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 wooden drums - 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. 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), yet to become 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, but egos were checked at the door and they played as a tight cohesive unit. There are numerous times during this set where one cannot help but recall the Band at the peak of their powers. It's THAT good! As if that weren't enough, the King Biscuit Flower Hour folks captured the group deep in the heart of a musical paradise, New Orleans, playing during Mardis Gras.
The set begins with the legendary DJ Wolfman Jack promising a mind blowing experience. While that might be slightly overstating it, this performance is a delight from beginning to end. They kick it off with infectious takes of "Ain't That A Lotta Love" and "Washer Woman" both with Helm handling the lead vocals. Dr. John then leads the group through "Mardis Gras Day," an anthem for street parades that features Howard Johnson's tuba and Helms bass drum leading the group into a joyous horn section rave-up.
Following introductions, they break into an excellent rendition of "The Weight," followed by a rockin' "Back To Memphis," two staples of Helm's earlier Band repertoire. Following "Milk Cow Boogie," they bring out Paul Butterfield, who leads the group through a romping "Born In Chicago," where they cook up an all-too-brief bluesy storm. This is followed by Fred Carter stepping up for a relaxed "The Mood I Was In." An old friend of Helm since his pre-Band Hawk days, Carter's voice sounds incredibly similar to Helm's and one would be hard-pressed to tell them apart. This brings up one of the many enjoyable aspects of this recording - the manner in which the guitars are mixed. With Fred Carter panned hard left and Steve Cropper hard right, one can easily distinguish them within the musical fray.
The show wraps up with a glorious version of the Band's "Ophelia," with the horns blazing and the group turning on the full Mardis Gras treatment. The crowd demands more and they return for a little more of the same, with "Goodnight Irene." This isn't any sleepy laid back rendition either. This is party music with a full-blown carnival atmosphere, no doubt leaving everyone in attendance feeling mighty fine about what they had just experienced.