The coolest drummer on the planet: Taking the load off Levon Helm

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A glowing 69-year-old Levon Helm arrives for his fourth and final appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman” at New York City’s Ed Sullivan Theater on July 9, 2009. Helm was promoting his last studio album, “Electric Dirt,” with a New Orleans-fueled take of the Grateful Dead’s “Tennessee Jed” featuring slide licks from Larry Campbell’s customized “Frankenstrat” Fender Stratocaster. Photography by Nancy Kaszerman / ZUMA Press

The Sandra B. Tooze Interview

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Better toe the line or risk Levon Helm’s fiery wrath: The drummer intensely concentrates during the 1976 recording sessions for The Band’s final studio album, the odds and sods “Islands,” inside their Shangri-La clubhouse in Malibu, California. Photography by Ed Caraeff / The Band’s official Facebook
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Muddy Waters, songwriter-producer Henry Glover [center], and Levon Helm, armed with a heavy beard, cigarette, bucket hat, and white T-shirt, are happy to collide during the sessions for “The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album” at Bearsville Sound Studios in Woodstock, New York, on either February 6 or 7, 1975. Helm [co-producer, drums] and Garth Hudson [organ, accordion, saxophone] contributed to all nine cuts. Photography by David Gahr / Levon Helm Fans [Facebook group]
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Soon after their split from Ronnie Hawkins, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, and Robbie Robertson resemble sharply-dressed, well-groomed accountants rather than frenetic rock ’n’ roll outfit Levon & the Hawks in 1964. Image Credit: The Bill Avis Collection / TheBand.hiof.no
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What a difference five years made in the psychedelic sixties: Infrared film captures post-Hole-in-the-Wall gang Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, a bare-chested Levon Helm, and a pet cat reclining in the yard of Manuel and Hudson’s house above the Ashokan Reservoir in Woodstock, New York, 1969. Photography by Elliott Landy / The Band’s official Facebook
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Presenting Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks! Bassist Rick Danko, pianist Richard Manuel, Hawkins, drummer Levon Helm, guitarist Robbie Robertson, and organist Garth Hudson find the boogie woogie at the Brass Rail Tavern in London, Ontario, Canada, in 1963. Image Credit: The Serge Daniloff Collection
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Organist-accordionist Garth Hudson, “Blue Suede Shoes” songwriter Carl Perkins, Canadian rockabilly king Ronnie Hawkins, drummer Levon Helm, and bassist Rick Danko meet backstage at “This Country’s Rockin’”, a forgotten 23-artist, 13-hour concert held at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan, on May 6, 1989. The poorly attended show, dubbed “The Woodstock of Country Music,” was not a total bust as it aired on the Viewer’s Choice pay-per-view cable channel, since renamed iN DEMAND, for a handsome price of $24.95. Photography by Nancy Lee Andrews
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For the final encore of The Band’s ballyhooed “Last Waltz” inside Bill Graham’s since-razed Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, at 2:15 a.m. on the morning of November 26, 1976, Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm effortlessly tackle Marvin Gaye’s “Don’t Do It.” Future “Raging Bull” director Martin Scorsese helmed possibly the best rock documentary of all time when it was belatedly issued nearly two years later. Robertson bronzed his 1954 Fender Stratocaster specifically for “The Last Waltz.” The two Band members who had known each other the longest — since 1959 — Helm and Robertson would sadly share a stage just one more time. Touring behind his self-titled solo debut on Arista Records, on March 1, 1978, Rick Danko launched “The Picnic in L.A.” show at the Roxy nightclub on the Sunset Strip. All members of The Band sat in at various intervals. Photography by Steve Gladstone / Brian D. Hardin / TheEndofPictures.com
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Levon Helm, loyal companion-Labrador mix Muddy, and longtime friend Bill Avis reunite inside Helm’s Midnight Ramble barn in Woodstock, New York, circa September-October 2006, not long before Helm would start tracking his first studio album in 25 years, the Grammy-winning “Dirt Farmer.” Bill’s son Jerome remembers Muddy, who died three years after his master in May 2015, as being “a kind, loving soul of a dog.” Photography by Jerome Levon Avis
