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Friday, April 20, 2012

Have a great weekend

Comments (13)

RIP, Levon.

It's hard to beat The Band, but do check out Levon's last three albums—they are fantastic.

He's on David Bromberg's recent record as well.

Thanks for this, Jack. It's hard to believe that 3 of them are gone now. One of my faves:


And a blast from the past ("the first American [rock] group to appear on the cover of Time magazine.") -- live from Big Pink:


And the road goes on forever....

In the cat food aisle at New Seasons today, the eyelashes moistened when, somehow, the soundtrack delivered Jimi Hendrix singing "electric ladyland". I decided on the spot that Eileen Brady will most definitely get my vote. The inclination wavered when the next song came on, some hip-hop mash, a female singer, singing lyrics that included words like "accomplishment" "power" and "race", uttered in a very pissed off way. Jimi,couldn't you just have avoided mixing your substances, and not killed yourself with a gruelling concert schedule that made you too freaking tired to wake up? Then maybe these hip-hop creeps we have to endure today would have turned out some better music. Or, rather, just have turned out some music.

I can't find any good youtube videos of him singing.

I just read "This Wheel's On Fire" and the story of Levon's upbringing in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas is epic. So many rockers were responding to something from somewhere else. The British rockers were listening to America, etc...and some guys in Canada - who would become the Band - were absorbing it from afar as well. But it was different for Levon Helm.

Lavon - as he was called then - was right in the middle of the action. Rock and roll was born in front of him - not by mythical figures from somewhere else - but by his neighbors, and the traveling acts that would roll through town. He was listening to the radio stations like everyone else, but he was also dropping by the stations and seeing the performances live.

So he got to see rock and roll come to life as he grew himself. That's why - unlike most rockers - he wasn't imitating anything. He wasn't Mick trying to sound like a blues singer. He was authentic.

Plus - and this is the weird part - he seemed to embody American history going back to the Civil War, almost like some kind of collective ghost from our past.

Meanwhile, other parts of the world had an insatiable appetite for this new music. It's why Jimi Hendrix went to England and thrived, and before that, it was why Ronnie Hawkins hired a young Levon Helm and headed to Canada with some other southern musicians, in a move that would eventually allow the Band to meet.

Incidentally, Ronnie Hawkins could be one of the more colorful people ever. He seems to speak in great one-liners: "Don't call it an orgy. Call it 7 or 8 people in love."

Anyway, their adventures on the road - including not getting paid one time and burning a nightclub to the ground - are the truly fun part of the book.

Now the second half of the story? The fame half? Brutally ugly as usual. For example, this clip above is from "The Last Waltz", a movie Levon claims he never saw a penny from. Think of how many times it's been on TV while Levon went bankrupt paying medical bills. And he never got paid a cent for this?

Robbie Robertson's split from the Band made Paul and John's seem like a lovefest. Levon flat out accuses Robbie of causing the death of bassist Rick Danko. Robbie got much richer off the Band's songs with royalties that Helms felt should have been split more equally, and Levon felt the resulting disparity in wealth drove Rick Danko to an early grave from overwork.

So don't expect to find a wonderful feeling from that part of the story.

However, once Levon had gone though several more major calamities - including almost losing a leg after he accidentally shot himself - things took a turn for the worse when he got throat cancer. But here's the great part:

After many radiation treatments and the removal of a tumor from his throat, Levon spent a couple of years barely able to whisper. Then his voice returned - one of the great voices in the history of rock and roll came back, damaged but still there.

And after all that, he went on to win 3 more Grammys before the cancer finished him off. Quite a display of human toughness.

He took that southern tragedy of the sharecropper wronged by injustice and bad luck and battled it all the way to 2012. That's what we've just witnessed: One of the tougher good people to struggle in the music business, and one of the truly authentic forces ever to come along in the history of American music.

No rock drummer ever did more with a basic drum kit setup, not even Ringo, Watts, Densmore, or Weinberg. Well, maybe.

On 1975's Born to Run, Weinberg's drumming evoked two of his idols, Ringo Starr and Levon Helm, and he covered his snare drum with heavy paper towels to capture some of the Memphis soul sound.

Moon, Bonham, Mason, Palmer, Baker, Bruford, Seraphine, Phillips, et al., worked with a lot more equipment. Different scene.

Levon was peerless. Peerless.

The End ~ The Beatles (Abbey Road, remastered)

One more anecdote from the book: According to Levon, Neil Young performed in "The Last Waltz" with a rock of cocaine shoved up his nostril that was clearly visible in some shots. So during editing, Martin Scorsese had to make a special matte to block it out in the film. Rock and roll.

Thanks for the video, Jack. I spent a little while watching footage of Hendrix playing the Star Spangled banner this morning. Our son was fascinated.

Although "hey Joe" was part of my teenage lifeblood, the compendium of life's lessons really makes me wish there were such high-quality videos of him singing more mystical/less searing songs. I can't find videos of him singing Little Wing, or any of the dreamier stuff from electric ladyland. His guitar virtuosity/originality is so striking, that his beyond-gorgeous singing seems relatively ignored, if YouTube is any indicator of public interest. .. Maybe video copyrights are all tied up with the snare of lawsuits around his estate. Sad.

I might just get myself to get on the elliptical trainer if I could simultaneously watch him sing Little Wing. I guess Hey Joe will have to do for now. Someone develop an app! Jazzercise with Jimi..(.not.)

My all time favorite version of one of my all time favorite songs. The Band, Mavis, Pops - doesn't get much better than that. . .

"one of the great voices in the history of rock and roll came back, damaged but still there"

Yes yes!


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