Archive for Levon Helm

SXSW Day Four: Feelin’ About Half Past Dead

Posted in SXSW with tags , , , , , on March 17, 2013 by 30daysout
The Weight 2

Steve Earle performs “The Weight” with Amy Helm (left) and Eleanor Whitmore, and The Midnight Ramble Band.

The final official night of all the South by Southwest (SXSW) lunacy in Austin sparkled with stars that seemingly tumbled in from nowhere. All at once, and roughly about the same time, the city erupted in performances by Justin Timberlake, Prince, the Smashing Pumpkins, A Tribe Called Quest, Vampire Weekend and John Fogerty.

The music part of this festival is so varied and broad, one can pick and choose the acts one wants to see and assemble them like a buffet meal. Throughout this year’s SXSW we have tried to focus on a certain type of musical proficiency and style, a dedication to craft, and we assembled our feast accordingly, downscaling our choices away from the superstars and flash-in-the-pans. (Full disclosure: we couldn’t get in to the biggest shows, and a few of the others were way too late for our old bones.)

So it was no question that we had to close out our South By experience Saturday night by attending a big show at the city’s scenic Auditorium Shores, where The Midnight Ramble Band and a number of guest performers paid tribute to the late, very great Levon Helm.

Leagues

Leagues, from Nashville.

Much has been made of Levon Helm’s contribution to American music since his passing last year. He was the drummer and frequent lead singer on many of The Band’s classic tunes, written by Robbie Robertson and performed beautifully by the entire ensemble when it existed in the late 1960s-early 1970s.

Helm stood for a rough authenticity in the music. Not only was he a brilliant player, but he liked to surround himself with similarly skilled individuals. So we have The Midnight Ramble Band, named after his monthly musical revival meetings held at his barn/recording studio near Woodstock, N.Y., and which plays the music that Levon helped make famous.

Led by Helm’s daughter Amy, The Midnight Ramble Band stomped the show alive with “The Shape I’m In.” After that opening guest performers would wander on and off the stage, sometimes after a bit of delay while somebody located them backstage. It was a loose affair, patterned after the Midnight Rambles, one supposes, where a tight pre-planned set list is not a priority.

Steve Earle said “I love my job,” and played his song “The Mountain” which Levon covered on his Grammy-winning Dirt Farmer album. Then he strapped on a mandolin to lead the players through a rousing “Rag Mama Rag.”

And so it would go with other guest performers – Ivan Neville, J.J. Grey, members of Spirit Family Reunion, Carolyn Wonderland, The Lost Brothers and Cody and Luther from the North Mississippi All Stars. They all reunited onstage at the end, to perform “The Weight” to send their regards for everyone. At song’s finish, Earle stepped up and pointed to the sky. “See you when we get there, maestro,” he said.

On the way out, volunteers held up signs and big bottles were positioned for donations. Keep It Goin’, as it said on the signs, is an initiative to continue Levon’s legacy and create a musical landmark at his barn in Woodstock.

Throughout the day in Austin, one didn’t need a barn or studio for music. It seemed to be everywhere, coming from any place. Bands played atop buses, both moving and parked. Clubs improvised stages to pack in audiences, and venues with stages indoors erected other stages outdoors to accommodate more performers.

We saw the Seattle folk-pop band Ivan and Alyosha behind the big Sixth Street venue at Stages. A big tent kept many spectators out of the sun, and the beer was flowing freely. Singer Tim Wilson urged spectators to also see the Nashville band Leagues, which was on the indoor stage.

OK, so we did – Leagues is led by Thad Cockrell, whose mesmerizing voice has helped make this band one of the most talked-about at this year’s SXSW. Cockrell danced freely during his performance and invited audience members to do the same. “It’s music to make you feel good,” he said, and spun merrily away.

The Zombies 2

The Zombies: from left, Rod Argent, Jim Rodford and Colin Blunstone.

