The Great Levon Helm
Last Tuesday was not a good day! As I was getting ready to leave for work, my daughter called to tell me her mother had died. A half hour later, on my way to the store, my car died and then burned up. Two hours later, a friend called to tell me Levon had only a couple of days to live!
As bad as the other stuff was, hearing the news about Levon was like getting sucker punched in the gut! He was so full of life, and after seeming to beat back the cancer, it seemed like he could never die, but death comes to us all, eventually, and April 19th was Levon’s time!
My 35 year relationship with The Band started back in 1978, when Emmett Grogan’s cousin introduced me to Rick Danko. Rick and I became fast friends, and after that, whenever Rick played, I was usually there! We talked about making movies and music together, but after the first night, when we sang together, Rick and I never did get a chance to work together. We sure did have a lot of good times though! After a while, it was inevitable that Rick would introduce me to Levon, Richard, and Garth, and I also became fast friends with Richard, and particularly Levon.
We saw each other often, over the years, and when I decided to move to the Hudson Valley, Levon told me where he thought were good places to live. During a very bad time in my life, he helped me out immensely, because, he said, “That’s what friends do”. When I was recovering from said traumatic event a few years later, I told Levon that he was my role model in my recovery. After all, he had recovered, it seemed, from so many traumatic events – cancer, bankruptcy, The Barn burning down, Rick and Richard’s deaths – and now he was on the road that brought him three Grammys and a major career comeback, before his untimely death last week. He was inspirational, in so many ways! Levon was the kind of guy who’d slip you a hundred bucks if he ran into you and thought you needed a helping hand!
His down home folk wisdom never ceased to amuse me. Who doesn’t love and understand a phrase like, “Even a blind chicken gets a peck of corn once in a while”? He had the ability to cut right to the heart of the matter with a simple phrase. His sense of humor always made me laugh and we always had a great time together!
And musically, he practically invented what became known as Americana music. He embodied it! On any given night, you could hear Blues, Rock n Roll, Country, R n B, Folk, and Dixieland music at one of his shows, but it all blended into Band/Levon Helm music. Only the cream of the crop can cover all those bases authentically – The Beatles, The Stones, Dave Edmunds and Rockpile, Bob Dylan, Elvis. You get the picture. He was in THAT kind of company! And they all knew it! Clapton broke up Cream after he heard The Band, and, in his book, writes of wanting to join The Band when he came to Woodstock! Bruce Springsteen said of Levon, “You get used to hearing versions of the thing. Levon IS the thing!”.
The band he put together in his final years is every bit as good as The Band, and it would be so sad to see it end here. The Levon Helm Band deserves to live on!
Anytime an American icon passes, it’s a sad day, but when it’s an old personal friend and a man who gave so much to the world, as Levon did, it’s hard to get through the day! His charity work was mammoth. He was always doing benefits for schools, fire fighters, cops, political candidates, and other worthy causes. His Kid’s Rambles touched the lives of many.
I’m just glad he was able to have the resurgence he did before the end. The three Grammys, the Americana Music Association awards, the high paying gigs, and the mobs of adoring fans. At least he went out on a high note! The sad part for me is that I never got to say goodbye and I’ll never see him again. Never hear that Arkansas accent tellin’ it like it is. Never hear that one of a kind voice sing “Rag Mama Rag” again. Never hear him lay down a backbeat with simplicity and grace.
But I will have my memories! Memories of the private times we shared, the Rambles, the kindness he extended to everyone, and the music. The glorious music! The music that will live as long as there are people to hear it! Godspeed my friend!
THERE WILL BE NO LIVE MUSIC PICKS THIS WEEK. THE MUSIC DIED AGAIN LAST WEEK WITH LEVON HELM. NOT TO WORRY THOUGH, THE MUSIC WILL BE REBORN NEXT WEEK.
Reservoir Music Notes - Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductions, Live Music Picks
Greetings, and welcome to my favorite time of the year! Reservoir Music is moved (to 711 Route 28 in Kingston), so I’m back this week with a full length column. Since I took a short break from writing to move the store, y’all might not know that this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies were held over the past weekend. This year’s inductees in the “Performer” category were Guns n Roses, Small Faces/Faces, Donovan, Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Laura Nyro. The great Freddie King made it in the “Early Influence” category. “Sidemen” inducted this year included Tom Dowd, Cosimo Matassa, Glyn Johns, and Don Kirshner. Also in the “Performer” category, backing bands The Blue Caps, Crickets, Midnighters, Miracles, Famous Flames, and Comets were inducted.
Last year at this time, in my column of March 17th, 2011, I wrote a column called “The Top Ten Bands that should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but Aren’t”. I wrote this particular column in response to last year’s class of inductees, who I felt were particularly weak. Three of those on my list, Guns n Roses, Donovan, and Small Faces/Faces were inducted this year. A fourth, Tom Dowd, is a talent I have championed for many years. So I feel a little bit vindicated, but I’m still looking for the rest of my list, which was Love, T Rex, Gram Parsons, Little Feat, J. Geils Band, Joe Cocker, and Johnny Winter.
