Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Forty-three years ago I worked for Levon Helm. I was the tour manager for The Band and in my book, Outlaw Blues, I recounted how Levon changed my whole notion of the “cracker”, a name he proudly embraced.

The first night back in LA the guys brought me down to the pool house and in Sammy Davis’s playroom (complete with giant bed and mirrors on the ceiling) they played me what they had recorded in the three months I had been away. The first tune they played was The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and by the song’s end, tears were welling up in my eyes. Once in a while works of art open up a window to a world one didn’t understand or didn’t even know. James Agee and Walker Evans had collaborated on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and it had opened up a window onto the life of the sharecropper. For me and many others, Levon’s plaintive singing on Dixie achieved the same effect, but in three minutes time. For a Northern liberal who had marched with Martin Luther King, all “crackers” were like Bull Connors to me. But the song gave me an understanding of Levon’s world that would last me the rest of my life. I never viewed the South with the same eyes after that night.

Looking back years later, I think the root of that understanding was that Levon could embody a mournful 19th Century Southern cracker in “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and yet live as one of the hippest 20th Century gentlemen I knew, who could hang out with Sonny Boy Williamson and loved Marvin Gaye’s music. The brilliance of the Robbie Robertson song of Southern defeat is that Virgil Caine (Levon’s character in the song) confesses at the end of the Civil War  that “the very best” (including his brother) are dead and “like my father before me, I will work the land” (as a sharecropper?). There is no glory in war and you can’t eat off Dixie pride.

This contradiction embodied in this wonderful man, Levon Helm, is a contradiction we are still living with in America. This is the argument I have with the Techno utopians like Alexis Obanian. 99% of musicians, writers, actors are just “working the land”. They don’t need to get rich, they just want the honor of getting paid for their work. Levon and Garth Hudson made a good living ($150,000 a year) off royalties from The Band’s eight recordings in the 60’s and 70’s up until 2001 when the Big Pirate sites like Limewire and (in 2003) Pirate Bay really got going. And then the record royalties came to a halt. Levon and Garth did not write songs (I was there). Robbie, Richard and Rick did. There is the difference in income.

But the point is that in a normal economy (pre-piracy) Levon would have made a good living for his whole life,  just for having been a brilliant singer and player on all those great records.That was quite enough.

His death hit me harder than I thought it would. Listen to “The Weight” and “Dixie” right now. You will agree he was one of the greats.


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42 Responses to Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

  1. Nick Dager says:

    Levon Helm’s voice on The Weight, Ophelia, Dixie, and many others was the perfect blend of emotion, music, lyrics and life experience. His work will live forever.

  2. Rick Turner says:

    I visited “Shang-ri-la” in Malibu in about 1977 or ’78. That was sort of the West Coast “Big Pink”…I remember going over to Robbie’s beach front house in gated development “Malibu Colony” to show him one of my (then) Alembic guitars. He played the living hell out of it, and then asked the price. $2,500.00. He said, “I’ve never paid more than $500.00 for a guitar in my life!” To which I said, “I’ve never paid more than that for rent…”

    Kind of ruined the guy for me, frankly… And I don’t listen to anything of his past “the Last Waltz”…

  3. Rick Turner says:

    And this is a perfect example of “the great disconnect” that happens with extreme financial success of artists who forget where they came from. Few artists escape it. But a few I’ve worked with who even think about it are Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, David Lindley, Ry Cooder, Andy Summers, and Colin Hay. They all are extremely thankful for their status. They all really put it back in, too. I was even able to joke about it with Andy… One day he showed up at my Topanga Canyon shop, and I just blurted out, “Andy, how is it to be able to not ever work another day in your life if you don’t want to?” He laughed, I laughed, and he showed me the latest painting he was working on…and I took in a guitar to fix.

  4. Ana St Amand Williams says:

    Thought of you and Robbie so much when in The Times reported Levon’s passing. Cheers and deep thanks to all those wonderful people on the other side. x Ana

  5. Stanley Morton says:

    But you weren’t there for three months, were you? Thanks for the tip.

  6. Jim Kiles says:

    Jon, thanks for the insight. The Band being my favorite band as a youth, I have always been slightly jealous of your experience with them. Thanks so much for the “Dixie” perspective; clear that we are all just sharecroppers.

