Levon Helm, the drummer/vocalist for The Band, has died after a long battle with throat cancer. He was 71.
Helm was born and raised in Arkansas. He grew up in a musical household where he learned to play multiple instruments. As a teenager, he became the drummer for rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins’ band the Hawks.
In the mid-1960s, Helm, along with most of his bandmates in the Hawks left the group, at which point Helm became their leader– for a short period, they were called “Levon and the Hawks.” They made a few records, but none were hits. In 1965, Bob Dylan hired them as his backing band. Shortly after, Helm left the band when Dylan was famously booed during his first electric tour.
In 1967, Helm rejoined the others, and Dylan, in Woodstock, New York. They took up the moniker “the Band”. They recorded a series of ragged bootlegs, which eventually became The Basement Tapes, as well as the legendary 1968 album Music From Big Pink. The Band went on to major success with classic songs such as “The Weight”, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, and “Up on Cripple Creek”.
The Band toured and recorded until their farewell performance on November 25, 1976 at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. It served as the basis for Martin Scorcese’s concert documentary The Last Waltz as well as a live album. The concert featured performances from Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Emmylou Harris, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Ronnie Wood, and several others.
Following the Band’s last performance, Helm released a string of solo albums, and in 1989, Helm and Danko joined Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. He also started a career as an actor– in 1980, he played Loretta Lynn’s father in Coal Miner’s Daughter. In 1983, the Band reformed without Robbie Robertson. Manuel passed away in 1986 and Danko died in 1999.
In the late 1990s, Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer. Shortly after, Helm began a series of performances at the Barn, his home and studio in Woodstock, where he performed with an ever-changing cast of guest musicians. His voice recovered, he went on tour, and he recorded 2007′s Dirt Farmer and 2009′s Electric Dirt. Levon had gigged on an off through the years in-spite of his battle with cancer.
Earlier this week the internet was buzzing with rumors of his passing but his daughter and wife released a statement that he was alive but had entered his final stages. An outpouring of support from fans has flooded social media and we anticipate will continue to do so far a long time to come.
Rest easy, Levon.