Love For Levon: Reactions to the Death of Levon Helm

Levon Helm passed away today after a long battle with cancer. This afternoon and over the next few days we expect plenty of tributes and thoughts about The Band drummer to file in from around the world. We’ll compile word of those tributes within this post and will update it accordingly.

[Photos by Jeremy Gordon]

Obituaries and Remembrances:

  • “The only American member of the quintessential Americana quintet, Helm—who also played mandolin, guitar and other instruments—had managed to beat the odds for nearly two decades since being diagnosed with throat cancer in the late 1990s. “
  • Rolling Stone:  “But at one his last shows, in Ann Arbor on March 19th with a 13-piece band, the audience roared when he sang the Band classic ‘Ophelia.'”
  • New York Times: “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.”
  • Billboard: “People ask me about ‘The Last Waltz’ all the time,” Helm writes in a forward of “This Wheel’s on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of The Band.” “Rick Danko dying at fifty-six is what I think about ‘The Last Waltz.’ It was the biggest f–kin’ rip-off that ever happened to The Band — without a doubt.”
  • USA Today: “Countering the psychedelic trend that dominated the fractured music scene, they wrote and recorded songs steeped in old-time country, soul, R&B, ’50s rock, gospel, blues and folk ballads — with lyrics that spoke of an older America.”
  • Los Angeles Times: “But the one that might crystallize his approach to music throughout his life was “The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show,” an ode to the kind of freewheeling gatherings in which the musician, who died of cancer Thursday at 71 in New York, thoroughly reveled.”
  • Grateful Web: “Levon Helm was a very special person to many people and the music community at large and his presence will be missed, but his music will live on forever.”
  • Washington Post: “Though its music was often called “country rock,” The Band was as much influenced by gospel, rhythm and blues, New Orleans jazz and hillbilly music as by the contemporary Nashville music scene. The band often used the mandolin, tuba or accordion in its arrangements. Mr. Helm said the dual keyboard sound — Manuel’s organ and Hudson’s piano — was inspired by Anglican church music.”
  • Bob Dylan: “He was my bosom buddy friend to the end, one of the last true great spirits of my or any other generation.”
  • SPIN: “As the unmistakable voice carrying songs like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “The Weight,” and “Up on Cripple Creek,” Helm gave the ’60s a signature rasp of ragged desperation and defiance.”
  • Time: “And all I can say is: if you were one of the lucky ones who caught a Midnight Ramble, good for you; if you never did, shoot yourself.”
  • Real Clear Politics: “We heard all of it in that soulful howl of his lamenting the missing Ophelia and the soul-crushed Confederate soldier, and the temptations and ravages of the road.”
  • NPR’s The Record: “Helm got back on his feet financially and physically, and the Ramble became a regular event. People came from around the world to hear the man play in his own home. “
  • Village Voice: “As any fan, who considered The Band his family, you so wanted these two friends to shake hands one last time and say ‘I’ll see you down the line pardner.'”
  • President Bill Clinton: ” His music, with the Hawks, the Band, and throughout his career, and his standout performance in Coal Miner’s Daughter, touched a cord with me and with many Americans. He never forgot his roots.”
  • Widespread Panic Bassist Dave Schools: ” There was a real homespun honesty about the way he sang about the simple things in life and how sometimes they weren’t so simple. These were songs of the common man…sung by a most uncommon man. And that swinging beat…it was just irresistible.”
  • Elvis Costello: ” The are few more stirring sounds in all recorded music than the drags and press rolls and that announce in the last chorus of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”. No other drummer ever sang with such sadness and longing. Few singers of any kind could manage it.”
  • Joe Henry: “In the same way that his great friend and sometimes-boss Bob Dylan connected the dots between Jimmy Reed, Arthur Rimbaud and Muhammad Ali, so Levon drew the second line that had Howlin’ Wolf, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Marvin Gaye and Hank Williams all dancing out in front of the same New Orleans funeral parade. “
  • Jeff Tweedy: “Levon was the glue, not just in The Band, but in all of what people think of when they think of North American music. He was a great unifier; a great glue. He unified blues and country, rural and city, and even North and South. Luckily he showed us all the way to keep it together and let it swing.”
  • Glen Kotche: “Getting the privilege to double drum with him last year at our Solid Sound festival was one of the greatest thrills I could ever imagine. He was a passionate man with an extremely gracious, warm and giving personality.”
  • The Jayhawks: “Hell, we even named our band “The Jayhawks” as a nod to their original name “The Hawks,” a fact made clear to him as we stood backstage watching his daughter play at a venue in Woodstock about 10 years ago.”
  • Amnesty International: “On behalf of Amnesty International’s millions of members around the world I want to say how grateful we are to Levon Helm for his generous artistic contribution and support that will make a real difference to our life-saving work around the world,”
