films, the East London-based company whose roster of great music docs is distributed internationally by Night Flight’s partner, MVD Entertainment Group.

Be sure to check out NF contributor Chris Morris’s new book, Together Through Life: A Personal Journey with the Music of Bob Dylan (Rothco Press) — which is officially published as of today.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.