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Levon Helm

The longtime drummer for the Band, Levon Helm wore many musical hats throughout his long career, including multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, singer, impresario, studio owner, studio engineer, and producer. He grew up working on a farm in Arkansas; his first instrument was guitar, which he began playing at age eight, but after seeing the F.S. Walcott Rabbits Foot Minstrels, he decided to switch to drums. As a youth, Helm listened to the music of the area, including radio broadcasts of The Grand Ole Opry and the blues and R&B shows on WLAC, a clear-channel station out of Nashville that became legendary in the development of R&B and early rock & roll. Accompanied by his sister Linda on washtub bass, he played various fairs and civic club shows until forming his first group, the Jungle Bush Beaters, while in high school.

After seeing an Elvis Presley concert, Helm became keenly interested in rock & roll and musicians like Bo Diddley. Eventually, he moved to Memphis, where he began sitting in with Conway Twitty. Later, he was discovered by a fellow Arkansan, rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins, who asked the 17-year-old Helm to join the Hawks, his backing band. The group soon relocated to Toronto, where they'd heard there was a burgeoning scene for their kind of music. In 1959, Hawkins signed to Roulette Records, where he and the Hawks cut a pair of hit records right out of the gate with "Forty Days" and "Mary Lou," which went on to sell in excess of 700,000 copies.

In the early '60s in Toronto, Helm and Hawkins recruited the rest of the members of the group that would become the Band, adding guitarist Robbie Robertson, pianist Richard Manuel, organist Garth Hudson, and bassist Rick Danko to the lineup. After numerous road trips with Hawkins, the group grew tired of the singer's abrasive manner, and they re-formed as Levon & the Hawks, later changing their name to the Canadian Squires for the purpose of recording two singles. Shortly after, they changed their name back to the Hawks. In the mid-'60s, Bob Dylan decided to electrify his sound and wanted the Hawks to be his backing band. After putting up with too many boos at Dylan's newly electrified shows in 1965, Helm decided he'd had enough, and went back to Arkansas, thinking he would leave the music business behind him forever.

But Helm returned to action in mid-1967, when the Hawks (since renamed simply the Band) began working on Music from Big Pink, the first in a string of classic records that made them one of rock's most legendary acts. After the Band's famed 1976 farewell performance, dubbed The Last Waltz, he cut his 1977 debut solo album, Levon Helm & the RCO All Stars, followed a year later by his self-titled sophomore effort. In 1980 he recorded American Son, while another eponymously titled effort was released in 1982. The Band re-formed in 1983 without Robertson; following Manuel's 1986 suicide, the remaining trio released 1993's Jericho, recorded at Helm's home studio in Woodstock, New York. That same year, Helm published his autobiography, This Wheel's on Fire, co-authored with Stephen Davis. The Band's bluesy High on the Hog followed in 1995. The late '90s (and into the next decade) found Helm still making music in a new blues band called Levon Helm & the Barn Burners, with his daughter Amy on keyboards and vocals, guitarist Pat O'Shea, lead vocalist and harmonica player Chris O'Leary, and upright bassist Frankie Ingrao, and with a similar outfit called Crowmatrix. An album of tracks from this era called Souvenir, Vol. 1 appeared in 2000 from Breeze Hill.

Cancer of the vocal cords silenced Helm's unique voice as the 21st century opened, although he kept up his drumming duties, and in time was able to sing again, emerging with a slightly raspier version of his old vocal style. He began holding intimate concerts with various musical friends at his studio in Woodstock, calling them Midnight Rambles, samples of which were released as The Midnight Ramble Sessions, Vol. 1 and The Midnight Ramble Sessions, Vol. 2 in 2006. The following year saw the release of Dirt Farmer, Helm's first solo album in 25 years. The similar but looser Electric Dirt followed in 2009. Ramble at the Ryman, which captured highlights of Helm's 2008 Midnight Ramble concert at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, was released on both CD and DVD in 2011. In spring of the following year, Helm's family announced that he was in the end stages of cancer, and he died on April 19, 2012. The Midnight Ramble Sessions, Vol. 3 was released the following December. ~ Richard Skelly
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Ramble At The Ryman

