Music legend Levon Helm, singer and drummer for The Band, has lost his 14-year battle with throat cancer, leaving behind a wife and daughter as well as a lasting legacy in the music world.
Helm grew up on an Arkansas farm and fostered a love of music early on; he was just six years old when he saw Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys for the first time, and the show made a lasting impression on him. He wrote about it in his autobiography, “This Wheel’s On Fire: The Story Of Levon Helm And The Band“.
“This really tattooed my brain. I’ve never forgotten it,” he said of the performance, and indeed a soulful, grass-roots feel can be heard in Levon’s voice that was no doubt influenced by that youthful admiration.
The Band infused R&B with rock, country, and the story-telling abilities of a Bluegrass genius, and that deft maneuvering is what made them so successful.
Country/rock band Fifth On The Floor counts Helm and The Band among their influences–which include Shooter Jennings, who will contribute to their new album. Lead singer and guitarist Justin Wells told WebProNews that the amazing thing about The Band was their ability to be a democracy.
“All styles had weight. Even their name showed their “all for one” attitude,” Wells said. “There was no clear leader in the Band. Three strong vocalists, everybody was a soloist, and that was as much an influence on Fifth On The Floor as anything. I came up around country bands, and it was all about the lead singer. John Smith and the So and So’s. I literally had a guy tell me you can’t run a band like a democracy. I was like the f**k you can’t, look at The Band.”
Despite losing his voice to cancer for several years and only partially gaining it back, Helm continued to sing and record and started the Midnight Ramble sessions at his home, inviting musicians like Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello, and The Black Crowes to perform with him. The Black Crowes actually recorded a live album there entitled “Before The Frost…Until The Freeze”. The two albums Helm released after regaining his voice went on to win Grammy awards.
Levon Helm and The Band were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1994. He will be remembered as an unsurpassed talent with an impeccable sense of rhythm and a voice which recalls a lonely night, a glass of warm whiskey, and a story told from a barstool.