Talented musician Levon Helm, known best as drummer and sometimes-vocalist for The Band, died on April 19 at the age of 71 after a 13-year battle with throat cancer.
As a part of The Band, Helm is prominently featured in undeniable greats like “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” His rambling-yet-martial style and warm voice on these recordings are as reassuring as they are challenging.
Between 1965 and 1975, Helm and the rest of The Band worked with Bob Dylan, playing on several world tours and a number of informal and live recordings. In recent years Helm’s creative output resurged, winning him Grammy Awards for his two most recent albums Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt.
In the years before his death, Helm resided in Woodstock, N.Y., a mere 10 minutes from where, in 1968, The Band conceived its classic debut, Music From Big Pink. Helm remained an active musician, hosting a series of concerts called the Midnight Rambles on his farm. For his Rambles, Helm routinely invited musicians from across the Hudson Valley and international locations to jam until all hours of the morning, performing in front of a small rapt audience.
Born in Elaine, Ark., Helm is now recognized as a true Hudson Valley icon, a point of pride up and down the river. Traveling to Woodstock, you’ll find a sign by the side of the road celebrating Electric Dirt and its Grammy win.
As someone who grew up across the river from Woodstock, to me his presence always felt as natural a part of the place as the Catskills, the farm fields or forests. Helm simply always was. Even in passing, there isn’t a reason for his legacy or his memory to perish with his body. After all, legends aren’t as easy to lose as people.