One interesting place to see a performance was Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop, which hosted a few days of live broadcasts by Seattle radio station KEXP. We caught a short set for the radio by the venerable Zombies, the 1960s British invasion-era unit led by singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist (and main songwriter) Rod Argent.

They performed a handful of their classics, including “Tell Her No,” “Care of Cell 44,” “Time of the Season” and of course “She’s Not There.” Argent even pulled out a moldy oldie from his band Argent, “Hold Your Head Up.” Argent explained, “Many people thought I wrote this song but it was actually Chris White (also in Argent and the original bassist for The Zombies). And the title was originally, ‘Hold Your Head Up Woman.’ Lot of people don’t know that.”

It was nice to see Jim Rodford on bass with The Zombies – he was also in Argent and wound up as the bass player for The Kinks in that band’s later years. His presence lent a nice touch to the craft and veteran musicianship of the group, sounding great and playing their hearts out even for a 30-minute radio broadcast.

So we wrapped up our SXSW with a note of optimism and hope for the future. Thousands of performers practice and sweat to make it here each year to perform for small or non-existent crowds with the thought that their voices and their music may be heard. You gotta be good to even get a shot at SXSW, and bands do break out every year to greater fame and fortune (for example: the Alabama Shakes, class of 2012). Keep trying, next year may be your time.

And so we wrap it for this year, our feet blistered and our necks sunburned, but with music still in our heads. Our tired bones tell us we’re too old for this, but our hearts insist on knowing “are we gonna come back next year?”

Thanks for reading, thanks to Popdose for putting up with us over there, and come on down to Austin next year. We’d love to see you. And we’ll buy you a free beer.

Check out our SXSW photos on Flickr

Video Du Jour: The Band

Posted in Rock Moment with tags , , , on June 23, 2012 by 30daysout

This is an awesome video clip – Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm of The Band desconstruct the classic “Up On Cripple Creek.”

 

Hurricane Season – It’s Baaack!

Posted in Rock Rant with tags , , , , , , , on June 7, 2012 by 30daysout

Hurricane season just got goin’ and I know you folks on the East Coast of the United States are paying close attention this summer. As well you should: Hurricane Irene’s rains devastated a pretty good chunk of the Northeast last year.

Down here in Texas, they like to scare us with stories about what could happen if a monster storm rolled in off the Gulf of Mexico. And I suppose if one of those nasty Cat 5s paid a visit to Texas the result would be less like Irene and more like Hiroshima (or Hurricane Camille). But what good is it to worry – you just stock up on batteries and peanut butter and hope for the best.

And you get your rock and roll tunes ready for the next Hurricane Warning.

MP3: “Change In The Weather” by John Fogerty

MP3: “Blowin’ Like A Bandit” by Asleep at the Wheel

MP3: “Hurricane” by Levon Helm

MP3: “Surfing In A Hurricane” by Jimmy Buffett

MP3: “Hurricane Party” by James McMurtry

MP3: “Mighty Storm” by the Duhks

MP3: “High Water (For Charley Patton)” (live) by Bob Dylan

MP3: “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today” by Peter Gabriel

MP3: “Lost and Found” by the Kinks

MP3: “In From The Storm” by Jimi Hendrix

MP3: “Thunder Island” by Jay Ferguson

MP3: “Walking In A Hurricane” by John Fogerty

MP3: “Like A Hurricane” by Nils Lofgren

MP3: “Here Comes The Rain” by Jan & Dean

MP3: “Riders On The Storm” by the Doors

MP3: “The Rains Came” by Big Sambo

MP3: “Wild Is The Wind” by David Bowie

MP3: “Rock You Like A Hurricane” by the Scorpions

MP3: “Down In The Flood” (live) by the Derek Trucks Band

MP3: “Like A Hurricane” (live) by Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Rock and Roll Remembrance

Posted in Rock Moment with tags , , , , , , , on May 2, 2012 by 30daysout

We’ve lost a lot of great rock and rollers lately. It seems we hardly catch our breath after one is laid to rest, then we hear of another that’s about to leave us. That’s the way it is – our heroes are getting older every day.

