The Drummer's Legacy: Levon Helm's Unending Midnight Ramble

Article Contributed by Howard Horder | Published on Sunday, December 3, 2023

Just when I thought I had read everything possible about Levon Helm—the drummer, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and lyricist for The Band—a new book emerges, revealing uncharted aspects of his extraordinary life. John Barry's 'Rock * Roll * Ramble – The Inside Story of the Man, the Music and the Midnight Ramble' offers fresh information and untold stories. Barry, an experienced journalist, was not merely an observer but an insider, providing a unique perspective. Covering the years 2004 to 2012, the book chronicles a pivotal era when Levon Helm and his circle managed to steer their course anew, forging a vibrant musical legacy. It delves into the lives of key figures and events that shaped these new narratives about Levon, offering insightful and informative commentary.

Levon Helm - photo by Howard Horder

Levon Helm - photo by Howard Horder

photo by Howard Horder

Levon Helm's talent extended beyond music to acting, taking him from Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, to unimaginable heights. His journey included local rambles and performances at a presidential inaugural ball, among other notable experiences. At a David Bromberg Big Band concert in 2007, Bromberg shared his Grammy nomination, expressing disbelief at being mentioned in the same context. However, he hoped not to win, as Levon Helm was nominated in the same category. Helm ultimately won his first Grammy for 'Dirt Farmer' in February 2008. In another heartwarming moment, Bob Weir dedicated the encore at a 2012 Furthur concert to Helm, playing a moving rendition of The Band's 'The Weight'. Helm's influence and respect among his peers were undeniable.

The Weight Band with Larry & Teresa | Bardavon Theater | photo by Howard Horder

The Weight Band with Larry & Teresa | Poughkeepsie, NY - photo by Howard Horder

On November 18, 2023, at the Bardavon Theater in Poughkeepsie, NY, a concert featuring Midnight Ramble Band alumni and The Weight Band was a testament to Helm's enduring legacy. Larry Campbell's rendition of 'Chest Fever' captivated the audience with its unique arrangement and compelling guitar work. The Weight Band’s repertoire included classic songs from The Band, new compositions, and covers from the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band. Their music continues to evolve, attracting both longtime and new fans. A standout moment was Brian Mitchell's introduction of a New Orleans-style version of the Garcia-Hunter song 'Deal', highlighting his love for the funky New Orleans music scene and his memorable experiences with Levon at the Barn.

Levon and Larry - photo by Howard Horder

Everyone who encountered Levon Helm, or interacted with him, seems to have a story to share. His multifaceted talent shone through in various mediums, like his memorable line in the movie 'Shooter'. John Barry's book does justice to Helm's multifaceted personality and is a compelling read. Helm's legacy lives on through ongoing performances at The Barn and the Midnight Rambles, making a visit to the Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, NY, a must-do for fans.