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Levon Helm

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


    4 songs


    9 songs

    Jam Bands

    Jam Bands
    3 songs

Albums by
Levon Helm

Top Songs by
Levon Helm

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

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