What Levon Helm has taught us.
We work in amplification. Here at my company, we make things heard. After all, doesn’t everybody have something to say? It can be a lifelong struggle, figuring out what it is you need to share. And it’s always a lifelong journey.
Today the world lost Levon Helms. A man who’s own musical journey started in 1954 when he saw Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. Helm was 14 and opening the show was a young singer, not too much older, named Elvis Presley. Curiously, he performed without a drummer.
Helms would see more concerts, start his own bands and before he was through high school, be behind the drum-set himself for Conway Twitty. He gained experience, skill and direction. Within a couple years he was on American Bandstand and touring with The Hawks. The musicians he and his partner Ronnie Hawkins recruited would be the beginning of history. With Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson, Helm began experimenting in new forms of the Rock & Roll he’d seen as a child. They were mixing electric guitars with the gritty country he’d been raised on Arkansas. They were expanding instrumentals and letting the notes speak where his rugged singing did not. They were emulated and studied by the emerging artists of the time and when the father of the folk movement decided he wanted to change his sound he brought them on tour with him. In 1965 Bob Dylan picked up an electric guitar and began playing with “Levon and the Hawks.”
The music that Helm was creating became the voice of a movement. He, Dylan and the rest of the band took the mid-60s to lock themselves in a house and practice their new sound. It’s no coincidence that it was in Woodstock, New York. The residents of the quiet farming community had no idea the noise their town would soon make. They referred to the musicians in the big pink house as, simply, “The Band.”
The name stuck.
Grammy’s were won, The Last Waltz came and went but the music never stopped. Helm brought his work to the big screen, lending the graveled honestly of his voice to films like The Coal Miner’s Daughter, this time as an actor.
His life became a timeline of definitive work: a living totem pole of the second half of the 20th Century.
In 1998 cancer tried to take Helm’s throat. The man that Rolling Stone listed as one of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” was silenced to a whisper. But he picked up his instruments. He began recording. And he raised his voice.
He taught us atmy company that when you have something to say it can take only your passion to amplify it.
We are so very sad to think he’s gone.
But we are happy to know that a 14 year-old boy, moved by Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley, became the artist that moved Bob Dylan. And truthfully, Levon Helm’s voice moved music.
Still, with its immortal sincerity, his voice continues to urge us all to find our own.