  • Martin Scorsese: “The late Jim Carroll once said that Levon Helm was the only drummer who could make you cry, and he was absolutely right. Levon’s touch was so delicate, so   deft, that he gave you more than just a beat – he gave the music a pulse. “
  • Nils Lofgren: “Our friendship continued and every time we spoke on the phone–or the too rare occasions when our paths would cross–I felt honored and blessed to count him as a friend.”
  • Bernie Taupin: “Oh, I guess I just want to say all these things about the earth and granite of his being, the raw Appalachian timber of his voice and the powerful sway of his backbeat. The throb of his tom-toms the first time I heard “Tears Of Rage” and that wicked, knowing smile recounting tales of Carney barkers and backwater medicine shows.”
  • Simone Felice: “Could it have been little more than a month back that I sat on a wooden bench not five feet from his drum-riser as he played and sang Ophelia with the grace of a veteran dancer, the spirit of a country preacher, at once lithe, weather-worn, fiery, weary, imperishable.”
  • The Atlantic – Levon Helm Was Perfect: “Levon Helm will be sorely missed, and never forgotten. He cuts an imposing figure in the history of rock and roll and leaves behind a body of work that that we’re blessed to have, a lifetime of perfect tempos, perfect taste, perfect feel.”
  • CBS News – Levon Helm’s Miraculous Encore: “In the whole history of rock n’ roll, no one ever had a greater encore than Levon Helm.” [VIDEO]
  • Jeff Hanna – Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: “The Band showed us a way to combine all of the truly great American musical forms and reshape them into something beautiful and unique.”
  • Ringo Starr: “God bless Levon. It was great spending time with you. Peace & love, Ringo”
  • Los Lobos: “Our recent experience sharing the stage with Levon at what will be the last Ramble was truly one of the amazing nights of our entire career.”
  • Phil Lesh: “Levon may be gone from our daily lives, but his spirit still burns brightly in our hearts. My love and prayers go out to his family, friends, and fans around the world.”
  • Peter Stone Brown: “For almost 50 years, Levon Helm brought me something that went beyond mere pleasure.”
  • Jane Fonda: “I got to know Levon personally because he played my husband in the ABC movie “The Dollmaker.” He was kind and deep and devoted to music, as a singer and playing not only drums, but harmonica, fiddle, mandolin, you name it.”
  • Jon Taplin: “Levon and Garth Hudson made a good living ($150,000 a year) off royalties from The Band’s eight recordings in the 60′s and 70′s up until 2001 when the Big Pirate sites like Limewire and (in 2003) Pirate Bay really got going. And then the record royalties came to a halt. “
  • Rich Robinson: “My Love goes out to Levon and his family. Levon and his music is a great gift to this world. He will always be remembered. It was a true honor for me to get to know him over these last few years and share a musical experience.”
  • Pitchfork: “He sounds like a man with something to say and– unexpectedly, miraculously– time to say it. Every artist should go out on such a strong note. And perhaps that’s what makes his death so tough to accept: Even at 71, it seemed like he was just getting started.”
  • Jim Weider: “I thank all of you for your caring thoughts in this tough time of such a great loss. Levon gave so much to all of us, and changed my life from the day I started playing music with him!!”
  • Susan LaSala (Big Pink owner): “We’re all gonna miss you but will always hear you voice and your heart-beat through the land and the whispering of the north-wind in the pines out back.”
  • No Depression: “In the Band’s vocal ensemble, his brawny Razorback yawp supplied the group’s bottom, meshing sublimely with Richard Manuel’s tenor reveries and Rick Danko’s baritone parabolas; as a lead singer, he conveyed a rush of emotion – weariness, confusion, rage, priapic delight – with directness and unerring honesty.”
  • Listen Up Denver: “As time went on, my father spent more and more time at The Barn, and with Levon. When I got a call that he and my little sister (who babysat Levon’s grandson) would be going on tour with The Levon Helm Band, and they would be making a stop at Red Rocks, I couldn’t really believe my ears. My dad, a retired construction worker, was now living a life I could only dream of, and one he never imagined!”
  • Rob Delaney: “I can’t speak for Levon Helm or Robbie Robertson (or Sammy Davis, Jr., in whose Los Angeles home they converted into a studio to record “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,”) but those gentlemen made a work of art that reached out across the decades to me and made me feel love and empathy and kinship with someone who I would’ve thought was different than me in the past, but that I now know isn’t.”
  • Chadbyrne Dickens: “Without question, for a lot of music lovers, Levon’s passing represents more than just a man, but a symbol of a past era, one of the last moguls of the old guard, the idealistic time of the Woodstock Music Festival and folk music when it was more significant to the common man.”
  • Stephen Davis: Interview w/ Levon’s Co-Author
  • Wall Street Journal: Legendary Rock Drummer Remembered
  • Elton John: Levon – A Part of My Life That Was Legendary
  • Poughkeepsie Journal: Levon Helm Truly An Angel 
  • Ronnie Hawkins: Video of Interview About Levon

