What a man. One of my favorite singers of all-time (top 5, #2), and one of the GREATEST singers of all-time. His voice is what makes the Band, THE BAND. I have a lot of emotions as a result of his death, the first being that he had such an outrageously beautiful voice, and second, that I believe the world lost someone of great importance; someone who could have put all these kids in music today IN LINE. His vocals on “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” absolutely kill me. Although Robbie Robertson wrote the lyrics, it’s as if Levon Helm LIVED it and then wrote it down. His southern drawl and the heart-wrenchingly tragic story of the devastation of the South pre/post Civil War make the autobiographical song seem real and convincing.
“Virgil Caine is the name and I served on the Danville train
‘Til Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again
In the winter of ’65, we were hungry, just barely alive
By May the tenth, Richmond had fell
It’s a time I remember, oh, so well…”
Being the only non-Canadian (b. Arkansas) member of the Band makes him even more appealing and special. I was reading Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life, and Keith was talking about how his good friend and legendary pioneer of country rock, Gram Parsons, could “make bitches cry,” with his voice. I know Levon Helm has made his fair share of bitches cry. His voice could destroy a woman in .5 seconds. He has certainly made me teary-eyed with his songs. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “The Weight” are the two Band songs that get me. Any time of day. I could be thinking about rainbows and unicorns and happiness, hear one of those songs, and just fall apart. His voice was a powerful machine, what an instrument.
So, now it’s down to two surviving members of the Band: Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson. I can’t say the talent has gone (Levon Helm; Rick Danko: drugs; Richard Manuel: suicide) because that’s not correct. All the members are something special. I’ve never come across a band where every single member is a bloody musical genius. Every band has to start somewhere, but it still amazes me that they were a BACKUP band. Twice. Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan knew their fucking shit, really. They both knew the boys from the Band would go on to do something special, and Lord have mercy, they were right.
I hope that Levon Helm’s legacy will inspire kids today to write some quality music. We need real musicianship and we need to get REAL rock and more sophisticated music back on the scene. It really is an emergency.
Levon Helm, a masterpiece of a human being.
May 26, 1940 – April 19, 2012