As crazy as it sounds, I held out hope that Robbie Robertson would honor his former band mate Levon Helm at The Grammys last Sunday. You’re probably familiar with the story that Robertson visited his ex-best friend last April while he was on his deathbed. Robbie didn’t attend the funeral and according to Don Imus, a close friend of Levon’s, Helm still held a grudge even after Robertson’s visit. Yet I figured The Grammy tribute would be the perfect time for the guitarist to let bygones be bygones and honor Levon. Sadly, that didn’t happen and if the reason is what a former The Band employee claims, it’s a damn shame.
Jonathan Taplin was The Band’s tour manager starting in 1969. Taplin has gone on to produce films, teach and has worked in finance. In a just-posted blog entry titled “Rhythms of Life,” Taplin discusses his experience during Grammys Weekend. At the end of the post is a sentence that contains the first on-the-record discussion of why Robertson didn’t participate in The Grammys’ tribute to Levon, “As angry as I was that Levon’s wife kept Robbie Robertson off the stage (it’s a long and sad story of paranoia), Zac, Mavis, T Bone and the Mumfords did a wonderful version of ‘The Weight’, which was a fitting end to a great night of Americana.”
If Taplin is to be believed, Sandy Helm kept Robbie from performing on Sunday. We should note that among the people Robertson mentioned as having greeted him at Levon’s bedside last April, there was no mention of Sandy. In Robbie’s note, he did say “My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Sandy.”
Back in September Levon Helm Band musical director Larry Campbell and Robbie Robertson spoke, separately, with American Songwriter about the Robbie/Levon feud and we found Larry’s responses most interesting. He understood why Levon felt the way that he did about Robbie, but admitted Helm was beyond logic in his reasoning. Campbell also discussed the small role Helm played in the songs he co-wrote with him which adds credence to Robertson’s view that he deserved all the songwriting credit.
You won’t find many people that thought Levon would’ve ever ended his feud with Robbie had he not become deathly ill. So there is something to be said for Sandy honoring her man by keeping the grudge going. That said, it sure would’ve been nice to see Robbie get to pay tribute to his old friend and musical collaborator at not only The Grammys but also at last year’s Love For Levon tribute. I look forward to reading what Robertson has to say about the situation in his forthcoming autobiography.