  7. Lenny says:

    So you were there? Your insight, please.

  8. len says:

    That’s fair, jon. so sorry about your friend. whether we cry for a friend or a voice and a time we lived in different parts of history, we shared it and we miss it. the song, when i go away, talks of tears of joy, the sun in the shadows, and that seems right.


    I’ve read the articles and understand the reference to songwriting. A POV: in the music, the films and the photos is the great love that had to be there or that music could not have emerged from the time and the people. It is a grace of partnership. I hope you remember moments when the music out shined everything else because the fans are important. The difference the music makes in our lives is the feat, the victory, the work. This you did together. Peace and love, fella.

  9. Michael Friedman says:

    Points well taken Jon but I must say you also make the opposite argument. That being that with many bands, the songs are formed if not written by collaboration. Robbie got a lot from Levon in those songs that he would otherwise never have known about. Christ, the whole image of the band came from the old South about which only levon and Richard had any knowledge. Shouldn’t the guys like Levon and Garth, who added so much to those songs have had at least a share in the writing royalties?
    As I say that, I also seem to remember that they may have had a piece of the writing early on and Robbie acquired it. Im not sure, but in any case it’s an old argument and a lot of guys who added a lot got screwed.

  10. Anonymous says:

    @Michael Friedman
    Micheal read Levon’s book “This Wheels on Firer” it tells the hole story.

  11. Pingback: Hidden Track » Love For Levon: Reactions to the Death of Levon Helm

  12. len says:

    No one tells the whole story. It isn’t possible. That said, maybe it’s unkind to hash this out here where there are several folks who were there and may be hurting over the loss of a friend. If we weren’t privvy to the time and people, we don’t really know. Those who were disagree.

    The point that had SR copyrights not been violated as a result of the transition to digital storage and distribution, incomes may have remained stable for the people who received them as a result of being part of the recording is valid and timely. Artists who put in the time are getting hurt.

    Songwriting is a separate pot and if those points are to be divided a document should have been created to that effect. Music folk are aware today and when they enter a project, they are clear about the meaning of “collaboration”. I’d hazard a guess things weren’t so clear 40+ years ago. When one sees this situation, one realizes how that clarity came about because like not having a pre-nup because it isn’t romantic, not having a project contract isn’t smart.

    There is always kindness: Levon Helm left a considerable body of work post-Band. Helping to see that it gets attention is one way to ensure his legacy is recognized and his heirs are rewarded. Just a thought…

  13. Rick Turner says:

    For another look at the legacy of slavery and the Civil War, check out life expectancy by county in the US: http://www.healthmetricsandevaluation.org/tools/data-visualization/life-expectancy-county-and-sex-us-1989-2009#/news-events/news

    “Old Dixie” was indeed driven down…and 150 years later remains down as illustrated by some metrics. The music, black and white, still reflects the damage…

  14. len says:

    @Rick Turner

    Lifestyle choices are quite different here, Rick. Obesity is epidemic. Smoking is acceptable or at least there aren’t the city-level initiatives at the same intensities one sees elsewhere. We’re a couch potato society to a degree unacceptable in other parts of the country. We are notoriously a right-to-work society making it difficult for workers to be compensated out-of-work and that makes us take risks to keep job and accept less than stellar health coverage (why Blue Cross is a deal maker when negotiating a job). I won’t get into the ‘religion in service of keeping them ignorant’ topic. Too painful.

    The South mourned in The Band song was not a passing culture. It never existed in the romantic sense although the spirit of the piece is right. Try as he might, Robbie could not illuminate what that society was and is. He didn’t live in it. What he got right was the pain of living in it, of wanting to be proud even when poor, to feel unashamed in the midst of so many shameful choices. For his and Levon’s generation however, the need to stop blaming each other for events 150 years in the past, and to be a little proud that in that generation a very conscious decision was made to right the wrongs as much as they can be.

    And maybe that is part of what a small group of old friends should remember. Not mine to say.

