Now I don’t mind choppin’ wood, and I don’t care if the money’s no good
Ya take what ya need and ya leave the rest
But they should never have taken the very best!
I’ve known about Levon’s failing health for a few days now after receiving a text message from my Mom while I was driving back from Jonesboro recently. Apparently not too many people knew about Levon’s situation until today but there was a lot of speculation online recently that he was having some issues bouncing back from a back injury and he was cancelling a lot of his upcoming events, but that turned out not to be the case. Today a statement was posted on his website letting everyone know that Levon was in the last stages of his battle with cancer.
Levon Helm and I both grew up in the Delta, that’s just about the only thing we ever had in common. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket as the old saying goes, but I do consider myself to be a connoisseur of Classic Rock, and trust me when I tell you –they don’t get any bigger than Levon. Obviously Levon had already made his mark on the music industry and was long gone from Turkey Scratch, Arkansas before I ever entered the world but I’ve heard enough stories from his friends and family over the years to know that his legacy will live on for generations to come. I could probably sit here and blog about all of Levon’s accomplishments for the remainder of this week and still probably miss a lot so I will just touch on a few high points about the man that I think are important to remember.
I was told years ago by one of Levon’s close friends that the song ‘Levon’ by Elton John was written about Levon. I argued w/ the guy and finally made him prove it to me, not only did he show me where Elton John and his co-writer Bernie Taupin name the song about Levon, but Elton John and his life-partner David Furnish, named their son “Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, you guessed it, after Levon Helm. So that little-known piece of Rock History solidifies Levon Helm as the only person from Turkey Scratch, Arkansas to ever have a song written about him as far as I know.
One other noteworthy thing about Levon and The Band is that when you look back at all of the great Rock & Roll Bands of all-time, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, etc., The Band has to be ranked right there with them. In fact, Ringo Starr has always said that Levon Helm is the greatest drummer of all-time. When the guys decided to call it quits and The Band broke up they decided to do their farewell show in California along w/ a horn section and a couple thousand of their closest friends. I think this was in 1976, I was just turning 4 years old. They invited some of their old friends to perform with them on-stage like Muddy Waters, Dr. John, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Ronnie Wood, Paul Butterfield, Neil Diamond, Emmylou Harris, and my hero Ronny Hawkins just to name a few. The event was so big that Martin Scorsese filmed the concert. It was dubbed, The Last Waltz, and the rest is history. Probably the most iconic rock concert of all-time is still regarded by many as being one of the best rock & roll films of all time, it was re-released a few years ago and I saw somewhere that it outsold many of it’s modern era contemporaries upon it’s release. I have two copies, you should too…
As I mentioned earlier, I have heard a lot of stories about Levon over the years, some of those I can’t share, they are just too good, I will leave them for those that were there with him to share, –and I suspect that some of them have been slightly embellished over the years too so I don’t want to get any of them wrong. I was talking to one of Levon’s lifelong friends today who is a well known rock & roll legend in his own right, I won’t disclose his name, but the entire conversation can be summed up in four words, …Levon did it all.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Team Levon, the crew at the Midnight Ramble that he loved so much, and of course his wife Sandy and their daughter Amy. As a fitting tribute to the man I have put together a playlist of Levon’s greatest hits on YouTube, I will post a link to that once I have the collection complete, but for the time being I’m going to leave you with two of his newer releases that you might not have heard, and then followed by two of his early hits that started the “wheel on fire” so to speak. Funny sidenote, my wife hates to hear me singing ‘Dirt Farmer’ in the shower but I still do. He released ‘Dirt Farmer’ when he was in his 70’s and it was probably the most fitting bookend to his legacy in my opinion, this is an album which he picked up a Grammy for that lead up to his winning the most coveted of all Grammy’s, the Lifetime Achievement Award.
From: Dirt Farmer
From: The Last Waltz
This past week there have been tons of great pieces written about Levon and his legacy, here’s one I highly recommend:
- Huffington Post: Levon Helm: A Thank-You Note For The Music — And The Example – by Jesse Kornbluth