I knew that Levon fought throat cancer in the 90s and it took him a long time to be able to sing again.
But in recent years he was back in form, hosting 'Midnight Rambles' in his Woodstock, New York barn.
All sorts of guests showed up to these gigs and they seemed like a cool throwback to the 40s when Levon snuck into similar gigs in the south where he grew up.
You'd have to go to Woodstock but otherwise the door was open. Great idea. Wish I'd have gone to one! I was surprised to see that he played as recently as April 1, according to his Facebook page. There was a post that he'd play on the lighter side to favor his back and neck but I think everyone thought it was just old age or the flu or something. Must have hit him super quick for him to be on his deathbed just two weeks later.
The Band was such a unique group. Three singers. Could go from the bouncy Stage Fright to the morose Tears of Rage on a dime. I remember my friend in college commenting he didn't like the Band because they were depressing!
I see where he was coming from but to me that was just proof that they were genuine. My friend didn't have to grok the meaning behind King Harvest to get the vibe.
A lot of that was due to the incredibly heartfelt vocals of the also late Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, but also to the sparse, behind the beat drumming of Levon Helm.
Vocally, Levon took more of the upbeat tunes that required a bit of a belter to deliver but dig any live version of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and you will hear 100 percent heart.
Levon's pending passing also makes me think of Band leader Robbie Robertson and how as far as I know Levon never made peace with him since the 1976 Last Waltz breakup.
I did see just today that Robertson visited Levon over the weekend but he doesn't say if Levon was even awake for it. Would have been cool if they had made peace but maybe cooler if Levon's last words were 'fuck off Robertson.'
But seeing Roger Waters and David Gilmour bury the hatchet in recent years gave me hope that maybe old Levon would find it in his heart to forgive Robbie and make peace with his old bandmate. Ah well...
So in all, bummer news but as usual it's as fine an excuse as any to pop on The Band. My choice tonight is the live Rock of Ages.
Rest easy Levon, and I hope you are soon harmonizing with Danko and Manuel in that great gig in the sky.