“Drummers shouldn’t sing unless they’re Levon Helm” said Dave Edmunds famously, laying down an unofficial rule of rock. (It probably applies to every full-time instrumentalist in a group. That microphone demands your full attention.) But Levon’s group, the band, was blessed with three exceptional voices and they were all good enough to sing and play simultaneously. Mr. Helm is the only one left, sadly, but he brings his Midnight Ramble to Chicago for two XRT shows tonight and tomorrow to benefit the Old Town School. Based on segregation era late night southern medicine shows, Levon has been staging them at his home/studio Barn in upstate New York since 2005. The shows this weekend will feature Levon’s neighbor and Steely Dan man Donald Fagan. Some Levon Helm career highlights:
- Coal Miner’s Daughter. Levon has been in several films including the Right Stuff and The Last Waltz and The Man Outside which featured the entire Band (except Robbie of course.) His finest role was that of Loretta Lynn’s father in the biopic that gave Sissy Spacek the Oscar.
- This Wheels On Fire. Levon’s autobiography (written with Stephen Davis), is a fascinating insider account of the Band and the internal politics of a rock and roll group.
- “Little John of God” by Los Lobos. This moving song about a special person features a heavenly cameo by Levon.
- The Basement Tapes. These sessions in the late 60s with Bob Dylan and the Band are one of the greatest creative bursts in modern music history. Heavily bootlegged and covered by other artists, the official release in 1975 represents a partial but amazing window into a time when the muse was working overtime.
- Dirt Farmer. Levon had some medical issues which threatened and eventually changed his voice, but he persevered and came back strong with this Grammy winner in 2007.