Levon Helm 'one of the last true great spirits,' writes Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan, who asked multi-instrumentalist Levon Helm and his band, the Hawks, to join him when he decided to “go electric” in the mid-'60s, has posted a short note on his website about Helm, who died after a long struggle with throat cancer on Thursday.
Together with guitarist Robbie Robertson, bassist Rick Danko, pianist Richard Manuel and organist Garth Hudson, the band once known as Levon and the Hawks became Dylan’s backing band and recorded with him very intensively during a formative period when the formerly acoustic-only folk singer was making a transition in his sound. Those recording sessions were widely bootlegged and some of them were later released in 1975 as “The Basement Tapes.”
A note on Dylan’s website states simply:
"In response to Levon's passing
"He was my bosom buddy friend to the end, one of the last true great spirits of my or any other generation. This is just so sad to talk about. I still can remember the first day I met him and the last day I saw him. We go back pretty far and had been through some trials together. I'm going to miss him, as I'm sure a whole lot of others will too."
In the late 1960s, the backing band became its own recording entity, called the Band, and recorded its own albums, including the debut “Music From Big Pink,” which included the Levon Helm-sung hit “The Weight.”
The Band also played with Dylan on albums including 1974's "Planet Waves," and finally disbanded with a final 1976 performance — which included Dylan — called “The Last Waltz,” which was recorded in a documentary film made by Martin Scorsese.
Earlier on Pop & Hiss, singer-songwriter and producer Joe Henry spoke of his love for Helm, and drew comparisons to Dylan.
Wrote Henry, "In the same way that his great friend and sometimes-boss Bob Dylan connected the dots between Jimmy Reed, Arthur Rimbaud and Muhammad Ali, so Levon drew the second line that had Howlin’ Wolf, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Marvin Gaye and Hank Williams all dancing out in front of the same New Orleans funeral parade. (They all walked liked Bo Diddley and didn’t need no crutch.) He brought soul and an open heart to the darkest corners of rock music -- in a troubled era he helped shape and define -- and a rural humility to the grandest stages."
— Dean Kuipers
Image: Levon Helm with the band in 1970. Credit: Los Angeles Times