Obit of the Day: And He Shall Be Levon
Levon Helm, drummer and vocalist, for “The Band” has died at the age of 71. Helm was one of the original members of the group that began as backup musicians for Ronnie Hawkins, and most famously, Bob Dylan. When Helm and his group mates - Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson - received their own contract they took on the name “The Band” since that’s how they were most often referred.
They released their first album Music from Big Pink in 1968. The original group stayed together for only eight years, breaking up in 1976. (Their last concert was filmed as a documentary by Martin Scorsese, The Last Waltz.) The group would reunite in the 1990s and record several more albums before their last, Jubilation, in 1998. The Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
Although Helm never considered himself a lead singer (Richard Danko was considered the main vocalist) his unique vocals are heard on most of The Band’s greatest hits including “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Up On Cripple Creek” and four of the five verses of “The Weight.” (“The Weight” was selected as the 41st greatest song of all time byRolling Stonemagazine in 2004.)
Helm, who grew up in Arkansas, decided to become a musician at the age of six after seeing Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys play. (It’s likely Helm would have also seen Earl Scruggs perform with the Boys. Scruggs died in March 2012.)
After The Band broke up, Helm went solo. He recorded several albums, culminating with the Grammy Award-winning folk album, Dirt Farmer, in 2007. Helm was also known for his musical get togethers which he called “Midnight Rambles” that took place in his barn in Woodstock, NY and featured Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Pinetop Perkins, and dozens of other artists. (Helm released two albums of Midnight Ramble sessions.)
Helm succumbed to the throat cancer that had struck him originally in the 1990s. At the time, it was recommend that he have his larynx removed but instead used aggressive chemotherapy to keep his voice - and continue his career.
Random fact: “Levon,” the 1971 Top 25 hit written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin was named for Levon Helm. The Band was a favorite of John and Taupin. The post title is a lyric from the chorus.
(Greatest Hits is copyright 2000 by Capitol Records.)
Additional sources: LevonHelm.com, wikipedia.org