In other music news, the classic Bob Dylan album, “Blood on the Tracks”, is being made into a movie. I always thought that album played like a movie, but I’ll bet the movie sucks, unless they put a vampire in it! The subject matter is usually better in song than stage, but, of course, I reserve judgment until seen!
And sadly, Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb is reportedly in a coma and not expected to live more than a couple more days. He’s been fighting cancer.
So I guess we’re up to this week’s live music picks. Here they are.
Wednesday, April 18 – It’s the final night for FURTHER at The Beacon Theater in Manhattan. They’ll be back this Summer though, so, not to worry. A few blocks further downtown, PAUL SIMON is getting together with his two friends from Nawlins, WYNTON MARSALAS and AARON NEVILLE, at Rose Hall in the Time/Warner Center. Should be a real uptown getdown!
Thursday, April 19 – The WOODSTOCK WRITERS FESTIVAL kicks off tonight with a Rock n Roll Story Slam at Oriole 9 in Woodstock. Many more events are planned for the entire weekend. The one I’m interested in is Augusten Burroughs at The Bearsville Theater Saturday night. Full schedule and more info at www.woodstockwritersfestival.com.
Friday, April 20 – This week is really a great week for music, and tonight, if you’re downstate, is a real beaut! Local resident, GRAHAM PARKER, is at City Winery with his current backing band, THE FIGGS, Americana hero, JOHN PRINE, is at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair, NJ, and Texas rockers, LUCERO, are at Webster Hall in Manhattan. Graham Parker with a full band is one of the rockin’est performers you’ll ever see! (And he’s real good solo too!). John Prine is one of our best songwriters. And Lucero just rocks! Catch one of ‘em if you’re in the city!
Saturday, April 21 - The Wellmont is on some kind of roll this weekend! They’re following last night’s John Prine show with SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY tonight and Allison Krause on Sunday! Whatta weekend! The aforementioned AUGUSTEN BURROUGHS, author of “Running with Scissors” and other books, will be holding court at The Bearsville Theater, and PATTI ROTHBERG is at Market Market in Rosendale. I’ve heard mixed reports about Patti’s live shows, but if she does “Dirt”, it’s worth the price of admission.
Sunday, April 22 – The Wellmont continues it’s roll with ALLISON KRAUSE AND UNION STATION featuring JERRY DOUGLAS. Douglas is considered the best Dobro picker around, Allison’s a great singer, and the rest of the band is top notch too! One of the premier Bluegrass/ Newgrass groups around! THE AVETT BROTHERS is a band that I just have been unable to get into. My friends from BR 549 toured with them before they were big and they told me about them back then. Critics love ‘em. Fans love ‘em. So far, I don’t really get it. But everyone says they’re great, so make up your own mind! At The Palace Theater, Albany.
Monday, April 23 – The Incomparable GYPSY KINGS bring their troupe to The Beacon Theater in Manhattan.
Please keep my dear friend, Buddy Cage, in your prayers and meditations. Buddy was just diagnosed with cancer and will be undergoing chemo soon. Buddy was the pedal steel guitarist who for The New Riders of the Purple Sage for most of their career, after taking over from Jerry Garcia early on, and also was a member of my band, The Brooklyn Cowboys, amongst many other impressive credits, not the least of which is Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks”. Get well soon pal!
Have a great week! It’s good to be back!
Greetings, and welcome back to Reservoir Music Notes! I haven’t been on Facebook, I haven’t written my column, and I’ve been pulling 18 hour days for the past three weeks while moving my store, Reservoir Music, a few miles down the road! As of this writing, we are fully in our new location, 711 Route 28, Kingston, NY 12401. I kept the phone numbers. Call at 845-657-6127 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am so happy to be in my new location! It’s like night and day, hot and cold, porter and wagoner, the difference between the vibe at my new place versus the old. The old location was good to me, but this one promises to take it to another level! It’s like I got a new lease on life! I can’t wait to get here every morning and I don’t wanna leave at night! I’m really enjoying what I do again! Y’all should stop by and you’ll see what I’m talking about! I look forward to greeting you at my new establishment.
This is gonna be a minimalized blog this week. It’s not that I have nothing to say. It’s that my head just stopped spinning from the last three weeks of moving and getting reorganized, and I still need one more week to return to normal, so there won’t be any live music picks this week. Yer on yer own! I will say, though, that Further, Springsteen, and NRBQ are all gonna be around this week and next, so, maybe it’s time for an arena show! NRBQ, BTW, are not playing an arena!
Enjoy your week, and I’ll see you back here next week with a full length piece of my mind! Thanks for reading!
Archives - archived columns are also posted online at www.thetownsman.com. Many of them are still interesting, even though they're old.