Posted by themusicsover on April 19, 2012
Mark “Levon” Helm
May 26, 1940 – April 19, 2012
Levon Helm was a rock musician, singer and songwriter best known for his time spent in the Band, one of Canada’s most celebrated rock bands. Helm was still a few years shy of his teens when he first took up the guitar. The drums were soon to follow. After graduating from high school, he was invited by Ronnie Hawkins to join his back up band, the Hawks. Hawkins later recruited Canadian musicians, Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel. After splitting away from Hawkins in 1963, the group forged on as Levon & The Hawks – touring throughout Canada and the northern U.S. until they got a call from Bob Dylan asking them to support him on the road. Changing their name to simply the Band by the late ’60s, they secured a deal with Capitol Records and delivered their debut, Music From Big Pink, one of rock music’s true masterpieces. That was followed by albums like The Band, Stage Fright, and Cahoots which only added more songs to one of rock’s finest catalogs. Helm sang lead on many of the group’s best songs. On Thanksgiving night of 1976, the Band performed what would be their final show as that unit at San Francisco’s Winterland. To the surprise of the audience, the Band proved to be the greatest backing band of all times as a cavalcade of the era’s most respected performers showed their own respect by joining them on stage throughout the evening. That list included Neil Young, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, and Dylan, each arguably giving the single greatest live performance of their careers. Fortunately, the evening was captured on film by Martin Scorsese, who released it theatrically as The Last Waltz, often noted popular music’s greatest concert film. Following the band’s break up, Helm continued on as a solo act and participated in later reincarnations of the Band. In later years, Helm hosted numerous concerts at his home and studio in Woodstock, NY. These Midnight Rambles, as they became to be known, played host to a veritable who’s who of roots music. He later took the show on the road, even releasing one such evening, Ramble at the Ryman, on CD in 2011. During the late ’90s, Helm learned he had throat cancer. He eventually recovered enough to hit the Ramble stage and record arguably his two best solo albums of his career, 2007’s Dirt Farmer, and 2009’s Electric Dirt. They earned him Grammys for Best Traditional Folk Album and Best Americana Album, respectively. Ramble at the Ryman was named Best Americana Album as well. During the second week of April, 2012, Helm’s family released a statement that he was in the final days of a battle with cancer. On April 19, 2012, Levon Helm passed away at the age of 71.
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