Levon Helm, as aptly described in the New York Times, "helped forge a deep-rooted American music as the drummer and singer for the Band." In his drumming, "muscle, swing, economy and finesse were inseparably merged," as in those three thumps on the bass drum that introduce "The Weight," one of the Band's greatest songs. Some of the more memorable tunes on which he was lead vocals include “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Up on Cripple Creek,” and "Ophelia," songs in which "lyrics turned to myths and tall tales of the American South."
Back in 1984, he described the
“right ingredients” for his work as “life and breath,
heart and soul.” And while his solo career was somewhat uneven, in later years he recorded a couple of really excellent albums, in particular Electric Dirt, released in 2009, which won a well-deserved Grammy Award (as did his prior release in 2007, Dirt Farmer).
Helm died today after a battle with throat cancer.
Here's he is on Letterman in 2009, performing a cover of the Grateful Dead's Tennessee Jed, which appears on Electric Dirt:
And here's a classic from The Last Waltz, one of the great concert films/albums of all time: