Levon Helm

Active - 1978 - 2020  |   Born - May 26, 1940 in Marvell, Arkansas, United States  |   Died - Apr 19, 2012   |   Genres - Drama, Music, Comedy, Thriller, Crime

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

Best known as the drummer for the Band, Levon Helm also occasionally played supporting roles in feature films, beginning with Coal Miner's Daughter (1979).

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  • Hired at age 17 by rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins to play drums in his backing band, the Hawks.
  • Became known as Levon when his fellow Hawks had difficulty pronouncing his given name of Lavon.
  • By 1961 the Hawks consisted of the personnel that would become the Band: Rick Danko (bass), Helm, Garth Hudson (organ), Robbie Robertson (guitar) and Richard Manuel (piano); they split from Hawkins in 1963 due to personal differences.
  • Hired with fellow Hawk Robbie Robertson to back Dylan on his first all-electric tour in 1965. Dylan soon brought in the full band to accompany him.
  • Quit the Hawks in 1965 because he was fed up with being booed and jeered while backing Dylan, whose transition to rock music was not well received by folk fans. He rejoined the group in 1967. 
  • The Hawks were rechristened Crackers after their manager got them a deal with Capitol Records. Capitol didn't like the new moniker, however, and released the group's 1968 debut album, Music From Big Pink, under their individual names. They became known as The Band because of the credits, which listed the unnamed group's members beneath a header that read "The Band." 
  • The Band's influence proved to be far greater than its chart success: one Top 40 single ("Up on Cripple Creek"); and three Top 10 albums (The Band, Stage Fright and Rock of Ages). 
  • Disliked The Last Waltz, the Martin Scorsese-directed documentary of the Band's 1976 farewell concert.
  • Backed legendary bluesman Muddy Waters on the 1975 album The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album, which was recorded at Helm's Woodstock, NY, recording studio.
  • Published his autobiography, This Wheel's on Fire, in 1993. It was cowritten with rock journalist Stephen Davis. 
  • Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (as part of the Band) in 1994.
  • Began hosting biweekly "Midnight Ramble" concerts at his Woodstock, NY, barn-studio in 2004. They often featured such unannounced guests as Elvis Costello and Gillian Welch.