Paul Butterfield - harmonica, vocals; Fred Carter - guitar, vocals; Steve Cropper - guitar; Donald Dunn - bass; Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) - piano, guitar, vocals; Levon Helm - drums, vocals; Howard Johnson - tuba, baritone sax; Booker T. Jones - organ; Tom Malone - trombone; Lou Marini - tenor sax; Alan Rubin - trumpet
When the Band called it quits on Thanksgiving 1976, it seemed like the end of an era. Fans of the group couldn't help but notice that the musical horizon was shifting toward disco and punk, two musical forms diametrically opposed to everything the Band had done and represented within modern rock music. The individual members each began journeys down their individual paths, but the one who remained truest to the original ethos was Levon Helm. While not possessing a voice as soulful as Band-mate Richard Manuel, Helm's expressive Arkansas twang was at the heart of the Band's vocal blend and his utterly unique drumming technique, with drums that always sounded like real drums--that is to say wooden--was at the root of the group's appeal. Helm wasted little time assembling a new group and the list of musicians that quickly signed on to the project was astonishing. He recruited Booker T. Jones and the two MGs, Steve Cropper and Donald Dunn, another group synonymous with brilliant technique and tasteful economy, two of the primary ingredients in the Band's compelling music. New Orleans musical master Dr. John also climbed on board, adding flavor and style.
As if this weren't enough to entice listeners, the group was fleshed out with the additional guitar talents of Fred Carter and Paul Butterfield blowing harp and belting out the blues numbers. Helm also enlisted an incredible horn section consisting of Howard Johnson, the man behind the horn arrangements on the Band's live recordings, in addition to the Saturday Night Live Horns (Malone, Marini, and Rubin), not yet notorious as the horn section for The Blues Brothers. Helm's RCO All-Stars were a dream aggregation in every respect. They recorded a self-titled album that consisted primarily of good-time, bar-band R&B covers. The album was a delight, but it went by relatively unnoticed within the musical upheaval taking place in 1977. However, when this group took to the road, audiences were treated to a remarkable musical experience, proving that Helm still had a great deal to offer. It was a superstar band in every sense, but egos were checked at the door and they played as a tight cohesive unit.
The recording begins with Dr. John in the driver's seat, fronting the group for "Sing Sing Sing." A bouncy rendition of "Ophelia" follows, sounding not unlike the Band circa Rock of Ages. Over the course of the recording, additional material from the group's debut album is performed, as well as a few choice covers. Highlights include the lovely instrumental "You Got Me," with Booker T leading the group and Paul Butterfield taking over for a romping "Born in Chicago," where they cook up a bluesy storm. Dr. John also returns as lead vocalist for his classic "Such a Night." This recording comes to a close with a rockin' "Back to Memphis," a staple of Helm's earlier Band repertoire and "Milk Cow Boogie," yet another infectious Helm-led number from that earlier era. Although incomplete, this recording is another fine example of Levon Helm and the RCO All-Stars near the beginning of their all-too-brief existence and a thoroughly delightful listen.