RIP: Levon Helm, 1940-2012

Levon Helm @ The Solid Sound Festval, 2011

Levon Helm at the Solid Sound Festival at MASS MoCA, North Adams, 6/26/11

By Greg Haymes
Photographs by Matt Mac Haffie

Levon Helm was the Rock of Ages, the stalwart, steady backbeat for the Band. Helm passed away this afternoon at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He had long been battling throat cancer. He was 71 years old.

A statement posted on his website this afternoon states simply, “Levon Helm passed peacefully this afternoon. 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.”

Drummer. Mandolinist. Actor. Singer. Oh, what a singer…

For years now, Helm was at the helm for regular Midnight Ramble concerts in his home in Woodstock. If you were ever lucky enough to attend one, then you know just how truly special those magnificent shows were. And you marveled at sitting or standing just a couple of yards away from where one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll drummers was plying his trade.

In recent years, Helm’s star rose once again, and he was honored with Grammy Awards for each of his final three albums – 2007’s “Dirt Farmer,” 2009’s “Electric Dirt” and last year’s live “Ramble at the Ryman.”

Farewell, old friend. Ramble on…

Levon Helm @ The Solid Sound Festval, 2011

Levon Helm’s obituary at The New York Times
Levon Helm’s obituary at The Times Union

The Levon Helm Band @ John Gill’s Farm, 10/16/11
Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble, 1/22/11
Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble, 3/20/11
Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble, 10/10/09

  1. Marty McDermott says

    I remember being a teenager, waking up groggily in the morning and having my clock radio tunded to WNEW FM in NYC and hearing “The Night they drove Old Dixie Down”. What a voice!; what a powerful pleasant voice and that song – one of many – a story with evocative lyrics that told a story and put you right there (watching Robert E. Lee go by)!! I became an instant Levon (and the Band) fan and have been ever since. I’ve enjoyed Levon’s acting as well as his music (check out The Three Burials of Melique Estrada, a recent gem) and have so enjoyed the recent career resurgence. I’ve had the immense pleasure of attending a “Ramble” and have had the good fortune to catch Levon and friends at various othe venues in recent years. Levon – you’ll be truly missed on this planet. Thank you for the gift of your presence in our lives!!

  2. Fred Rudofsky says

    I posted my thoughts upon hearing the news about Levon’s ordeal the other day, but there is more tosay. Levon was a generous genius, plain and simple, and he had an extraordinary gift in making everybody feel the healing power of music and want to trace its rich history–blues, gospel, jazz, country, soul, rock and roll– in this country. He could play it all. He transcended music marketing labels, and believed in playing with musicians from all backgrounds–that was his calling.

    Even when his voice was dormant for several years, he took joy in playing drums–if you ever saw him play vintage blues with the Barn Burners, feauring Chris O’Leary and Pat O’Shea, you know that was the case. I’ve seen few people with the zest for life that Levon had.

    I’d love to see the musicians of our area band together this spring, play a tribute show to Levon’s legacy, and maybe raise money for a charitable cause that was near and dear to him. My thoughts are with Levon’s family and countless friends around the world–we lost a great, gifted and unforgettable man today.

  3. Dean Mauro says

    This is from Levon’s 2009 record, Electric Dirt.

    Poignant lyrics:

  4. Alan G. says

    One of my most memorable nights at Northern Lights was when Levon and the Crowmatix shared a bill with Ernie Williams and the Wildcats. This was in the late 90’s when Levon wasn’t able to sing, but the band smoked as did Ernie & Co. Two legends in their own way, and passing within a short time of each other. Perhaps they’re beaming down on us now as we look back on the memories.

  5. Richard Brody says

    My favorite experience seeing Levon was as part of the “Helms-Danko Band”. Levon played mandolin, singer, carnival barker, and choir leader that day. And of course he played all those parts to perfection. His passing leaves me with much sadness, but my life was and will continue to be enriched by the passion and joy that he brought to his music. For people who believe in such things perhaps those three magical voices of “The Band” will get to sing together again.

Comments are closed.