RIP Levon Helm
April 19, 2012
Drummer Levon Helm's sandpaper-rough voice will forever live on in tunes like “Ophelia” and “Rag Mama Rag." And the deep Americana roots he brought to the Band will always be cherished in classics like "The Weight" and "Up on Cripple Creek."
After several years suffering from cancer, Helm died this morning at the age of 71. After nearly 50 years as a working musician, he leaves us with a lot of memories and a lot of music. Here are just a few highlights:
In 1965, Helm helped Bob Dylan merge electric rock and roll with folk. Folk purists took offense to the marriage and nearly booed them off stage at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. (Helm quit the merger later that year and wrote, “I wasn’t made to be booed."
Following the Band's final tour in 1976—captured in the Martin Scorsese documentary The Last Waltz—Helm began a long solo career.
Helm even tried his hand at acting: He played Loretta Lynn’s father in Coal Miner’s Daughter.
Beginning in 2004, Helm's Midnight Ramble Sessions, held in his Woodstock, NY barn studio, attracted special unannounced guests including everyone from Chris Robinson to Elvis Costello. The intimate gatherings were initially held to help raise money to pay medical bills related to Helm's throat cancer but they quickly became legendary events attracting music lovers of all kinds.
The Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
Helm's wife and daughter posted the following letter on his website just a few days ago:
Dear Friends, Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer. Please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey. Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration... he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage... We appreciate all the love and support and concern. From his daughter Amy, and wife Sandy
Bob Dylan's response:
He was my bosom buddy friend to the end, one of the last true great spirits of my or any other generation. This is just so sad to talk about. I still can remember the first day I met him and the last day I saw him. We go back pretty far and had been through some trials together. I'm going to miss him, as I'm sure a whole lot of others will too.