It was with great sadness that many read the official message posted on Levon Helm’s website today. It reads: “Levon Helm passed peacefully this afternoon. 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.”
The statement was as understated as Levon was, just as he would have written it himself though one can safely surmise that the late drummer — who gained early notoriety from his work in The Band — would have left out the “brilliant” part in regards to his own musicianship. He would have been wrong, but that was the humility that made him who he was.
George Porter, Jr. once said that the drummer’s role is to be the driver of the groove and nobody drove it like Levon Helm.
But Levon Helm was not just an ordinary musician. There was something deep within him (that surfaced in that smile) that made the people around him better and the players that were on stage with him shine brighter than they had the night before.
It was in his post The Band years, that his abilities to bring out the best in others was fully realized.
In what would become a major part of his legacy, Helm began hosting “Rambles” primarily due to the fact that he needed to stay at home and was also in need of money to help with medical bills that had come as a result of a throat cancer diagnosis.
Over the years, the list of artists who joined in on the now famous Rambles grew to a list that is too long to name, including: Hot Tuna, Garth Hudson (The Band), Gillian Welch, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Dr. John, Kris Kristofferson, Phil Lesh, Chris Robinson, Allen Toussaint, Grace Potter and many more.
Over the last five years, Levon was seen more than he had been in quite some time. He showed up at Bonnaroo and moe.down with Bob Weir in 2008 and 2011, respectively. His band with daughter Amy Helm and Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams, Jim Weider, Jimmy Vivino, Mike Merritt, Brian Mitchell, Erik Lawrence, Steven Bernstein, Howard Johnson, Byron Isaacs, and Little Sammy Davis played the Beacon Theatre and guests like Warren Haynes showed up to pay respect for the statesman. It was as though he knew that his time was now short and that although his voice was as good as it had been in 15 years, he would soon be embarking on the greatest journey of them all, leaving the rest of us behind… heartbroken but grateful.
On April 17, the following statement was issued via Levon Helm’s website:
Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer. Please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey.
Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration… he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage…
We appreciate all the love and support and concern.
From his daughter Amy, and wife Sandy
On April 18, Garth Hudson posted a video of himself playing “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” (see below) on his website, stating that he was “too sad for words.”
On April 19th, Mark Lavon “Levon” Helm passed away, leaving a legacy that will live on for generations to come. He was 71 years old.
May 26, 1940 â€“ April 19, 2012
Ramble in Peace