So today let’s blow it out with some tunes from rockers who’ve passed to the other side. R.I.P., and keep on rockin’.

MP3: “I’m Losing You” (alternate version) by John Lennon (d. 1980)

MP3: “Holy Diver” (live) by Dio (Ronnie James Dio, d. 2010)

MP3: “Smokestack Lightning” by Howlin’ Wolf (d. 1976)

MP3: “Piece Of My Heart” by Big Brother & the Holding Company (Janis Joplin, d. 1970)

MP3: “Texas Tornado” by the Sir Douglas Quintet (Doug Sahm, d. 1999)

MP3: “Ella Guru” by Captain Beefheart (d. 2010)

MP3: “I’d Rather Go Blind” by Etta James (d. 2012)

MP3: “Lonely Lover” by Marvin Gaye (d. 1984)

MP3: “Small Town Talk” by Bobby Charles (d. 2010)

MP3: “Star Spangled Banner/Purple Haze” (live at Woodstock) by Jimi Hendrix (d. 1970)

MP3: “I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive” by Hank Williams (d. 1953)

MP3: “Deep Blue” by George Harrison (d. 2001)

YouTube: “Up On Cripple Creek” (1969 rehearsal), by the Band (Levon Helm, d. 2012; Rick Danko, d. 1999; Richard Manuel, d. 1986)

Video/Levon Helm Tribute Du Jour: John Fogerty & the Black Keys

Posted in Rock Moment with tags , , , , on April 24, 2012 by 30daysout

Levon Helm

There have been a lot of tributes to fallen singer Levon Helm since he died last week – none better, though, than this affectionate yet clear-eyed appreciation by Peter Gerstenzang that appeared in the Village Voice. Here is one appropriate excerpt:

After I got the news yesterday that he’d died, I got into the car to drive around and think, two things I’m never good at doing simultaneously. Foolishly, I turned on the radio, expecting to hear The Band’s music blasting, from one end of the dial to the other. I forgot about how doomed my expectation was. Corporate radio was not going to budge its mix of Def Leppard and Rihanna for five fucking minutes to fete this great master of American Music. I thought, none of these programmers realize what terrible fate is awaiting them. And, that, as they say down South, Hell is only half-full. So, I turned off the radio and just started singing “The Weight,” one of the biggest hits The Band ever had and a song that introduced, to most of us little hippies, the first Southern voice since Elvis that didn’t seem scary, or possessed by a guy who had a shotgun pointed at the front wheel of our motorcycle.”

Read the entire Village Voice piece here.

In related news, this appeared on Facebook today:

Message to Robbie Robertson from Dennis Miele: “Robbie, there seems to be a debate about the lyrics to “The Weight”. Can you confirm that the line is ‘Take a load off FANNY’?’

Robbie Robertson: Fanny.

If you are near your computer tonight KUT-FM in Austin remembers legendary musician Levon Helm. Tune in to hear “Levon Helm Rambles Home: An Appreciation,” produced by Paul Ingles, by streaming it on the KUT home page. Show starts at 8 p.m. CDT.

And finally, this tribute to Levon Helm by the Black Keys and John Fogerty took place over the weekend at Coachella:

Levon Helm official website

Free Download: Band of Heathens’ Tribute to Levon Helm

Posted in Rock Moment with tags , on April 20, 2012 by 30daysout

The Band of Heathens, playing an instore in Houston last year.

Austin’s Band of Heathens have recorded a spur-of-the-moment to the great Levon Helm. Here’s what they said:

4.20.12 – Yesterday one of our musical heroes, a true American original, Levon Helm passed on.

By some strange twist of cosmic fate, we were in his birth-state of Arkansas when we heard the news. There was some sort of comfort in knowing we were treading on the ground that sculpted the man and set him on the path to utter and complete righteousness.

We wrote this song (“One More Song”) right before our show in Little Rock last night to play during a mini-Levon tribute encore. This is a demo of the song as we recorded it in the parking lot.

