The Levon Helm Band with My Morning Jacket at Levon Helm Studios, Part I [Concert Review]

by Woody on November 8, 2010

Levon Helms and My Morning Jacket Concert Poster

“After the finale, they’d have the midnight ramble,” Helm told Scorsese. With young children off the premises, the show resumed: “the songs would get a little bit juicier. The jokes would get a little funnier and the prettiest dancer would really get down and shake it a few times.”

When Levon Helm, the legendary singer and drummer of The Band, was diagnosed with throat cancer in the late 1990s, the initial treatment suggested by his oncologist was to surgically remove his vocal chords. Luckily for us all, he immediately sought a second opinion from Sloan Kettering hospital and decided instead to pursue radiation treatment. Over the next five weeks, he endured 28 intensive sessions of radiation therapy, during which he was strapped down to a bed while doctors shot waves through three holes in his throat. The prognosis was that his vocal chords might not recover, and he was left mute for a considerable time. With enormous medical bills and unable to even speak, Levon admits it was a dark time, but making music was a way for him to confront his struggle. Reflecting on this period in a CBS interview Levon said, “Trying to make music is the best thing for pain, sadness, you know.” Well, it turns out making music not only helped him confront the pain, but also led to a second act in his career.

The Levon Helm Midnight Rambles began in 2005 as informal musical gatherings in Levons home studio in Woodstock, NY. The idea for the rambles arose because of the need to pay off his medical debts. As Levon explains, “And then after I got sick I needed money, I couldn’t take a job. So we started puttin’ on little mini concerts here inside the studio.” Gathering together an assortment of local and NYC-based musicians, word of the Rambles quickly spread and soon enough they were packing the house every Saturday night. Miraculously, Levons voice slowly emerged from its slumber and by 2006 his voice was back to about 70%.

Eventually, Levon recruited Larry Campbell, a veteran producer and multi-instrumentalist who played in Bob Dylans band from 1997 to 2004, as bandleader. After playing together for a while, they began to consider recording an album. The resulting album, Dirt Farmer, was released in 2007 to critical acclaim and won The Levon Helm Band their first of two Grammy awards. Levons daughter, Amy Helm, Larrys wife, Teresa Williams, Jimmy Weider (The Band’s last guitarist), Jimmy Vivino, Mike Merritt, Brian Mitchell, Erik Lawrence, Steven Bernstein, Little Sammy Davis and more recently Donald Fagen of Steely Dan have been regular members of The Levon Helm Band.

Read more in a few…

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