    What Jon said that rings true is a revelation he had based on knowing Levon Helm: we aren’t all ‘crackers’ or if we are maybe it is a name we can only apply to ourselves with understanding the same way blacks use the N label, and maybe he learned that calling us that is perceived exactly the same way within the cracker community. There comes a time to lose the label and lose the hurt, to not offend without understanding AND to stop being offended. A classic chinese finger puzzle….

    But what he learned, he learned about a man and it is dangerous to generalize. The classic cracker IS still out there, but there are far more of us today who have moved on and one of the many reasons for that is because a generation, following its collective conscience and its cultural leaders decided to move on, individually and collectively.

    THAT is the momentum I don’t want to lose and it can be lost. The forces of keep them stupid so we can keep shuckin’ them are very powerful and still moving too. Dixie didn’t stay down but she can most certainly still step in her pride and stink up the barn.

    Whatever goes among the Band as then and now, that is their business. That it illuminates a real problem of the industry today is of value today. But the causes that united our generation, shall we say the problems of royalties made of understandings of a band forty years ago reflect the understandings of today? That is worth trying to reconcile. Royalty fights aren’t unique to The Band. It seems the change to digital means unbalanced them (leaving aside Helm’s dislike of The Last Waltz – a separate issue in which their are two valid sides as far as I can tell).

  15. Rick Turner says:

    One of my favorite times with a Southern band was going out to dinner a couple of nights in a row with Russell Smith and the Amazing Rhythm Aces in San Francisco in the 1970s. They experienced sushi for the first time on the first evening, and they went nuts for it. They absolutely loved it, and could barely believe that they were eating raw fish. It was something to tell the folks back home, for sure! Great guys, fantastic band…and very open to new experiences.

  16. len says:

    @Rick Turner

    There would have been no Allman Brothers without the Allman Joys/HourGlass and their experiences in San Francisco and LA. And without that, no Southern Rock as it came to be known. The sound of the Dead, the Airplane, the New Riders came through them to us and it soaked into Derek and the Dominos and others via Duane.

    Music is a crazy quilt but somewhere there is a patch of eveyone in it.

    When Up on Cripple Creek first hit the airwaves it irritated me. It felt like I was being dragged back into the culture I was trying to escape. I learned The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down from Joan Baez (and I suspect that’s the source of the majority of the mechanicals). The Weight I learned from a local folk singer. Years would pass before I really appreciated The Band when I finally relented and sat down to watch The Last Waltz and it hit me what was lost when the sound became so processed, so digitized, so faked out with session players and synths and production that.. it stops being about a band. Sure, there is fakery in The Last Waltz, but when it was made, two things were true from where I sit: a) in the time, people didn’t accept mistakes on film or tape. Perfection ruled, not authenticity. b) Scorsese and Taplin were making a movie, not a record. Different medium; different rules and expectations. Is it a flawed work? From certain perspectives, possibly in that documentaries should not polish off the edges. From others, they had a crystal vision and crystal has to be polished. What is most certainly true is that had it not been made, the perspective of being in a great band at a certain time in our cultures would have been lost forever. In this sense, it is a triumph.

    I understand the scramble for the money. But there is an undeniable legacy that these guys and their families ought to celebrate because that part of the grace is still out here working the land. And we need it to be. My hope is that a certain Chief Executive in a Big White House looks back and asks himself if a victory in November might be more assured if he learns from the respect for a culture born in a Pink House and carried on.

    Our generation chose change. It cannot be forced. Keep the faith.

  17. FM says:

    Always wondered what Robbie has made from his Band royalties. Anyone have a clue as to his lifestyle from all of that?

  18. len says:


    I’m more interested in knowing how/why/if the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 is being ammended to account for Internet copying and distribution. To a layperson, that seems to be the most analogous to the notion of an ISP user fee.

  19. CG says:

    I don’t know any of the facts involved in the actual songwriting. One fact, though, I do know, because I’m sitting here looking at it: in the credits on the expanded CD version of Rock of Ages, the songwriting credit for The Genetic Method, an ORGAN SOLO, is “Robertson-Hudson.” Robertson. What exactly did he do to “write” an improvisational organ solo? Did he sit there and tell Garth how to play organ? It’s a separate track from Chest Fever. One of the few if any songwriting credits to Garth in the group’s history, and it’s apparently being shared by the guy who has the bulk of the songwriting royalties. By the way, I would wager that in 75-90% of the bands that recorded at the time that Big Pink was recorded, Garth would’ve gotten a co-writing credit for Chest Fever. What is that song without that organ riff? A bunch of meaningless words that only take shape because of one of the greatest riffs in history and the impassioned vocals. It may not be evidence of much, but it’s at least marginal evidence that Levon knew more about Robbie was doing than what Robbie or anyone connected with him will ever admit.

