It seems we’ve been doing a lot of these obituary posts lately. But the truth is we’ve lost some great music legends recently, from Davy Jones and Earl Scruggs, to Ronnie Montrose and Dick Clark. Now comes word that Levon Helm died at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center after a long bout with the disease.
Helm is as legendary a musician as you will find. He made his name as drummer and vocalist for The Band, but remained immersed in music in later years, including with the Levon Helm Band. I saw him briefly with Ringo Starr a few years back, and he still sounded pretty good. His death leaves Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson as the only surviving members of The Band, one of rock’s most heralded groups.
Anyway, our sister paper, The Poughkeepsie Journal, did a great job in their tribute piece today. Here’s their article on Helm’s death:
Musician Levon Helm of Woodstock, a Grammy-winning member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who played Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and Wembley Stadium in London, but found some of his biggest success staging house concerts in his Hudson Valley home, has died. He was 71.
“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 www.levonhelm.com. ” 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.”
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.”
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.”
Born Mark Lavon Helm May 26, 1940, Helm helped redefine rock ‘n’ roll during the 1960s and 1970s as vocalist, drummer and mandolin player for The Band.
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.
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