Tag Archives: Levon Helm

A Tale of Two Bands

On November 25, Thanksgiving, 1976 at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom The Band called it quits. They called it in style with a huge guest filled concert that was labeled The Last Waltz. After 17 years on the road, the toll on Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel was being to show emotionally and physically. The film and recording of this event has gone down as one of the greatest live concerts ever staged. But there’s more to add to their legacy with two new found recordings.

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The first being a recording of a concert only fours months before The Last Waltz. The Band at Carter Baron Amphitheater Washington DC, July 17th 1976 proves they were not throwing the towel in on other dates of their last tour. I was fortunate to be in the audience that night, it was a downpour of rain but the show went on.

I had seen The Band many times before, even followed The Band/Dylan Before The Flood Tour on its East Coast dates. This show was bittersweet  for me, the audience knew it was maybe the last time they would ever see one of the greatest bands and live acts on stage. But The Band came to play and the recording proves it. Starting with their “we own this now” cover of Don’t Do It  to the ending notes of W. S. Walcott Medicine Show, their playing is committed and sharp. The vocals, always a benchmark of a Band show, were great except for Manuel’s which were strained and weary. Always considered the lead singer by his bandmates, his voice was showing the road and all its distractions. Robbie’s guitar work on the recording is the best I’ve ever heard, his lead on Forbidden Fruit just kills it. Garth doesn’t go off the charts as he was capable of with his keyboard work but still keeps the glue. Rick was always an inspired bassist and sometimes an ethereal vocalist, here he proves both especially on It Makes No Difference. As always Levon’s drum work was in the pocket and his vocals impassioned and impeccable. He was always the heart and soul of this unit. Other highlights are Twilight and a bare bones non-horned up Ophelia. A full track listing follows at the end of this post. A worthy and important addition for any Band fan.

81auja5zysL._SL1425_In 1983 members of The Band reconvened as a touring unit minus Robbie Robertson, his guitar work taken over by The Cate Brothers; and though not on stage, his brilliant songwriting was in full force. This is a recording of their first concert since The Last Waltz. They had played together backing Danko’s solo work and in some impromptu jams with other artists, but this was the kickoff, the 2nd Act. Recorded in Chicago’s Mandel Hall on November 6, 1983 as a FM broadcast special The Band came roaring back and took names. That concert can now be found on a new and most worthy CD called And Then There Was Four.
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Starting with some drum kicks and whoops The Band storms into Up On Cripple Creek and never lets up. You can feel the love on stage as they played old favorites, a solo Danko tune and some lively blues numbers that Levon was swimming deep in since 1976. The Cate Brothers do admirable work here but even two guitarists could not match the staccato power of Robertson live, but the exuberance of the performances more than makes up for it. Every song is good and for a board recording of a radio broadcast, the quality is great. I do nothing but smile when I hear them.  Some standouts are The Shape I’m In, Rag Mama Rag and a wonderful joyous version of (I Don’t Want To) Hang up My Rock and Roll Shoes.  A complete track listing follows at the end of the post.

The biggest notice here is the quality of Manuel’s voice, what was weary and worn in 1976 was strong and pure here, listen to King Harvest Has Surely Come and I Shall Be Released for the proof. Sadly this would not last, three years later in an undiagnosed depression he took his own life in a Florida motel during a tour. This tragic incident ending this second chapter of The Band. The third chapter was seven years away with the release of Jericho, a superb album that kicked off a short lived but beautiful Renaissance. #

 

The Band ‎– Carter Barron Amphitheater Washington DC, July 17th 1976

1 – Don’t Do It
2 –  The Shape I’m In
3 –  It Makes No Difference
4 – The Weight
5 – King Harvest (Has Surely Come)
6 – Twilight
7 – Ophelia
8 – Tears Of Rage
9 – Forbidden Fruit
10 – This Wheel’s On Fire
11 – The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
12  – The Genetic Method
13 – Chest Fever
14 – Up On Cripple Creek
14 – The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show

And Then There Were Four

1 – Up on Cripple Creek                                                                                                  2 – The Shape I’m In
3 – It Makes No Difference
4 – Milk Cow Boogie
5 – Mystery Train
6 – King Harvest
7 – Java Blues
8 – I Shall Be Released
9 – Rag Mama Rag
10 – Long Black Veil
11 – (I Don’t Want To) Hang up My Rock and Roll Shoes
12 – The Weight
13 – Ophelia

 

Levon Helm – An Appreciation

I saw The Band over 30 times. They were my first concert way back when as a sophomore in high school. That night they tore up Merriwether Post Pavilion. In 1974 from January 15th through the 22nd, I saw The Dylan/Band: Before The Flood Tour six times in four cities. The last time I saw them was at Wolf Trap opening for John Prine. I took my daughter Morgan for her first ever concert. As much as I loved it, I think she was too young to appreciate the music, but she liked the tie-died Life Is A Carnival tee shirt I bought her.

One visit to New York City in 1981 at a small club I was fortunate to see an impromptu show by Steve Forbert. He was joined by Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Levon Helm. As great as the music was, it was made fantastic because during the break and after the show all four artists sat at our table. It remains a memory that has become almost surreal. All I can say is that they were down to earth, friendly, and gracious. They were cats you could hang with at the local bar or pool room. The clearest moment I have is that every time the waitress (her name was Rhonda and she was from Virginia and is the reason why we were so well seated and treated) brought the table drinks Levon would say in that beautiful soft southern drawl “thank you m’am”.

Every member of The Band, except Richard Manuel, would tell you Richard was their lead singer. But for me the voice of The Band was Levon. My first introduction to their music was his line “I pulled into Nazareth…” Hell, I never pulled out. He is considered by many as one of the best drummers of his and any generation, I cannot attest to that but I know the cat could play, and as he played he sang his ass off.

Over the past days so many appreciations of Levon have been written and read. They tell of his days as a boy in Arkansas, his stay as a teenager drummer in Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, Dylan years, The Band, the Last Waltz, acting, The Band’s reemergence, the illness, Midnight Rambles, revived solo career and Grammy awards. I urge you to take time to read about this remarkable artist, man, friend, father and grandfather.

This is what I know. The following are links to what I consider are his greatest vocal performances, and they are what I want people to hear as a tribute to this American troubadour, this music legend.

When I Paint My Masterpiece – A Bob Dylan song that The Band and especially Levon added the masterstroke to.

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down – This is the live Last Waltz rendition and it’s revelatory. Levon sings as if a gun is held to his head and his life depended on this particular take. It’s one of the greatest vocals of all time.

Atlantic City – Bruce Springsteen may have written it, but The Band and especially Levon own it.

Tennessee Jed – From his last solo album, Electric Dirt. His voice, ravaged by time and illness, still conveys his power and the innate good natured inflection I love about his voice. And his pitch, as always, perfect.

So rest easy Levon, we here know the drum stool is now taken in Heaven, you and Rick and Richard can start a band.