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Sandra B. Tooze, Jerome Levon Avis, and father Bill Avis sit on the latter’s home staircase in Peterborough, Ontario, after an interview for Tooze’s biography of Levon Helm, on March 18, 2017. Jerome is holding a photo taken at his godfather’s funeral. The red sparkle Gretsch drum kit was acquired in the 2000’s. The black Zildjian leather glove was worn on Helm’s left hand “in order to prevent blisters from the sweat that ran down his arms when he played.” Image Credit: The Jerome Levon Avis Collection
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According to Levon Helm’s godson Jerome Levon Avis, “This picture was taken during the summer of 1980 at my parents’ home in Peterborough, Ontario. Dad [Bill Avis] was road managing Levon and the Cate Brothers Band across parts of Canada and the states at the time. I was eight years old, and Levon and I had traded hats. The two sticks we are using were actually played by Levon at ‘The Last Waltz.’ Dad got them from Levon after the show. A family friend took this shot as Dad had brought Levon and his wife Sandy up to Peterborough from Toronto on a Sunday afternoon for a BBQ.” Image courtesy of Jerome Levon Avis
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Levon Helm happily mans the drums at a Band concert at the Music Inn in Lennox, Massachusetts, on either July 18 or August 29, 1976. Over 40 years later it became the cover of Sandra B. Tooze’s “Levon: From Down in the Delta to the birth of The Band and Beyond.” Photography by Lee Everett / Fine Line Multimedia / Cover Design by Libby Kingsbury / Diversion Books
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Levon Helm mischievously teases the camera by sticking out his tongue. Between January 3 and February 14, 1974 — when this shot was snapped — The Band and Bob Dylan co-headlined 40 North American shows that resulted in “Before the Flood,” a live double album that went on to achieve platinum certification. Helm may be wearing the same long-sleeved navy blue shirt seen in “The Last Waltz.” Photography by Barry Feinstein
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Easily the most dynamic All Starr Band: Clockwise from far left are drummer Jim Keltner, pianist Dr. John, Bruce Springsteen saxophonist Clarence Clemons, “Will It Go Round in Circles” keyboard wiz Billy Preston, Beatle Ringo Starr, “It Makes No Difference” bassist Rick Danko, Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh, Springsteen-Neil Young guitarist Nils Lofgren, and Levon Helm. The publicity photo was likely taken just prior to the first All Starr Band’s July 23-November 8, 1989, tour of North America and Japan. Starr’s debut live album, recorded with the above lineup at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, was unleashed the following year featuring a guest appearance by none other than founding Band alum Garth Hudson on accordion. The Band pals typically stepped into the limelight for “The Weight,” “The Shape I’m In,” “Up on Cripple Creek,” and Danko’s Buddy Holly cover — “Raining in My Heart.” Photography by Henry Diltz
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“Groove, Grit & Soul: Steve Jordan Interviews the Legendary Levon Helm:” The “Up on Cripple Creek” singer and “Saturday Night Live” rhythm section anchor are bosom buddies on the April 2008 cover of Modern Drummer magazine. Photography by Paul La Raia / Modern Drummer Publications / Bonanza.com
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Two long-time friends of Levon Helm’s — Bubba Sullivan on the left and C.W. Gatlin on the right — join biographer Sandra B. Tooze in front of the Gist Music Store in Helena, Arkansas, where Helm purchased his first guitar. The man behind the camera — Joe Griffith — spearheaded the efforts to restore Helm’s childhood home in Turkey Scratch, which is on display in Marvell. Photography by Joe Griffith / Courtesy of Sandra B. Tooze
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An uncropped wide shot finds two long-time friends of Levon Helm’s — Bubba Sullivan on the left and C.W. Gatlin on the right — posing alongside biographer Sandra B. Tooze in front of the Gist Music Store in Helena, Arkansas, where Helm purchased his first guitar. The man behind the camera — Joe Griffith — spearheaded the efforts to restore Helm’s childhood home in Turkey Scratch, which is on display in Marvell. Photography by Joe Griffith / Courtesy of Sandra B. Tooze

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Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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