While looking for something else online, I came across a website that said December 9th was Rick Danko’s birthday. Then another site said that December 29th was Rick Danko’s birthday. For those who don’t know, Rick Danko was a member of The Band, a group out of Canada that was formed as The Hawks to back up singer Ronnie Hawkins. One thing that all the websites that I visited agree on is the date he died…December 10, 1999.
I have to admit that I’ve never been a big fan of The Band, and don’t know a lot about them…but I DO have a great story about Rick Danko, and a situation that gave me a tremendous amount of respect for him.
After the break-up of The Band, Danko went back and forth between Band reunion gigs and solo work. In the early 1990’s, he released a couple of solo albums, and would play small venues to promote the material. That’s what brought him to Normal, Illinois in, if memory serves me correctly, 1994. His management had contacted the radio station about doing an interview with him to promote the show. At WBNQ, we didn’t play any of his music, or The Band’s music, but my program director asked if I wanted to do the interview just to have a chance to chat with him. I said, “Why not?” He was scheduled to call me on a Monday afternoon at 3 pm.
He was prompt, as the phone rang in the production studio a little before 3. By this point, I had done a lot of phone interviews, and you can usually tell within the first minute or so if it’s going to be a good interview. I didn’t get that feeling from Danko. He seemed to be kind of distracted, and answered every one of my questions with mostly one or two word answers. I got the feeling that he was thinking, “Why do I have to talk to this medium-market radio hack? I have better things to do.” I knew that we weren’t going to air the interview anyway, so I didn’t push it. I talked to him for about 3 or 4 minutes. When my program director asked how it went, I replied, “Eh, ok…he was kind of an asshole.” Unfortunately, we both knew that could be the norm with rock stars, especially one of Danko’s fame, so we just took it in stride.
I quickly forgot about the episode…didn’t even keep the tape. Like I said, I wasn’t a huge fan anyway. The next day, it was a long way from my mind as I sat at my desk writing copy. A little before 3, my phone rang. Upon answering it, I was a little shocked to hear the voice at the other end of the line say, “Hey Rick, it’s Rick Danko.” We exchanged pleasantries, and finally he said, “Hey man, have you run that interview yet?” I honestly told him that we hadn’t aired it, not admitting that we didn’t plan to run it in the first place. He then said, “If you don’t mind, could we do it again? I was in a really lousy mood yesterday and gave you a terrible interview. I just wanted to make it right with you.” I couldn’t believe that a star of his caliber took the time to call me back because he honestly felt bad about giving me a rotten interview!
I told him that I was at my desk, and if he could hold on for a minute or two, I would transfer him to the studio and get some tape ready. He told me that I could take as much time as I wanted. When I started rolling tape and got back on the phone with him, he gave me one of the best interviews I was ever involved in. It was like a conversation between two old friends, and he told many stories of his years on the road, as well as his current work. Every time we would exhaust a subject, he would say, “I’ve got time if you have any more questions!” It was a great experience, and this time I kept the tape…in fact, I still have it.
That experience taught me a very valuable lesson, and it’s one that I think of almost daily. No matter who you are, everyone can have a bad day. And everyone can do something to fix it.
I was sad when I learned of Rick’s passing in 1999, not because I was a big fan of his music, but because I was a big fan of him.