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

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