Updated: He's gone.
There’s this guy, a musician, you’ve probably heard of him, lives not far from here, up in Woodstock:
"He is a musician, through and through," said John Simon, producer of The Band's first two albums, "Music From Big Pink" and "The Band." "He was born that way; that's the way he came out of the crate. Others may labor their whole lives through and never attain the natural level of musicianship that Levon has. It's his essence. He may be 87 percent flesh and bones and 13 percent blood and spit, but he's 100 percent musician."
That musician provided the beat on all those legendary Band tunes, singing on "Up on Cripple Creek" and "The Weight," among others. Memories of those songs flooded the Internet and news outlets Tuesday. Celebrities responded to Helm's status with wishes for recovery, prayers and love. Even Robbie Robertson, his former bandmate and enemy of the past three decades, spoke well about Helm, telling fans through his Facebook that he visited him Sunday in the hospital.
"Levon is one of the most extraordinary, talented people I've ever known and very much like an older brother to me," Robertson wrote. "I am so grateful I got to see him one last time and will miss him and love him forever."
Levon Helm is something of an institution around here. As much of an institution as a man like him will allow himself to be.
The Arkansas native, whose fertile voice and on-the-money drumbeats graced such Band classics as "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" — as well as his three recent Grammy-winning solo albums — is just one month shy of his 72nd birthday. It's a birthday that was scheduled to be celebrated — minutes from his wood-and-bluestone home/studio — at UPAC in Kingston, with some of the musicians who have made his weekly Midnight Rambles at his home, down a winding dirt road, "the center of the musical universe," said Jimmy Vivino, a member of Helm's band.
Helm…was called "the greatest drummer" by Ringo Starr, and "one of the best singers ever, right up there with Ray Charles" by Kris Kristofferson, has been in the midst of a career revival. That's thanks to those Rambles that have attracted stars like Kristofferson, Elvis Costello, My Morning Jacket, the Black Crowes, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh to the woodsy room with a fireplace and worn oriental rugs.
And as you’ve probably heard, he’s not well. He’s in “the final stages of his battle with cancer.”
The local paper has some nice tributes posted. Levon Helm slipping away, family says by Steve Israel. Fans, musicians pay tribute to Helm by Timothy Malcolm. And then this appreciation of his career, Levon Helm’s fine musical moments. Bunch of videos with that last one. Check them out. (Registration suggested, especially for regular readers of this blog.)
Updated: The Times Herald-Record has all its coverage on one page now. Excellent stuff.
Photo by John DeSanto of the Times Herald-Record.