The music world took a major blow yesterday with the passing of Levon Helm, the famed drummer for The Band, who died after a prolonged battle with cancer at 71. For years, Helm hosted a prolonged jam session known as the Midnight Ramble, in which the lively musician and numerous guests played into the night. In later years, Helm brought the Midnight Ramble to the spacious recording studio of his Woodstock home to raise money for his throat cancer treatment. For those (like myself) lucky enough to have attended these sessions, the intimate venue was an unparalleled showcase for musical talent.
Nobody explained the Midnight Ramble better than Helm himself in Martin Scorsese’s memorable portrait of The Band, “The Last Waltz.” You can watch that scene here. A lifelong fan of the group’s work, Scorsese provided Indiewire with the following statement about Helm’s passing:
The late Jim Carroll once said that Levon Helm was the only drummer who could make you cry, and he was absolutely right. Levon’s touch was so delicate, so deft, that he gave you more than just a beat – he gave the music a pulse. And his high, ringing voice was just as soulful. His bandmate Robbie Robertson wrote “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” for Levon to sing, and I’ll never forget how moving it was to watch him sing it during their final performance at Winterland, which is one of the high points of the movie we made from that show, The Last Waltz. Levon was a gentleman, a consummate artist (and, I might add, a wonderful actor – his performance as Loretta Lynn’s father in Coal Miner’s Daughter is rich, understated, and very moving), and he loved music as deeply and truly as anyone I’ve ever met. I consider myself fortunate to have worked with Levon, and I am one among many, many people who will miss him.