Thursday, April 19, 2012

And he shall be Levon

Levon Helm, drummer, lead singer and co-founder of the musical group simply known as The Band, died today of cancer at the age of 71.  Among the countless fans of The Band were Elton John and his lyricist Bernie Taupin who named the song "Levon" for him.

Born May 26, 1940 into a musical family in the state of Arkansas, U.S.A., he was christened Mark Lavon Helm.  By the age of 8 he played guitar, but later also played mandolin and most famously, the drums.  By the late '50s he was recruited by performer Ronnie Hawkins to play drums in his back up band, called The Hawks.

Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks (with Levon Helm on drums)
This style of music, known as Rockabilly was very popular in Canada during this time which prompted Hawkins to move his band to Toronto in 1959.  While there, he recruited Canadian musicians Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson.  For a brief period in 1965 they called themselves the Canadian Squires, but later changed to Levon and the Hawks.  I found it interesting that Lavon became known as Levon in Canada because everyone kept mispronouncing his name!  At some point they became just The Hawks and then came that historic moment when Bob Dylan wanted them for his back up band.  After that, they were just - The Band! Well, I shouldn't say just... they were THE Band...'cause really, are there any others? ;)

By the time they released their solo album Music from Big Pink, in 1968 they were practically a legend!  Their song, The Weight with vocals by Levon Helm was used in the movie Easy Rider in 1969.

This is one of my favourite songs of The Band with Helm's lead vocals.

After the break-up of The Band in 1976 Helm had a varied solo career which also included acting.  He had a wonderful part as Loretta Lynn's father in Coal Miner's Daughter (1980).

He wrote his autobiography in 1993, This Wheel's On Fire.  (I have just added it to my Must Read list!)  Levon Helm continued performing his music even after his voice was damaged from throat cancer in the late 1990's.  Unfortunately the cancer returned recently and finally claimed his life.  Levon Helm died today and took a large part of American Rock history with him.


jazzbaby1 said...

Thanks for this, phylly3!

Phylly3 said...

You're very welcome! :) I checked your blog first to see if you had posted about him. I figured you were probably a fan.

JeannieGisborne said...

I'm sorry to hear he died. I've heard The Band's music pretty much my whole life. Levon will be missed. RIP!

Phylly3 said...

It's the same for me Jeannie. His music was his legacy.

Anonymous said...

Great post paying tribute to him...well done.


Phylly3 said...

Thanks T! Unfortunately I see I will already have to replace one of the videos. :(