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Levon Helm

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The longtime drummer for the Band, Levon Helm wore many musical hats throughout his long career, including multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, singer, impresario, studio owner, studio engineer, and producer. He grew up working on a farm in Arkansas; his first instrument was guitar, which he began playing at age eight, but after seeing the F.S. Walcott Rabbits Foot Minstrels, he decided to switch to drums. As a youth, Helm listened to the music of the area, including radio broadcasts of The Grand Ole Opry and the blues and R&B shows on WLAC, a clear-channel station out of Nashville that became legendary in the development of R&B and early rock & roll. Accompanied by his sister Linda on washtub bass, he played various fairs and civic club shows until forming his first group, the Jungle Bush Beaters, while in high school. After seeing an Elvis Presley concert, Helm became keenly interested in rock & roll and musicians like Bo Diddley. Eventually, he moved to Memphis, where he began sitting in with Conway Twitty. Later, he was discovered by a fellow Arkansan, rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins, who asked the 17-year-old Helm to join the Hawks, his backing band. The group soon relocated to Toronto, where they'd heard there was a burgeoning scene for their kind of music. In 1959, Hawkins signed to Roulette Records, where he and the Hawks cut a pair of hit records right out of the gate with "Forty Days" and "Mary Lou," which went on to sell in excess of 700,000 copies. In the early '60s in Toronto, Helm and Hawkins recruited the rest of the members of the group that would become the Band, adding guitarist Robbie Robertson, pianist Richard Manuel, organist Garth Hudson, and bassist Rick Danko to the lineup. After numerous road trips with Hawkins, the group grew tired of the singer's abrasive manner, and they re-formed as Levon & the Hawks, later changing their name to the Canadian Squires for the purpose of recording two singles. Shortly after, they changed their name back to the Hawks. In the mid-'60s, Bob Dylan decided to electrify his sound and wanted the Hawks to be his backing band. After putting up with too many boos at Dylan's newly electrified shows in 1965, Helm decided he'd had enough, and went back to Arkansas, thinking he would leave the music business behind him forever. But Helm returned to action in mid-1967, when the Hawks (since renamed simply the Band) began working on Music from Big Pink, the first in a string of classic records that made them one of rock's most legendary acts. After the Band's famed 1976 farewell performance, dubbed The Last Waltz, he cut his 1977 debut solo album, Levon Helm & the RCO All Stars, followed a year later by his self-titled sophomore effort. In 1980 he recorded American Son, while another eponymously titled effort was released in 1982. The Band re-formed in 1983 without Robertson; following Manuel's 1986 suicide, the remaining trio released 1993's Jericho, recorded at Helm's home studio in Woodstock, New York. That same year, Helm published his autobiography, This Wheel's on Fire, co-authored with Stephen Davis. The Band's bluesy High on the Hog followed in 1995. The late '90s (and into the next decade) found Helm still making music in a new blues band called Levon Helm & the Barn Burners, with his daughter Amy on keyboards and vocals, guitarist Pat O'Shea, lead vocalist and harmonica player Chris O'Leary, and upright bassist Frankie Ingrao, and with a similar outfit called Crowmatrix. An album of tracks from this era called Souvenir, Vol. 1 appeared in 2000 from Breeze Hill. Cancer of the vocal cords silenced Helm's unique voice as the 21st century opened, although he kept up his drumming duties, and in time was able to sing again, emerging with a slightly raspier version of his old vocal style. He began holding intimate concerts with various musical friends at his studio in Woodstock, calling them Midnight Rambles, samples of which were released as The Midnight Ramble Sessions, Vol. 1 and The Midnight Ramble Sessions, Vol. 2 in 2006. The following year saw the release of Dirt Farmer, Helm's first solo album in 25 years. The similar but looser Electric Dirt followed in 2009. Ramble at the Ryman, which captured highlights of Helm's 2008 Midnight Ramble concert at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, was released on both CD and DVD in 2011. In spring of the following year, Helm's family announced that he was in the end stages of cancer, and he died on April 19, 2012. The Midnight Ramble Sessions, Vol. 3 was released the following December. ~ Richard Skelly
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Stations Featuring
Levon Helm

    Folk

    Folk
    4 songs

    Americana

    Americana
    9 songs

    Jam Bands

    Jam Bands
    3 songs

Albums by
Levon Helm

Top Songs by
Levon Helm

  1.   Song
    Popularity
  2.   Deep Elem Blues
  3.   Tennessee Jed
  4.   Growin' Trade
  5.   Back to Memphis
  6.   The Shape I'm In
  7.   Got Me A Woman
  8.   You'll Never Again Be Mine
  9.   The Mountain
  10.   Evangeline
  11.   Feelin' Good
  12.   You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had
  13.   Kingfish
  14.   Move Along Train
  15.   When I Go Away
  16.   Baby Scratch My Back
  17.   Rain Down Tears
  18.   I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free
  19.   I Finally Got You
  20.   Time Out For the Blues
  21.   Ophelia
  22.   Even a Fool Would Let Go
  23.   White Dove
  24.   Anna Lee
  25.   The Girl I Left Behind
  26.   Ain't That a Lotta Love
  27.   A Fool in Love
  28.   Blue Shadows by Sean Costello
  29.   When I Get My Rewards
  30.   Paramount
  31.   Poor Little Fool
  32.   Give a Little Bit
  33.   Born in Chicago
  34.   Get Out Your Big Roll Daddy
  35.   Java Blues
  36.   Ties That Bind
  37.   Washer Woman
  38.   No Depression in Heaven
  39.   Blues So Bad
  40.   Stuff You Gotta Watch
  41.   Wide River To Cross
  42.   A Train Robbery
  43.   Calvary
  44.   Got My Mojo Working
  45.   300 Lbs
  46.   Rag Mama Rag
  47.   Don't Ya Tell Henry
  48.   Milk Cow Boogie
  49.   Sing, Sing, Sing
  50.   I've Got a Bet With Myself
  51.   What Kind of Man Are You
  52.   Great Beyond
  53.   You Better Move On
  54.   Goin Back to Memphis
  55.   Golden Bird
  56.   Borrowed Time by Dr. John
  57.   Poor Old Dirt Farmer
  58.   Too Close Chairs
  59.   Fannie Mae
  60.   Little Birds
  61.   When the Battle Is Over
  62.   Willie and the Hand Jive
  63.   Chest Fever
  64.   I Want to Know
  65.   Battle Is Over But the War Goes On
  66.   You Can't Win 'Em All
  67.   Heaven's Pearls
  68.   Blue Moon of Kentucky
  69.   Summertime Blues
  70.   Money (Money Cues)
  71.   The Got Song
  72.   Good Night Irene
  73.   Single Girl, Married Girl
  74.   False Hearted Lover Blues
  75.   Crazy 'Bout You Baby
  76.   A Mood I Was In
  77.   Lucrecia
  78.   God Bless 'Em All
  79.   That's Alright
  80.   The Blind Child
  81.   All About John
  82.   It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry

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