Levon Helm’s First TV Appearance – 1959

Musical Tributes:

Hidden Track Coverage:

Stories About Levon:

Finally, we’ll compile tweets about the passing of Levon Helm below…!/LevonHelmRamble/status/193057494820601856!/Joeyrusso/status/193064061032857600!/RHCPchad/status/193062525493968896!/jackie_greene/status/193062656947650560!/georgiakral/status/193060684349706240!/LesRocco/status/193061498426368000!/thewarrenhaynes/status/193061576721448962!/FRabbits/status/193061075053314048!/ryanstasik/status/193060831431376896!/patrickhallahan/status/193057519336300544!/yimyames/status/193061330272526336!/marcmaron/status/193059869711007744!/benchten/status/193058192178159616!/jambase/status/193058241784188929!/blues_traveler/status/193056822880518144!/mountain_goats/status/193055880214872067!/GalacticFunk/status/193056318993596416!/bestycoastyy/status/193055201400328194!/originalwyllys/status/193054753406713856!/guster/status/193054277680365569!/grahamelesh/status/193053373589762049!/davyknowles/status/193065416187326465!/TaylorRHicks/status/193065025827643392!/CameronCrowe/status/193065950227075073!/akronfamily/status/193066647790174208!/SherylCrow/status/193067843749818369!/gracepotter/status/193067963404918784!/TheLewisBlack/status/193066302284369920!/felicebrothers/status/193071959616131074!/ZooeyDeschanel/status/193071639607525376!/Chromeo/status/193072469865799680!/warondrugsjams/status/193073295510351872!/darkstarorch/status/193076330718445569!/brushfire/status/193076500864577536!/mickeyhart/status/193076806423822336!/theweightonline/status/193077451973341184!/jamieshields70/status/193078088320552960!/richardroeper/status/193061856313741314!/michellebranch/status/193077653450928128!/atrak/status/193076575795818496!/Wildaboutmusic/status/193078872533774336!/passionpit/status/193086463515168769!/yimyames/status/193095413329436673!/moeperiod/status/193094383044788225!/JustLiana/status/193091729489014784!/questlove/status/193090970013806592!/dawestheband/status/193090764488712193!/adamlevine/status/193088127563333632!/okkervilriver/status/193098136003166208!/Slash/status/193094649026592768!/alecbaldwin/status/193090568161738752!/billybragg/status/193088819900325890!/rosannecash/status/193086172162035712!/colinmeloy/status/193082167516078080!/SaraWatkins/status/193098314143641600!/The_National/status/193098163966574592

Of course The Band was a huge influence on Phish and many other bands. But Levon’s own musical career is just so inspiring…. from wanting to leave the Bob Dylan scene in the 60s despite all the success around it in order to follow his own musical tastes to the incredible Midnight Rambles of recent years. I was lucky enough to go to four of the Rambles and play at one, and these were life changing experiences. Jon Fishman called home from the parking lot after the first one I went to, saying it was a top musical experience of his life.

