RIP Levon Helms

Eric Banjitar

Senior member
It seems, sadly, that I have posted many of these announcements lately. Here goes:

We lost another great musician this week everybody. Levon Helms WAS The Band. Although he mostly played drums and sang, he was a skilled string player and also a recording engineer and actor. His band was soo good that when Bob Dylan decided to go electric, it was Levon Helms' band (The Band) that he chose to back him.  If you have never seen the video "The Last Waltz" you owe it to yourself to do so. Although this seems like a pinacle performance, Levon played-on mostly doing small local gigs and recording from his home in Woodstock, NY.  Mike Gordon of the jamband Phish attended several of Helm's Midnight Ramble house concerts — the first one with Phish drummer Jon Fishman. Gordon posted this message on "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...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 (Helm's) 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"

"He had a musical voice on drums and, obviously, in singing, that speaks universally, and that's a rarefied atmosphere that he performed in," said Danny Louis of Ulster County, a member of Gov't Mule who has performed with Gregg Allman and Joe Cocker, and who performed multiple times with the Levon Helm Band. "I always felt two main things when I got the opportunity to play with him. One was privilege and the other was joy — and it was infectious and contagious. I think my own joy of playing music was encouraged by him in so many different ways. Levon had a gift that was undeniably healing and universal. He could sing and play and within and a fraction of a second you knew it was him. Anytime I ever played with him, he took the time to tell me 'thanks' and that he really enjoyed it. And I always said, 'No. Thank you. I really enjoyed it."

Helm played Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and Wembley Stadium in London, but found some of his biggest success staging his Midnight Rambles at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock.

"He went peacefully," said Larry Campbell, a part-time Hudson Valley resident who was music director of the Levon Helm Band. "He was surrounded by friends and band mates and family."

Helm died of cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan.

"Levon Helm passed peacefully this afternoon," read a message posted on Thursday. " He was surrounded by family, friends and band mates and will be remembered by all he touched as a brilliant musician and a beautiful soul."

Tony LoBue of Levon Helm Studios posted a message on his Facebook page from Jimmy Vivino, the band leader for Conan O'Brien's late-night television talk show and a close friend of Helm's, who helped the Arkansas native launch his successful Midnight Ramble house concerts. Vivino referenced two of Helm's former band mates in The Band, the late Richard Manuel and the late Rick Danko.

"We are all saddened by the loss of our friend and brother," Vivino wrote. "He crossed over today surrounded by love and the music of angels singing. The voice of America is silent only till we play his music....there's plenty out there to hear. Now the chord is complete and the triad of Richard, Ricky and Levon can be heard in Heaven and in Earth. Pure Harmony. Jimmy V"

Helm's Facebook following grew by 30,000 since news he was dying of cancer was posted on Tuesday.

"As someone who is not from this area, it is particularly unbelievable the way this guy has touched the lives of Hudson Valley residents," said Will Baylies, afternoon host on WKZE (98.1 FM) in Red Hook and a Bard College graduate who is originally from California. "That's the thing that is really sticking with me now, how personal my co-workers and KZE listeners are taking this. It sort of seems like, that's the power of music, or the power of the soul."

Three hours after word of his death was posted on his Facebook page Thursday afernoon, 7,337 people had read the message and 4,605 people had left comments.

"Rest easy Levon," Jeni Simmers posted on Facebook. "Shine on and let your beautiful soul burn brightly."
His family announced Tuesday that he was "in the final stages of his battle with cancer."

“I don’t think," said musician David Kraai of Gardiner, who saw Helm perform dozens of times, “I’ve ever seen anyone happier when they’re playing music than Levon Helm.”

John Donabie of Toronto is a Canadian radio personality who met Helm in 1969. Donabie was in attendance at the very first concert played by The Band in Canada.

"Levon was a journeyman musician," Donabie told the Journal Thursday. "He always came to play, just for the joy of it. As a friend of 40-plus years, there was no one as loyal, kind or as generous as Levon."

Helm’s compelling and inspiring life story, in addition to the music he made, likely lied at the heart of his appeal for average, everyday folks. Though Helm was a rock star, many likely found a kindred soul in the 71-year-old, who overcame problems that can affect anybody — bankruptcy and throat cancer. Helm in 1998 underwent surgery and 28 radiation treatments for throat cancer.

''Music is food for the soul, food for the heart,'' Helm told the Journal in 2005. ''You've got to have a happy heart. Without music, your soul goes suffering.''

He carved out a musical legacy that will live on through signature singing on timeless Band songs like “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” He will also be remembered for performances with his fellow members of rock music’s elite: Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band and Joe Walsh of The Eagles, among countless other notable names.

As new technology left the recording industry struggling to find its footing in recent years, Helm’s emphasis on family, friends and home at his Midnight Ramble house concerts in Woodstock allowed him to create his own live performance venue and release records on his own terms.

The Midnight Rambles built a steady audience and fueled a monster comeback that earned Helm three consecutive solo Grammys.
For more coverage, visit the website of the Journal's sister paper in Nashville, The Tennessean, at



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Thanks for posting that.  I remember the first time I saw The Last Waltz and thinking that those guys were meant to do exactly what they were doing.  What an amazing thing to have followed his musical journey so selflessly for his whole life and give so much joy.  Theres a lot of lessons there folks.