Stanley Martin Szelest (February 11, 1942 – January 20, 1991) was an American musician from Buffalo, New York, known for founding an influential blues band in the 1950s and 1960s, Stan and the Ravens, and later as a keyboardist with Ronnie Hawkins and, briefly, with The Band.
In 1958, Szelest formed Stan and the Ravens, a blues group that became popular in western New York. New York producer David Lucas recorded sessions with the group, resulting in the release "Farmer's Daughter" a song written by Szelest. Lucas also recorded a song entitled, "Howlin' for My Darlin" and b-side, "It Won't Long Now" using the name, the Rivals instead of Stan and the Ravens for the Spector/Wand label. Lucas made some other recordings of the group, only one of which “Rag Top”, has ever been released.
In 1967, Stan and the Ravens broke up, although they would re-unite occasionally well into the 1980s. In 2009, the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame released “Rag Top” on a CD compilation, and again on a vinyl compilation in 2016 - this time featuring Szeleste on the cover (see discography).
In 1960, at the age of seventeen, he started to work with Ronnie Hawkins and his backing group, the Hawks. Calling Szelest "a living fountain of rock and roll piano", Hawks bass player Rick Danko claimed to have developed his bass style by copying Szelest's left-hand work on piano. Szelest left the Hawks a little over a year later and was replaced by Richard Manuel. The Hawks later left Hawkins to form an act of their own, which eventually came to be named The Band.
Szelest went on to have a busy career as a session player with acts as diverse as fellow Hawks alumnus King Biscuit Boy to avant-garde former Velvet Underground member John Cale. Szelest was also in Lonnie Mack's band during the 1980s and played on Mack's albums Strike Like Lightning and Attack of the Killer V; he can also be seen in several videos playing in Mack's band during that period. Szelest would return to Ronnie Hawkins many times over the years as well.
In the summer of 1984, Szelest began playing with his old bandmate from The Hawks Levon Helm as a member of his Woodstock All-Stars, who played intermittently for the next four years, often featuring the Stan And The Ravens song "Rag Top" in their sets. Szelest joined The Band, playing live with them in 1990 and participating in rehearsals and writing for their new record deal with CBS Records. He died of a heart attack in 1991 while in Woodstock recording with Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson. His piano playing can be heard on The Band's 1993 album Jericho (see discography). The album also features the song "Too Soon Gone", co-written by Jules Shear after Szelest handed him over 16 bars of a melody, which sat around Shear's Woodstock home. When Szelest died, Shear was called by both Levon Helm and Rick Danko and asked to finish the song as a tribute to Szelest. Apparently, Szelest had begun the song as a tribute to the late Richard Manuel. The album is dedicated to Manuel and Szelest with the caption "Too Soon Gone" in the liner notes.
Stan Szelest was inducted into The Buffalo Music Hall of Fame in 1986.