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Levon Helm

Biography

As the drummer of The Band -- and Dylan's first electric band -- Levon Helm played a significant role in American rock history. But too often overlooked is Helm's contribution as a songwriter and singer, which has yielded canonical slices of Americana like "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Helm was born in Marvell, AK, where he started playing guitar along to Nashville country station WLAC as a boy. He moved to Memphis as a young man where he was enlisted as the drummer of The Hawks, the backing group of early rock singer Ronnie Hawkins. Hawkins and Helm moved to Toronto where they recruited the rest of what would be The Band. The Band backed Dylan in the mid-60s, though Helm's time with Dylan was short; the negative reaction to Dylan's electric venture disheartened Helm so much that he quit the band and moved back to Arkansas, where he worked on an oil rig. When he rejoined The Band some years later, they were working on their masterpiece, Music From Big Pink, a record on which Helm's drumming, singing and (often uncredited) songwriting was essential. After the group disbanded in 1976, Helm cultivated an acting career, earning his biggest role in Cole Miner's Daughter, and continued playing with sundry Band-related projects. Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer in the '90s, though he continued performing with his daughter, Amy, and hosting a famous "Midnight Ramble" series of concerts in his Woodstock barn. After struggling with cancer for a number of years, Helm was able to sing again in the early '00s. He released Dirt Farmer, his first solo record in some 25 years, in 2007.
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