I’ve always thought music can exist so perfectly when churning in the confines of a barn, and this took it to an extreme where American culture was simply bubbling over with authenticity, passion, and a connection to the backwoods and the hills. It’s a testament that ten or fifteen incredible (and notable) musicians came through each time to make up and enhance this house band (not to mention the incredible opening bands). In the middle of the barn, with his deep seventy year old smile, Levon’s uniquely spare yet fierce drumming propelled a repertoire through these enchanted nights. Folk, bluegrass, and country blended effortlessly with blues, soul, and funk, creating a melting pot of sounds unique to our country. And despite battles with throat cancer, Levon would grab the mic and sing so powerfully that it shook the beams of his old barn-home to the core.

To do a few cool things when someone’s young is one thing, but then to grow older and cultivate such a heartfelt and moving musical situation is very inspiring. It’s no wonder so many artists are influenced by his sound, his sensibility, and his projects with their own pursuits. This is a huge loss, and I’m sorry for anyone who couldn’t experience that magic first hand, and I’m thankful that our country and our musical community was lucky enough to be graced by such a soul – Mike Gordon!/ShooterJennings/status/193152169501921280!/wilco/status/193133307867836416!/RailroadEarth/status/193112063197978624!/Jeffreyaustin10/status/193105609728606208!/WilcoNews/status/193100989174259714!/JoeWalsh/status/193093810182557697!/rainnwilson/status/193180247338909698!/carlbroemel/status/193163597793329152!/nigelhall76/status/193205681254449152!/RadioWoodstock/status/193306435965296641!/dawestheband/status/193225977181110272!/RyanMontbleau/status/193336422747488256!/wsjrock/status/193334907441909760!/vanmorrison/status/193066133409103872!/johnhiattmusic/status/193110049009315840!/JasonIsbell/status/193070261170479104!/The_LorettaLynn/status/193081544225722369!/mogwaiband/status/193072531572396032!/mapsnatlases/status/193073540369620993!/LennyKravitz/status/193143769212780544!/TerrapinXroads/status/193378092222394368!/TheBonnieRaitt/status/193436620861616129!/TheBonnieRaitt/status/193436977763323904!/coachella/status/193588842933133313!/brainofjoacohen/status/193573484872470529!/Hot_Chip/status/193664365327679489!/JohnOates/status/193651499077869568!/coldplay/status/193468538403565570!/keshasuxx/status/193375281489264640!/JoshRamsay/status/193254884051660801!/Alabama_Shakes/status/193196176252747776!/danlanois/status/193174851253579776!/iamMarkRonson/status/193149855676370946!/JohnStamos/status/193144012847329282!/ACNewman/status/193143741287112704!/HappyWoman9/status/193128340931100674!/thisisryanross/status/193119103010086913!/joywilliams/status/193114941593628672!/flea333/status/193101166245191680!/johncusack/status/193073037900390400!/lancearmstrong/status/193072632650936320!/christhile/status/193067862099886080

[Note: This Post Will Be Updated Continually]

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4 Responses

  1. My husband and I were lucky enough to go to the Halloween Ramble in 2010. It was easily the most joyous show I’ve ever seen. Thanks for compiling these tributes for those who loved him, but who never had a chance to meet him.

  2. Lafayette’s legendary & extraordinary band, Li’l Band O’Gold dedicated their Band-like anthem “Spoonbread” to Levon in New Orleans last night & followed it with a torrid version of Bobby Charles’s “Street People”, which Levon played drums on original. A moving, powerful set.

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