Although we’ll never get to hear his voice in the present anymore, we are incredibly lucky to be able to be with our friend whenever our ears are open.

Play us one more song cuz.

Love, The Band of Heathens

MP3: “One More Song” by the Band of Heathens

Band of Heathens download/streaming page for “One More Song”

Levon Helm, R.I.P.

Posted in News with tags , on April 19, 2012 by 30daysout

Levon Helm, with the Band. (Photo by Art Meripol)

Sad news from Woodstock, N.Y., today: Levon Helm, drummer and singer for The Band and a Grammy Award-winning solo artist, has died.

Helm, 71, was diagnosed with throat cancer in the late 1990s. Intensive radiation treatment left him with a raspy voice that can be heard on the album Dirt Farmer (2007). Nevertheless, the Arkansas native carried on a busy touring schedule and hosted “Midnight Ramble” events at his barn in Woodstock.

The Band in the 1980s - Garth Hudson (left), Rick Danko (center) and Levon Helm (far right). (Photo by Art Meripol)

After backing Bob Dylan on his notorious 1965-66 “electric” tours, The Band released its first album in 1968, Music from Big Pink, which included one of the group’s signature songs “The Weight.”  The Band followed that with The Band album, which included “Up On Cripple Creek,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Rag Mama Rag.” Helm played drums and sang with The Band until 1999, when bassist-singer Rick Danko died.

Helm was also an actor; he appeared in a number of theatrical and TV movies, including Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), The Right Stuff (1983), Fire Down Below (1997) and In The Electric Mist (2009).

Thanks to Art Meripol for graciously allowing the use of his photos.

Levon Helm obituary from the Poughkeepsie Journal

MP3: “The Weight” by The Band

MP3: “Up On Cripple Creek” by The Band

MP3: “Take Me To The River” by Levon Helm

MP3: “Tennessee Jed” by Levon Helm

MP3: “Hurricane” by Levon Helm

MP3: “Summertime Blues” by Levon Helm

MP3: “Atlantic City” by The Band

MP3: “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (live) by The Band

YouTube: “I Shall Be Released” by Levon Helm and friends (2010 Newport Folk Festival)

YouTube: “Poor Old Dirt Farmer”

YouTube: “Ophelia” (2009)

Levon Helm official website

Playing with the Band in Arkansas, during the 1980s. (Photo by Art Meripol)

Video Du Jour: Robert Earl Keen’s Tribute to Levon Helm

Posted in Rock Moment with tags , on April 19, 2012 by 30daysout

Texas songwriter Robert Earl Keen wrote this great tribute to Levon Helm, “The Man Behind the Drums.” Keen performed it on the TV show “Austin City Limits.” Levon Helm died today, he will be greatly missed.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Austin City Limits website

Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Rick Danko

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags , , , , , , , on July 15, 2010 by 30daysout

Riffling through my big sister’s stack of records I found an album that many people would consider a lost classic: Rick Danko, the 1977 solo debut album from the bass player and singer from the Band.  It was the first solo LP by a member of that beloved group, which had famously disbanded the year before with its “Last Waltz” concert in San Francisco.

And of all the solo projects by the members of the Band, only Rick Danko features each member of the group.  Other friends and guests included Eric Clapton, Ron Wood, Doug Sahm, Blondie Chaplin (then of the Beach Boys), Gerry Beckley (of America) and David Paich (who would later become part of Toto).  Danko wrote most of the tracks with lyrics by actor/comedian Emmett Grogan and Louisiana singer/songwriter Bobby Charles, who was a friend of the Band.

Many people have said this is the best solo effort by any member of the Band, but I think those assessments were made before Levon Helm’s more recent success (Dirt Farmer, Electric Dirt).  Rick Danko would certainly rank up there among the best, though.

