Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Donald Fagen remembers Levon Helm

Levon Helm: 1940 - 2012

During the last few years, whenever possible, I've played in the rhythm section of Levon Helm's band at his house/blues-joint up in Woodstock, N.Y. I was literally grandfathered in: Levon's daughter Amy, who has two boys herself, is also daughter to my wife, Libby. Amy, a terrific singer, has been central to the Midnight Ramble since it's inception.

On those Saturday nights, I had a great sightline over to Levon, straight across the top of the Steinway. When he was into his groove, with that left shoulder pulled down, wailing into the boom mic on his right, I couldn't take my eyes off him. I couldn't figure out how he could keep that thuddy, cycling pulse so even, making every fill and roll, and yet sing so well at the same time. He made all those machines - the sticks, the skins, the pedals, the cymbals, even the microphone - into living extensions of his own body. Without ever sounding mechanical, he always put the downbeat in that sweet spot. Locking in with Levon was the easiest gig I've ever had.

Towards the end, before each show, he was trying everything possible - inhalers. steam and whatever - to get his damaged larynx loose enough to sing a few tunes so as not to disappoint the folks. The fact is, when he walked out on stage and sat down at the kit, his percussive excellence and iconic presence were more than enough to satisfy most all the paying customers. His family, his old bandmates Robbie and Garth, the Ramble band and crew and several generations of fans around the world - we're all missing him.

For a time, Levon was also stepfather to Fagen's wife's son, Ezra Titus, who died tragically in 2009.  Ezra's description of growing up with Levon in his memoir, A Miraculous Recovery, can be found at the link above.

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