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Musician and singer Levon Helm was a member of the influential rock group, The Band, and a Grammy Award-winning solo artist.
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Born in Arkansas in 1940, Levon Helm grew up in Marvell, Arkansas. He started his musical career performing with his sister Linda. In 1957, Helm joined Ronnie Hawkins's band and through Hawkins met the future members of The Band. The Band formed in 1967 and became one of the most influential groups of the era. Later in his life, Helm worked on such solo projects as Dirt Farmer (2007). He died on April 19, 2012.
"If it doesn't come from your heart, music just doesn't work."
"I don't fool with a lot of things that I can't have fun with. There's not much reward in that."
"If you pour some music on whatever's wrong, it'll sure help out."
The son of an Arkansas farmer, Levon Helm was born Mark Lavon Helm on May 26, 1940, in Elaine, Arkansas. Helm grew up listening to the varied musical styles of the Mississippi Delta region. These sounds, ranging from country to R&B to early rock and roll to the blues, greatly influenced his work in his legendary group The Band and as a solo artist.
Helm got his first guitar at the age of 9, just one of many instruments he would learn to play. Before long, he was performing with his sister Linda. Helm started up his first rock group, the Jungle Bush Beaters, while in high school. In 1957, he joined Ronnie Hawkins' band as his drummer. The group ended up in Canada where new musicians eventually signed on—Rick Danko on bass, Richard Manuel on piano, Garth Hudson on organ and Robbie Robertson on guitar. Helms and his fellow backing musicians later split off from Hawkins, becoming Levon & the Hawks and then the Hawks.
In 1964, Helm and his band mates met folk singer Bob Dylan. Dylan soon hired them to play as his band for his tour—his first with electrified instruments. Dylan's fans loathed these performances, objecting to the singer's abandoning of the acoustic sound of traditional folk. Frustrated by the jeering crowds, Helm returned home to Arkansas for a time.
In 1967, Helms rejoined his band mates in West Saugerties, New York. They were living in a big pink rented house together while Dylan recovered from a motorcycle accident in nearby Woodstock. The group, who soon started calling themselves The Band, began to create and record their own songs. These sessions produced their debut album, Music from Big Pink (1968), named after their place of residence. The recording featured a remarkable blend of styles—country, folk, rock and blues—and produced a sound that was both modern and traditional.
These five performers often shared or alternated on the group's vocals, and Helm lent his distinctive Southern twang to several notable songs. He, with Danko and Manuel, sang the ballad, "The Weight," on Music from Big Pink, which became one of their best known songs. For their 1969 self-titled follow-up album, Helms gave voice to the story of Confederate heartbreak in "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."
The Band continued to perform and record over the next few years, but tensions were growing within the group. Helm reportedly became frustrated with how the songs were credited, believing guitarist Robertson took sole ownership of works that were collaborative efforts. And Robertson tired of touring.
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