1. Ophelia

2. Back To Memphis

3. Fannie Mae

4. Baby Scratch My Back

5. Evangeline

6. No Depression In Heaven

7. Wide River To Cross

8. Deep Elem Blues

9. Anna Lee

10. Rag Mama Rag

11. Time Out For The Blues

12. A Train Robbery

13. The Shape I'm In

14. Chest Fever

15. The Weight

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Track List: Electric Dirt

1. Tennessee Jed

2. Move Along Train

3. Growin' Trade

4. Golden Bird

5. Stuff You Gotta Watch

6. White Dove

7. Kingfish

8. You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had

9. When I Go Away

10. Heaven's Pearls

x

Track List: Dirt Farmer

1. False Hearted Lover Blues

2. Poor Old Dirt Farmer

3. The Mountain

4. Little Birds

5. The Girl I Left Behind

6. Calvary

7. Anna Lee

8. Got Me A Woman

9. A Train Robbery

10. Single Girl, Married Girl

11. The Blind Child

12. Feelin' Good

13. Wide River To Cross

x

Track List: Levon Helm

1. You Can't Win 'Em All

2. Lucrecia

3. Even A Fool Would Let Go

4. I've Got A Bet With Myself

5. Money

6. Get Out Your Big Roll Daddy

7. Willie And The Hand Jive

8. Got Song

9. Give A Little Bit

10. God Bless 'Em All

11. Summertime Blues

Comments

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could watch that doc for ever never get's old.never another one like him
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Close to the very heart, always, and here for sure.
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Levon. What can I say. I love you man. ...
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He knew white man's soul
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Ah, Levon, RIP! I've dreamt of being at your barn on music nights! I still can see the ever-present smile when on stage or interviews!
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4 years gone , I miss my friend
"You're world is that much for drab because their gone "..........
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Levon Helm is another national treasure!
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Bravo Levon Helm!!!!
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jhitt790
Then came Katrina.
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✏️ SHAUN

WHITE

presents AIR+STYLE

airandstyle. f r o n t g a t e t i c k e t s . c o m
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The Real Deal. RIP Levon Helm, The man could act too. See the movie, The Right Stuff.
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If you have never seen the documentary "The Last Waltz"...do yourself a favor.
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He was the Man. So raw but so tender and soothing
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I cried the day Levon Helm died
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Levon Helm one of my favorite musicians!
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Talented beyond compare in his niche. When he passed on it was like losing Jerry Garcia all over again. I love his voice and music. One person I would've liked to hang with.
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Levon was one of the best. I knew him personally.
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I remember those early days and the first time I heard Levon play in our home town, Marvell, Ark. Just awesome!!
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Iove it
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There are 2 people to out Springsteen Springsteen: Bob Dylan and Levon Helm!
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donaldcavin
Miss you Levon! So glad I got to meet you!
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Amy is my love :)
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Ben and Stacey-don't let the bitter and ignorant get to you. Just keep on loving Levon Helm-that's the best revenge. (Speaking from experience.)
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benandstacey m a r s h
some of you idiots should keep your ignorant comments to yourself.
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No one but Springsteen. Love Levon but c'mon...
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I was invited to work the Ramble but could not get away......da m n
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Re Anna Lee- pure Kentucky; helm knows it to his soul.
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NO one does Atlantic City like Levon Helm!!
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Lord have mercy!
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LOVE THIS MAN!!!
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Willie is still here! Thank a roll up for him! haha I love him and all the others!!
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No they are not, Kathy. Really. I love the music people that took themselves or died by other means too but what if there was no one alive to help us through? I love them, the music people still here and the new music people too. I appreciate the happiness they bring for me. I need all I can get which does not mean I'm dumpster divin'. I love all I have heard tonight which is the first time I have heard these bands but a lot of the people come from the originals. I am really, truly grateful.
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All the good singers are dead!
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Helm does absolutely right by this song!!
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panicepb
This guy had the goods!
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Is this guy serious?
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Little Wayne is a no talent a** clown.
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Lil' Wayne??????? ? ? ? Are you kidding! Mr. Helm was the most talented person I ever met.
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Who is this guy??? Lil' Wayne is a FAR more talented songwriter and musician.
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The bomb, always at the right time!!
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One of my all-time favorites.
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milosdad
He was a true artist Watching him perform you could tell he loved what he was doing. He just looked like a kid in a candy store. Big loss.
Report as inappropriate
when I watched the credits from the movie The Shooter I thought I was mistaken when I saw Levon Helm as the bun ballistics expert from Tennessee. After that next time I watched it I recognized his voice immediately
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Been in love with Levons voice since the first time I heard it in 1969 in Easy Rider doin the Weight. Praise God for Levon!
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Thank you for recommending documentarie s and the movies. To the ones that knew him, I'm sure you feel very fortunate. I absolutely love his voice.....he could have sang the phone book to me and it would have still been the best to me.
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SIMPLEY BAD A** DON' YOU AGREE
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Used to watch - and listen - to the Band at the Rockwood Club in Fayetteville , Ark back in the 60s. Great band to listen and dance to.
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Like rain ? Then burn natural wooden logs in a free air enviroinment like outside and after two days, it will begin to rain and our drout will be no more, all in season of course
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One of the fabulous voices of the last fifty years. Levon was the heart of Americana in his own voice. You can't teach his singing--it has to come out of your soul. I love him and The Band.
Report as inappropriate
tianbratton4
Levon has the kind of voice that by itself, with no other instruments, sounds amazing. I don't think there are many singers that have that gift. Levon Helm as a man not just a singer is on another level than most. I wish that I could have had the opportunity to see him live before he past. Also there is a killer DOC. on NETFLIX about Levon. Check it out. PEACE.
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