Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Levon Helm

I suppose if you are of the inclination to read this blog, you already know that Rock and Roll lost a true giant last week with the death of Levon Helm, drummer and singer for The Band. His unmistakable voice and unique but succinct drumming style helped define the one-of-a-kind sound of The Band, not to mention backing Bob Dylan on Blonde on Blonde and his infamous first 'electric tour'. Here is one of his many shining moments. What beats this?

Since his passing, I have been mildly obsessed with learning more about The Band, how they arrived at The Last Waltz, and what happened afterward; it wasn't pretty.  Originally I was going to write a post about how surprised  I was that it had gotten so ugly and how sad it all made me. But its out there, just google it; read and decide for yourself.  

The Band is a key musical touchstone for me and epitomizes much of what I love about Rock and Roll.  I sort of consider them the opposite of The Beatles.  The Beatles did a lot of really original and creative stuff that has influenced just about every rock band since.  The Band amalgamated an amazing array of influences to create their unmistakable sound; rock, folk, country, blues and gospel come to mind.  Somehow they made all of this their own, and thereby became one of the most influential and respected bands in rock history. 

But what do I know?  I was born 35 days before The Last Waltz, and did not fall for The Band until the late 90's. Dad, however, saw the legendary Summer Jam show at Watkins  Glen NY, featuring The Band, The Allman Brothers Band, and The Grateful Dead (seriously?). He also made me fall in love with this band, The Band. Thanks Dad. 

-My brother-in-law Tom introduced me to The Band in the early 70s.  I’d heard a few songs on the radio (Rag Mama Rag and Up On Cripple Creek come to mind) and wasn't impressed.  They sounded kind of country to me and I was deep into hard rock at the time.
But he insisted...“just listen to this album (The Band) a couple of times.”  I did and was hooked.  The music had an earthiness I’d never experienced.  Something else was unique; here was a band that didn’t have a “front man”, it was a perfect blend of five guys making music and telling stories like I’d never heard.  Three singers swapping verses and singing raw harmonies backed by solid if not flashy playing.  
Forty years down the road and they are still the group I listen too most often.  In my opinion Rock of Ages is one of the best live albums ever recorded and is one of my “go to” records.   It’s also been a great joy to share their music with Scott-The Band is one of the places we REALLY connect. 
Levon Helm was a big part of this.  Robbie Robertson may have written the songs, but Levon’s voice brought them to life.  When I close my eyes and think about the The Band, it’s his voice I hear in my head.
Helm was a musical icon of his era that never acted like one.  He enriched my life’s soundtrack.  I’m saddened by his passing. 
It’s eerie.  I had my iPod on shuffle and was listening to Rocking Chair when I got the news.  Richard Manuel sings lead on this one, but it’s about slowing down and going home.  Seemed very appropriate-  KJB
Well said. I guess in all of that reading I did what impressed me the most was the fact that Levon was the one who finally got over The Band. It killed Richard Manuel and ultimately Rick Danko. Levon, however, beat throat cancer in 1998 and got an extra decade, in which he quit bitching about who wrote the songs and who deserved the money and just got back to making great music. Read about his Midnight Rambles in his studio in Woodstock NY, or just see the link below.  Coolest thing ever.   
Levon Helm, a true one-of-a-kind, and an important author in our soundtrack.  Rest in Peace, Levon. You’ve certainly earned it. 

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