Facebook R&B crooner Mario has been relatively quiet on the music front for…
- Posted on Nov 7th 2008 5:00PM by James Sullivan
Despite Manuel's reckless, hard-partying attitude, the hurt was always evident in his remarkable voice, from his version of Bob Dylan's 'I Shall Be Released' to the posthumously released 'Country Boy.' "He had a voice like a hug," his second wife would recall.
Musically schooled in the church choir in his hometown of Stratford, Ontario, the soulful prodigy had his own band by his mid-teens. When they opened for Arkansas transplant Ronnie Hawkins, Manuel was plucked away, joining drummer Levon Helm and fellow Canadian recruits Robertson, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson in Hawkins' backing band, the Hawks.
After parting ways with their frontman, the group was invited to join Dylan on an extended world tour beginning in 1965. Their association with Dylan, which yielded their enduring name – the Band – and culminated in the legendary 'Basement Tapes' sessions, lead directly to a career of their own that would wind up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Though both Helm and Danko took plenty of memorable vocal turns with the Band, it was Manuel's trembling tenor that truly haunted. He contributed several songs to the Band's classic first two albums, including a co-writing credit with Dylan on 'Tears of Rage.' But by the mid-1970s, Manuel was lyrically frozen, and his singing voice was in rapid decline from his heavy alcohol abuse. Though it was Robertson who wrote the line "Oh, you don't know the shape I'm in," he knew Manuel would make it his own.
Manuel's carelessness often amused his friends and fellow musicians. He was notorious for crashing his Ferrari, and he once gave himself third-degree burns while trying to light a gas grill. But his habits were no laughing matter. When he moved out of a house in Malibu, he left behind 2,000 empty bottles of Grand Marnier, his favorite poison.
After the Band broke up in 1976, Manuel quit drinking and met his second wife, Arlie Litvak. (His first wife left him to become a Jehovah's Witness.) For a while, he was determined. "He said if he ever started drinking again, he'd kill himself," Litvak has said.
By the mid-'80s, however, with the Band (minus Robertson) reunited, the singer had fallen off the wagon. Some blame his disappointment that the Band was playing small markets, small venues; others believe he thought he was letting his bandmates down. After a gig in Winter Park, Fla., Manuel and his wife retired to their room at a Quality Inn, where he polished off a bottle of Grand Marnier, finished the last of his cocaine and went to sleep. In the morning, Litvak got up and went out in search of breakfast. When she returned, she went into the bathroom for the first time that day. There she found her husband, hanging by his belt from the shower curtain rod. It took Helm and Danko five minutes to haul the body down.
"There was something of the holy madman about Richard," said Eric Clapton, his friend and running partner, a few years later. "When he sang in that falsetto, the hair on my neck would stand up on end." By 1986, Richard Manuel just couldn't hit the high notes.