Richard Manuel was an integral piece of The Band‘s soul. Although there were several strong lead singers in the outfit, Manuel came to be seen by many as their primary vocalist. His raw, soulful baritone became one of The Band’s trademark calling cards, helping give classic cuts like “The Shape I’m In”, “Whispering Pines”, “In A Station”, “Tears of Rage”, and their version of Bob Dylan‘s “I Shall Be Released” the emotionally potent quality that earned them such a reverent fan base. You can watch Richard Manuel lead The Band through “The Shape I’m In” at The Last Waltz below:

The Band – “The Shape I’m In”


In addition to piano and vocals, Manuel also taught himself to play drums during the band’s brief early split with Levon Helm. Once Helm returned to the fold, Manuel would handle the drumming duties when Levon would step out to play the mandolin. You can watch this alternate configuration with Helm on mandolin and Manuel on drums in action below on “Rag Mama Rag”:

The Band – “Rag Mama Rag”

[Video: styxfankc15]

Manuel’s natural charisma was thoroughly appreciated by those around him. As Helm once explained:

Richard Manuel was a whole show unto himself. He was hot. He was about the best singer I’d ever heard; most people said he reminded them of Ray Charles. He’d do those ballads, and the ladies would swoon. To me, that became the highlight of our show.

Manuel’s close friend Eric Clapton frequently echoed those sentiments:

I was madly in love with Richard… At the time, [1975] we had the same trouble. … I felt insecure and he was clearly insecure, and yet he was so incredibly gifted….For me, he [Richard] was the true light of the Band. The other guys were fantastic talents, of course, but there was something of the holy madman about Richard. He was raw. When he sang in that high falsetto the hair on my neck would stand on end. Not many people can do that.

As Clapton noted, despite his affable, charismatic personality and “aw shucks” demeanor, Richard Manuel was a tortured soul. He struggled with alcohol and drug abuse for many years, to the point where it often became an issue within the band. By the time the Band joined back up (without Robbie Robertson) after an extended hiatus following The Last Waltz, Manuel had cleaned up his act. However, by 1984, increasingly disheartened with their trajectory, Manuel began using again.

On March 4th, 1986, following a show in Winter Park, FL, Richard Manuel committed suicide by hanging in his motel room. He was 42 years old.

The Band – “You Don’t Know Me” 

[Video: TheConneman]

Rest In Peace, Richard.

[Originally published 3/4/18]