Mark Lavon "Levon" Helm
May 26, 1940- April 19, 2012
Levon Helm, drummer of the influential Canadian rock group the Band, died today in New York after a long battle with throat cancer. Helm was 71. Two days ago, Helm's family announced that he was in the "final stages" of cancer.
Helm was the drummer for roots rock band, The Band. The group were originally apart of Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, formed by Ronnie Hawkins in 1959. Hawkins change the band's line-up from time to time but he eventually hired Canadian musicians Robbie Robertson (guitar), Rick Danko (bass),Garth Hudson (keyboards/organ) , and Richard Manuel (piano) along with Helm. In 1964, the group ditched Hawkins and went on their own as the Hawks. The Hawks later became the backing band for Bob Dylan in 1965. It around this time when Dylan had switched to electric guitar. Helm briefly left during this time due to the negativity of the crowds but in 1967 after the Hawks recorded with Dylan what later became The Basement Tapes, Helm rejoined.
The group recorded their debut album in a pink house, which they referred to as "Big Pink". It was around this time when the group changed their name to The Band. In 1968, Music From Big Pink was released to positive reviews. The album's hit single was "The Weight", which is probably their most popular song. The group followed the debut up with a self titled album in 1969, The Band. The Band also received positive reviews, some thinking it was better than the debut. The Band enjoyed success going into the 1970's, even releasing two albums with Dylan in 1974. By 1976, the band decided to retire. Their last show was on Thanksgiving Day in 1976 at the Winterland Ballroom, with special guests such as Neil Young and Bob Dylan performing. That show was later released in the 1978 Martin Scorsese documentary The Last Waltz. In 1980, Helm co-starred in Coal Miner's Daughter, a biopic about the life of Loretta Lynn.
The Band would reunite without Robertson in the 1980's. Even after Manuel had committed suicide in 1986, the group kept going on. They would release three albums in the 1990's before splitting in 1999 after the death of Danko. In the late 1990's, Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer. Still, he kept performing and releasing critically praised albums. His last album was 2009's Electric Dirt.
It's very sad that Levon has died. He was a very talented musician and seemed like a really cool guy. He will be missed, for sure.