Well, Levon Helm passed away yesterday, one of the true greats. Drummers are a particular breed of musician. Sonically, its not too easy for a drummer to have a signature sound. Think of all the greats, and how few you can identify just by hearing them play. John Bonham, Elvin Jones….Levon Helm. You knew it was him instantly.
I never got to see Levon perform. Like everyone else, I love The Last Waltz, that’s where most of our images come from. I do have one Levon related story, which cracks me up.
A few years ago, I was sent out to record an interview between Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus and Keith Jarrett, the notorious legend, the Howard Hughes of jazz. They talked for nearly 2 hours about many things musical, but one turn I never expected, occurred when Jarrett was talking about drummers. They went through some jazz names, and Jarrett paused. “Who’s that drummer from The Band?” In a moment of unprofessionalism, I quietly said from behind the recording rig “Levon Helm???” and he said “Levon Helm!” here is the quote from the interview transcript (from Do The Math);
“Jack (Dejohnette) and I have this thing about Levon Helm’s playing in The Band and whenever that’s happening, we both know it.”
They, like everyone else on the planet, loved Levon’s groove. They searched for it in their own music. It was all of America. New Orleans second line, Memphis soul, New York jazz, it was all in there.