THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA
The longtime drummer for "The Band", LEVON HELM wore many
musical hats throughout his long career, including multi-instrumentalist,
songwriter, singer, impresario, studio
owner, studio engineer and producer. He grew up working on
a farm in Arkansas; his first instrument was guitar, which
he began playing at age eight, but after seeing the F.S.
Walcott Rabbits Foot Minstrels, he decided to switch to
drums. As a youth, Helm listened to the music of the area,
including radio broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry and the
blues and R&B shows on WLAC, a clear-channel station out of
Nashville that became legendary in the development of
rhythm & blues and early rock & roll. Accompanied by his
sister Linda on washboard bass, he played various fairs and
civic club shows until forming his first group, the Jungle
Bush Beaters, while in high school.
After seeing an Elvis Presley concert, Helm became keenly
interested in rock & roll and musicians like Bo Diddley.
Eventually, he moved to Memphis, where he began sitting in
with Conway Twitty. Later, he was discovered by a fellow
Arkansan, rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins, who asked the
17-year-old Helm to join the Hawks, his backing band. The
group soon relocated to Toronto, where they'd heard there
was a burgeoning scene for their kind of music. In 1959,
Hawkins signed to Roulette Records, where he and the Hawks
cut a pair of hit records right out of the gate as "Forty
Days" and "Mary Lou," which went on to sell in excess of
In the early 1960s in Toronto, Helm and Hawkins recruited
the rest of the members of the group that would become "The
Band", adding guitarist Robbie Robertson, pianist Richard
Manuel, organist Garth Hudson and bassist Rick Danko to the
lineup. After numerous road trips with Hawkins, the group
grew tired of the singer's abrasive manner, and they
reformed as Levon and the Hawks, later changing their name
to the Canadian Squires for the purpose of recording two
singles. Shortly after, they changed their name back to the
Hawks. In the mid-'60s, Bob Dylan, decided to electrify his
sound, and wanted the Hawks to be his backing band. After
putting up with too many boos at Dylan's newly electrified
shows in 1965, Helm decided he'd had enough, and went back
to Arkansas, thinking he would leave the music business
behind him forever.
But Helm returned to action in mid-1967, where the Hawks
(since renamed simply The Band) began working on Music From
Big Pink, the first in a string of classic records which
made them one of rock's most legendary acts. After the
Band's famed 1976 farewell performance, dubbed The Last
Waltz, he cut his 1977 debut solo album Levon Helm and the
RCO All Stars, followed a year later by his self-titled
sophomore effort. In 1980 he recorded American Son, while
another eponymously-titled effort was released in 1982. The
Band reformed in 1983 without Robertson; following Manuel's
1986 suicide, the remaining trio released 1993's Jericho,
recorded at Helm's home studio in Woodstock, New York. That
same year, Helm published his autobiography, This Wheel's
on Fire, co-authored with Stephen Davis. The Band's bluesy
High on the Hog followed in 1995. The late '90s (and into
the next decade) found Helm still making music in a new
blues band called Levon Helm and the Barn Burners, with his
daughter Amy on keyboards and vocals, guitarist Pat O'Shea,
lead vocalist and harmonica player Chris O'Leary and
upright bassist Frankie Ingrao.
In February 2005, The Jack Douglas Award was presented to
Levon Helm. He is considered one of the most talented
musicians over the last thirty years evidenced by his 1993
induction into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame.
Levon is currently performing a series of Midnight Ramble
Sessions at his studio in Woodstock NY.
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