R.I.P. Levon Helm
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
Fans of the Band no doubt read these words at some point yesterday, and took a moment to tip the proverbial hat to Levon Helm, drummer and singer for the legendary country and rock and folk and blues-melding supergroup. Helm had been battling cancer since 1998.
On May 26, 1940, Mark Lavon (Levon) Helm was born the second of four children to Nell and Diamond Helm in Elaine, Arkansas, cotton farmers who occasionally dabbled in and amply exposed their children to local music. Helm's first live show was seeing Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys at the age of six, an experience which according to his 1993 autobiography, "really tattooed my brain."
He got his first guitar at the age of nine, and having grown up listening to local radio greats and the Grand Ole Opry, at twelve constructed a string bass out of a washtub for his sister Linda, who would play bass lines while Levon slapped percussion on his thighs and played harmonica and guitar. "Lavon and Linda" took the Arkansas 4-H Club talent contest circuit by storm, and at fourteen, Helm saw Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley share a local bill. From the thumping, organically-backyard rhythms of the washtub bass to the rocking, popular sounds of the likes of Presley, it's no doubt these early influences were formative in shaping the sounds that eventually became The Band.
But before this would happen, "Lavon and Linda" shared the stage with (Conway) Twitty and his Rock Housers, and in 1957 Helm joined a musician by the name of Ronnie Hawkins, performing with his band The Hawks and appearing on American Bandstand with Dick Clark, who had only a few years earlier taken over for original host Bob Horn.
By the mid-1960s, Helm usurped Hawkins and made the band his own "Levon and The Hawks," later "The Canadian Squires," still later "The Hawks," and it was under this name that the group helped Dylan "go electric" in '65. They all took up residence in a big pink house in Woodstock, NY, and it was here they became known locally simply as "the band," a name that stuck.
Helm met his wife Sandra in 1974, they were married in 1981 in Woodstock, and since then have made a well-known barn and studio in Woodstock their home. He was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998, but has since continued performing with his daughter Amy, founding The Midnight Ramble Sessions in 2004, monthly performances at "the Barn" featuring the likes of Emmylou Harris, Dr. John, John Sebastian, Allan Toussaint, Elvis Costello, Kris Kristofferson and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
Our best wishes to Helm's extensive family, both actual and musical kin alike.
The Band - "Up On Cripple Creek"
The Band - "The Weight"
Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks - "Need Your Lovin'"
The Band - "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"
Helm in Coal Miner's Daughter
Levon Helm and Sissy Spacek - "Honky Tonkin'"
Elton John - "Levon" (inspired by Helm)