Produced in Arkansas in 1940, Levon Helm grew up in Marvell, Arkansas. He began his musical career performing along with his sister Linda. In 1957, Helm joined Ronnie Hawkins’s group and through Hawkins met the future members of The Band. The Band formed in 1967 and became among the very powerful groups of the age. Later in his life, Helm worked on such solo endeavors as Dirt Farmer (2007). He expired on April 19, 2012.
Helm grew up listening to the diverse musical styles of the Mississippi Delta area. These sounds, that range from state to R&B to early rock and roll to the blues, significantly affected his work in his infamous group The Band and as a solo musician. Helm got his first guitar in the age of 9, only among the many instruments he’d figure out how to play. Before long, he was performing along with his sister Linda. In 1957, he joined Ronnie Hawkins’ group as his drummer.
Dylan shortly hired them to play as his group because of his tour his first with electrified instruments. Dylan’s fans loathed these performances, objecting to the vocalist’s left of the acoustic sound of conventional folk. Frustrated by the jeering crowds, Helm returned home to Arkansas to get a period.
In 1967, Helms rejoined his band mates in West Saugerties, Ny. They were living in a large pink leased house together while Dylan recuperated from a bike accident in nearby Woodstock. These sessions made their debut album, Music from Big Pink (1968), named after their area of dwelling. The record featured a remarkable mixture of styles country, folk, rock and blues and created a sound that was both modern and traditional.
These five performers frequently shared or switched on the group’s vocals, and Helm added his distinctive Southern twang to a number of famous tunes. For their 1969 self-titled follow up record, Helms gave voice to the narrative of Confederate heartbreak in “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
The Band continued to perform and record during the the next couple of years, but tensions were growing inside the group. Helm apparently became frustrated with how the songs were credited, considering guitarist Robertson took exclusive possession of works that were collaborative efforts. And Robertson tired of touring. The Band had one final hurrah, a concert called The Last Waltz in 1976. The show was all star event with appearances by Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell among others. Filmed by Martin Scorsese, a picture of the concert debuted two years after. Helm apparently believed the film focused more on Robertson, also it proved to be the final straw for Helm and Robertson. Helm did not talk to Robertson for years after the concert film’s launch. They toured and recorded together, nevertheless they neglected to recapture their early musical magic.
In 1983, Helm had a part in the space play The Right Stuff (1983). In 1998, Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer. He was not able to speak above a whisper for a while, however he eventually recovered a few of his voice. During the the next couple of years, Helm shortly found himself in financial hot water. In 2004, Helm started a string of concerts called Midnight Rambles as an individual fundraising effort.
Using a raspier advantage to his voice, Helm returned to making records. He loved critical acclaim with 2007’s Dirt Farmer and 2009’s Electric Dirt, each of which won Grammy Awards. In February 2012, Helm took home his closing Grammy Award for Best Americana Album for Ramble in the Ryman. This live record got one of Helm’s well-known Ramble shows performed at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.
That April, Helm’s family declared the legendary performer was losing his fight with cancer. His wife Sandy and daughter Amy wrote a thank you to his devotees who made “his life so full of happiness and celebration.” Levon Helm expired on April 19, 2012, in a Nyc hospital. He was 71. As one critic wrote, “Helm had a voice unlike any other in rock music: definitively Southern, soulful and gritty, an oak-barreled whiskey that occasionally went down having a fiery kick.”
Before his departure, Helm had made up with former band mate Robbie Robertson. Robertson had seen with Helm in the hospital. After Helm’s departure, Robertson released a statement, saying “Levon is among the very most amazing, gifted individuals I Have ever known and very much like an older brother if you ask me. I’m so glad I got to see him one last time.”
Since Helm’s departure, other musicians have sought to continue his musical heritage through an effort called “Keep It Goin.'” It ended up being a fundraising occasion to save Helm’s precious barn. Helm’s estate also continues to run his studio and his precious Midnight Rambles additionally continue. Helm’s heritage is also being carried on by his own daughter. A gifted recording artist in her own right, Amy Helm led the Midnight Rambles Band in a homage fundraiser held at SXSW Music festival in March 2013.