Songs like the opener “What A Town,” “New Mexico” and “Small Town Talk” – all co-written with Charles – sound most like the Band.  “What A Town” is an uptempo lope a lot like “Ophelia” and Ron Wood, who was in the Rolling Stones by this time, contributes a sweet guitar solo.  Another highlight is “New Mexico,” flavored by the accordion of Garth Hudson and the guitar of Eric Clapton.

“Tired of Waiting” sounds a lot like a Doug Sahm tune, and in fact Sir Doug himself lays down some vocal harmonies and a guitar solo on this track.  When Bobby Charles did “Small Town Talk” on his own solo album he took an almost acoustic, singer/songwriterly approach.  Danko’s version of the song lays on the horns for fuller production – and Danko himself plays lead guitar on this highlight.

Robbie Robertson takes a turn on guitar with “Java Blues” and it’s one of his better solo riffs.  By the time Levon Helm lends his singular vocal twang to harmonies on “Once Upon A Time,” you can close your eyes and hear the Band at Woodstock.  But that was the final tune on the album – although a rich experience, it seems very short to me.

Danko would of course be part of the reunion of the Band (minus Robertston) in the 1990s.  After Richard Manuel’s suicide, Danko and Helm handled most of the vocals on the three studio albums under the Band imprint.  Danko also cut a few folk-oriented albums with singer/songwriter Eric Andersen and Norwegian roots artist Jonas Fjeld and one of them, Danko/ Fjeld/ Andersen from 1991, won a Grammy Award.  Danko would tour with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band and cut a few more solo albums before his death in 1999.

MP3: “What A Town”

MP3: “Java Blues”

MP3: “Once Upon A Time”

The Band official website (with extensive info on all the members’ solo projects)

Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Woodshedding at Woodstock

Posted in Rock Classics! with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2010 by 30daysout

Editor’s Note: We are expanding this feature for this week only, to help call attention to Record Store Day on Saturday.  Independent record stores are dying on the vine, go out on Saturday and show ‘em that you love them by purchasing some vinyl.

Today we travel about 1,500 miles to the hamlet of Woodstock, New York, comfortably situated in the rustic Hudson Valley north of the Big Apple.  Now this isn’t the place where the big Woodstock festival took place (that was in Bethel, about 40 miles to the northeast) – the town of Woodstock is a haven for artists, musicians and the like.  One of the town’s most famous residents is Levon Helm, best known as the drummer for the Band.

The stories are rock legend: about the Band backing Dylan as he went “electric” in the mid-1960s, how a discouraged Helm quit, how the group reunited with Dylan in Woodstock, then finally how Helm rejoined and recorded the landmark Music From Big Pink.  By 1975, Levon Helm was a big-time rock star.  He had just married a young lady he first met while working in L.A., and he moved back to bucolic Woodstock to make his permanent home. On his 20-acre homesite, Helm built a huge timber-framed barn with only wooden pegs and locally quarried bluestone.  Overlooking a bass-filled lake and shadowed by Overlook Mountain, Helm’s barn was to double as a recording studio.

The studio was nearly complete in 1975 when Helm welcomed his first client, Chicago blues great Muddy Waters.  Helm and his business partner songwriter/producer Henry Glover invited some of the A-list musicians to sit in on the sessions with Waters and his touring band.  The result was The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album, released in 1975.  Among the musicians on the album were guitarist Bob Margolin and pianist Willie “Pinetop” Perkins from Muddy’s band, blues-harp monster Paul Butterfield and hot session guitarist Fred Carter as well as Helm and Garth Hudson from the Band.

The album kicks off with “Why Are People Like That,” written by Louisiana singer/songwriter Bobby Charles (who was also living in Woodstock at the time).  Waters wrote five songs his own bad self, including “Born With Nothing” (on which Muddy plays a wicked slide guitar) and “Going Down To Main Street” (with Garth Hudson on accordion).  The accordion wasn’t known as a blues instrument (outside of  Clifton Chenier’s neighborhood, of course) but Hudson turns it into a blistering blues tool, particularly on “Caledonia,” a cover of the hot Louis Jordan tune.

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