Apr 20, 2012
I had tickets to see Levon Helm and his band at a local theatre tomorrow night. I'll never get the chance to see him.
Helm, one of the core members of The Band, passed away today from cancer. He was 71. As Jon Pareles put it in his New York Times obituary:
In Mr. Helm’s drumming, muscle, swing, economy and finesse were inseparably merged. His voice held the bluesy, weathered and resilient essence of his Arkansas upbringing in the Mississippi Delta...Mr. Helm gave his drums a muffled, bottom-heavy sound that placed them in the foundation of the arrangements, and his tom-toms were tuned so that their pitch would bend downward as the tone faded. But his playing didn’t call attention to himself. Three bass-drum thumps at the beginning of one of the Band’s anthems, “The Weight,“ were all that he needed to establish the song’s gravity. His playing served the song. In “The Shape I’m In," he juxtaposed Memphis soul, New Orleans rumba and military tattoo. But though it was tersely responsive to the music, the drumming also had an improvisational feel.
Whether he was backing Ronnie Hawkins, and later Bob Dylan, or serving as the musical core of the highly influential The Band with Robbie Robertson, Helms was a major musician, and a figure who will be missed. It's his world weary voice that is the center of such classic tunes as “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Ophelia” and “Rag Mama Rag”.
Cassandra Wilson recorded a stunning version of "The Weight", another Band classic. Let's give Levon a moment of silence, and then let it play - loud, true and free.