Levon Helm Loses Battle With Cancer
April 19, 2012 at 12:35 PM (PT)
LEVON HELM, drummer/singer of the legendary Americana band-before-there-was-Americana THE BAND, has succumbed to cancer at the age of 71.
MARK LAVON "LEVON" HELM was born in MARVELL, AR on MAY 26th, 1940, the son of cotton farmers. Encouraged to get into music, LAVON began playing the guitar and drums. After graduating from high school, HELM was invited to join RONNIE HAWKINS' band, THE HAWKS, a popular bar rockabilly band that was popular in the SOUTH and in CANADA.
THE HAWKS would eventually include guitarist ROBBIE ROBERTSON, bassist RICK DANKO, pianist RICHARD MANUEL and organist GARTH HUDSON; they and HELM would eventually split from HAWKINS and start their own band, eventually named THE HAWKS. The other band members kept mispronouncing his name as "LE-VON" that it eventually stuck. In the mid-'60s, they decided to backup BOB DYLAN when he moved from acoustic to electric folk.
HELM would leave the group for two years before returning to DYLAN and the group in 1967. Soon, the HAWKS went on their own as THE BAND and enjoyed hits such as "The Weight." "Up on Cripple Creek." "Ophelia" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." HELM's last appearance with the group was their 1976 farewell performance, "The Last Waltz," which became a documentary film by MARTIN SCORSESE.
HELM embarked on a solo career in 1980 and continued to perform until recently. In the late '90s, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. Although the tumor was then successfully removed, his vocal cords were damaged, and it took years until he sang again --in 2004. By the time he cut his solo album, "Dirt Farmer," in 2007, HELM said his singing voice was 80% recovered.
He continued to tour as a solo artist, as well as act in several films, until the cancer returned sometime earlier this year.