Friday, April 20, 2012

The Man Behind the Drums

We are glad to welcome Justin Taylor as a guest contributer to the Final E Chord music blog.

Most people of my generation more than likely don't know the name, but the songs are forever etched in our memories from high school and on. Levon Helm, 71, died yesterday (4/19) after a long battle with cancer.

Mr. Helm, I will refer to him as Mr., because that is the kind of respect a man like him deserves, was a singer and drummer for the 70's rock group "The Band", most notably. Songs like "The Weight", "The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down", and "Up on Cripple Creek" are just a few of his works that most know by heart. But his influence in Americana and music in general goes so much deeper.......

The son of Arkansas cotton farmers, Helm was influenced by the likes of Elvis, Conway Twitty, and Bo Diddley, in their early years. He was around when rock n' roll was formed. He established his first band in high school, The Jungle Bush Beaters, and at 17 started playing in bars and clubs around his area. After high school, he was invited to play in former Arkansas native, Ronnie Hawkins' band, "The Hawks" who were popular in southern Canada. In the 60s, Bob Dylan, whom at the time was in his electric rock phase, asked "The Hawks" to be his back up band. Helm, didn't like the negative response Dylan was getting with his new sound, and decided to return to Arkansas. After a two year layoff working on some oil rigs, Helm was invited back to "The Hawks" in '67, who were now pretty much referred to as "The Band". This is where most of us pick up on Mr. Helm's music. "The Band" played together until '76, their farewell performance "The Last Waltz" was filmed as a documentary by legendary film director Martin Scorsese. Between '76 and '83, when "The Band" reunited without Robbie Robertson, Helm worked on some solo work, playing with the likes of Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris. In '83, "The Band" reunited, in '86 band member Manuel committed suicide and the remaining 3 members carried on until 1998.

In the late 90's Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer, ending his singing career for several years. After removing the tumor, his voice became hoarse and raspy, forcing him to mainly play drums in his later years. Overwhelmed by medical bills, Helm decided to host a series of concerts at his Woodstock home. These became known as "The Midnight Ramble", artists like Kris Kristofferson, Steely Dan, Gillian Welch, and even Norah Jones contributed to these works. His final album was in 2007, "The Dirt Farmer", which was a solo album that won him a Grammy for Traditional Folk Album. He also released a live album from a 2008 concert titled, "Ramble at the Ryman" that won him another Grammy for Best Americana Album.

On April 19th, 2012, we lost a true troubadour that has influenced music from my past, and continues into the music I listen to today. I hear his name everywhere I turn in the Americana genre, from Robert Earl Keen, Cody Canada, Blackberry Smoke, Jerry Jeff Walker, and on and on and on. His smile and creativity will be missed and felt all over the music world.

R.I.P. Mark Lavon "Levon" Helm
May 26, 1940-April 19, 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment