20 Apr 12
Levon Helm, drummer, singer and founding member of The Band, died at age 71 on 19 April from complications from cancer in New York City. When Bob Dylan went electric in 1965 / 1966, it was The Band that backed him up. In 1968, The Band released their debut album, Music From Big Pink. When Eric Clapton inducted them into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1994, he cited it as an influential album and said when he first heard it, he wanted to head to Woodstock to join them.
Over the years, Eric collaborated with Levon several times, most notably on one of Eric’s finest albums of the 1970s, No Reason To Cry. In April 1976, Eric and Levon played on sessions for Kinky Friedman’s album, Lasso From El Passo. When the group performed it’s final concerts in November 1976, Eric, along with Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan joined The Band on stage in San Francisco. Filmed by Martin Scorcese, The Last Waltz is one of the greatest concert documentaries of all time.
After the breakup of The Band, Levon recorded two solo albums. The Band reformed in the 1980s. In October 1992, they performed at a tribute concert for Bob Dylan, an event at which Eric and George Harrison also performed.
Levon was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998. Following treatment, his singing voice eventually came back.
In the 2000s, he began hosting “Midnight Rambles” on Saturday nights at his home studio near Woodstock, New York headlined by The Levon Helm Band. Elvis Costello, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins, Rickie Lee Jones and more all sat in with Levon and his band over the years. In 2008, he took the Ramble on the road, recording the CD “Ramble At The Ryman” at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee.
Levon’s band regularly toured until earlier this year. They were also fixtures at festivals around America over the preceding decade.
In 2007, Levon released Dirt Farmer, his first solo album in 25 years. Critically acclaimed, it won a Grammy Award the following year for “Best Traditional Folk Album.” He followed it up with Electric Dirt in 2009, which won the first-ever Grammy for “Best Americana Album.”
Levon was also an acclaimed actor, best known for his starring roles in Coal Miners Daughter, in which he portrayed Loretta Lynn’s father, and The Right Stuff.
Levon … you’ll be missed by music fans everywhere. Rest in peace.
Here are some of The Where’s Eric Team’s favorite performance clips of Levon: