Quote and Credit

Quote and Credit


The Last Levon Helm Tribute Pecks Drum and Lavon the Gentleman Percussionist

On my first of several visits to the magnificent Levon Helm rambles, which was the process by which one of the greatest singers in American history relearned to sing, I stopped Levon as he was headed to tinker with the drum kit.  Great mechanics take care of their machines, and Levon was one of the great mechanics of percussion.  I had a few brief things which were so important to me to say, and who knew at the time I would have several other chances to say it.

The lovely Barbara O'Brien, at the time Levon's manager and organizer of the Midnight Ramble at Levon's house, had somehow invited me.  I truly don't remember how or why, but I rented a car the same day and booked a room in Kingston, New York, a ten minute drive from Levon's place.  She told me to bring food to share, and sure enough it was potluck. 

Levon was in a pair of nylon pants, soft-sole black tennis shoes and a determined look.  If those drums needed tightening, even though the audience was to be some 50 people, they were going to be perfect. 

I asked Mr. Helm to pause.  "Mr. Helm, I would like to thank you for two things."  He grinned and looked me in the eye.  I continued.  "First, for inviting us into your house.  Second, for all that you have done for me over the years without knowing it." 

He reached out his hand, the right hand, a drummer's hand, and said "Thank you brother."

That night I don't remember who was playing, but in the barn we heard Levon's music the way it should be heard.  On a stage with no nails in the wood (!) Levon had insisted the place would be held together with wooden pegs rather than metal.  I was ten feet from the kit, and no one was more than five times that as they played all night. 

I was lucky enough to see a few more shows.  One particularly special evening turned out to be one of the last performances of Pinetop Perkins.  That's right.  Pinetop played all night, with the entire line-up of Muddy Water's band, the one which had backed Muddy on his album recorded at Levon's place years earlier and came to be known as Muddy's Woodstock album.  The whole band reunited just to play at Levon's.  At the time, Pinetop was maybe 95 years old.  He wore a purple suit and, I am not kidding, flirted with women and HE wasn't kidding.  He would have taken any women in the place.  The band came from afar and they were all there.

Remembrances, and there could be many more, are clogging the web.  It doesn't surprise me, as Levon (actually named Lavon as a child) was one of the true gentleman in a business full of creeps.  There was a bit of Paul McCartney in him...as in "if Levon asks, you do it" just like you would for a Beatle. He was that highly regarded as a man and a musician.

On the day I learned he was passing, I posted a recording he made with his band mates in 1961.  Further on Down the Road, a blues chestnut they put on a 45rpm when they were "Levon and the Hawks" and marveled all over again as I realized he had been playing over 50 years professionally.  The entire history of Rock and Roll.

What tribute can I leave online for Levon?  The following, courtesy of Elvis Costello and HIS tribute, from which I quote: 

"Peck Curtis" received a press roll and a cymbal smash that sounded like a round of applause but then Levon had purchased and preserved Mr. Curtis' hand painted kit from his days playing with Sonny Boy Williamson on the "King Biscuit Time" radio show on KFFA and put it on display in the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas."

I had always hoped to find that drum myself. 

Levon grew up listening to that drum on the radio.  He was born and raised ten miles from the studio.  It was a daily 15 minute program with Sonny Boy Williamson, and it obviously thrilled young Lavon.  That he was able to procure the drum is a mystery as beautiful as Kane's sled in my mind. 

Those of you who would like to know a but more about Levon and life itself should read his autobiography.  It is written as he speaks and you will learn phrases you will remember.  Including "like a horse pissing on a rock" which is not something you might expect from a gentleman like Levon, but makes perfect sense coming from a percussionist.
Jim Linderman 4/21/12

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