Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Levon Helm, R.I.P.

Sad indeed to record the passing of a true American rock legend, Levon Helm of The Band (1940-2012) from a long battle with throat cancer.  After those years of being Bob Dylan's band, their first album MUSIC FROM BIG PINK was such a revelation in 1969 - my hippie friends and I played it all the time, and we really dug that Americana sound here in Europe: songs like "The Weight" (which Levon sang lead on), "Tears of Rage", "Caledonia Mission" "Long Black Veil" etc and subsequent albums like THE BAND and STAGE FRIGHT capturing that rural American period with more classic songs like "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", "Up on Cripple Creek" and  favouries like "Rag Mama Rag", "Unfaithful Servant", "The Shape I'm In", "Whispering Pines", "Look Out Cleveland", The Band fused rock, blues, folk and gospel to create a sound that seemed as authentically American - Levon was actually the only American as the others were Canadian: Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko (who died in 1999), Garth Hudson and Richard Manual (who committed suicide in 1986). (The Eagles of course continued this country-rock vein, as did Elton with his "Tumbleweed Connection").

The Band were musical virtuosos who returned to the roots of American music in the late 1960s as other rockers veered into psychedelia and heavy metal.  After their successful albums and tours (I saw them at The Albert Hall in London in 1970), they bid farewell to live shows with a bang with THE LAST WALTZ concert in 1976. Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Dylan were among the stars who played the show in San Francisco, filmed by Martin Scorsese for a movie of the same name, released in 1978. This is regarded by many as the greatest of concert films (and is certainly worth a re-look - I used to have the 3 album vinyl package). but it also helped lead to a bitter split between Robertson and Helm, as Robertson seemed to be taking over the band (or The Band). Robertson became close to Scorsese during the production, and Helm believed the movie was structured to make Robertson look the leader (with the others as his backing group) to advance his own movie career. They rarely spoke after.

Helm, ironically, was the more successful actor, with acclaimed roles in COAL MINER'S DAUGHTERTHE RIGHT STUFF and other films. And no one who watched THE LAST WALTZ could forget Helm's performance of "Dixie Down," shot mostly in closeup, his face squeezed with emotion. Helm continued with own solo career, a Band reunion (without Robertson) and his various other projects like his "Midnight Rambler" shows. RIP indeed.

Also: Dick Clark (1929-2012). I never saw AMERICAN BANDSTAND but back in 1959 in Ireland I knew how important it was from reading all those American movie and music magazines when I was a pre-teen.
Bert Weedon too, who died aged 91 - the great guitarist who seems to have influenced every guitarist who followed his footsteps and books.

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