  20. len says:


    Who wrote Layla? Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon. Who wrote The Lick? Duane Allman.

    Like yourself, I don’t know what went on and it’s the business of The Band and their families. I have been in a lot of sessions (not a-list but) and it is common for the session players to receive no credits for the licks that make the song unless they have a deal (in writing) to get songwriting credits. It is more common for the producers to share songwriting credits (the advice being, “never write the third verse of a song to be pitched; the producer does that”). I have also seen “band” situations where everyone assumes everyone is going to share in everything produced up to the point that a deal is signed and the label picks the “star” and redivides the “credits”. TCB is not just a tattoo.

    IOW, there is no single set of rules and unless one was there, this is all speculation. What one would expect is for family to take care of family and if those relationships have broken down to the point that we’d be having this debate, well, that’s sad. The sharing vibe doesn’t usually survive the money vibe and that’s too sad, but none of us here so far outside of Jon was actually there to know what kinds of agreements were made. Levon Helm made his case in his book.

    Here is something to read if any of the readers here need to understand just how byzantine and convoluted these deals can be:


    It’s a system as badly in need of reform as the web perceptions and deals. This is why it is such a Chinese finger puzzle. Jon et al want an ISP user fee to make up for royalties lost to digital distribution (it might be well if he was explicit about which kinds of royalties). Others see that as just another tax to benefit the already well-off. At one point I asked Jon for examples of these famous folk who have been hurt by the web and digital media. As I understand it, past the private dispute, Levon Helm is the first authenticatible example offered. Others like David Crosby hurt themselves first, then rebuilt their career just as Helm did with the Midnight Rambles. Others signed bad deals (a music lawyer is a must). Tom Petty’s solution was unique: declare bankruptcy and force the label to renegotiate.

    John Sebastian is quoted as saying that among artists there are those who pursue being famous and those who just love to play and that the Rambles tended to attract the latter. That is some insight into how these kinds of situations develop: different ideas of what is important at the time rather than later. Neither is wrong but if I’ve learned one thing it is that if one does not assiduously Take Care of Business, it is an industry that doesn’t reward one for simply being there playing well. One famous example is the producer who keeps the same session players more or less working on projects throughout most of their projects. These producers take care of their teams and earn a lot of loyalty that way. It frosts the hell out of the bands who work with the artists but the producer is the one who gets the capital and takes the risks with the financiers.

    Someone asked me over dinner why the web generation feels no guilt or pain for what they’ve done to the artists: that is one of the reasons. An industry without compassion isn’t like to get any “for free”, but the more these stories are shared, the more human the situation becomes in the eyes of the fans who buy and share these works. I don’t know if the industry can be reformed but the fans do care and particularly when they are cared about. As the digital transition marches on, more and more the artists who interact have the best shot at having fans who care. For crying out loud, update your own frikkin’ FB pages and earn a little love.

  21. CG says:

    Len, thanks for your post. I don’t know what The Band’s contract was or Robbie and Garth had their own deal, but I hope that Robbie’s name being listed on The Genetic Method is either a mistake or put there by somebody without Robbie’s knowledge, because it would seriously downgrade him in my eyes if he had intentionally copped a co-writing credit on that piece.

  22. Fentex says:

    I’m more interested in knowing how/why/if the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 is being ammended to account for Internet copying and distribution. To a layperson, that seems to be the most analogous to the notion of an ISP user fee.

    I think this is a poor analogy. DVR’s and PVR’s (such as TIVO) that allow people to record TV programs are a direct analogy but the digital world encompasses much more and no one analogy with the past can fit.

    Encapsulated in the world of digital reproduction and it’s increasing problems with legal rights are more than just copying free to air broadcasts. There is the mass copying of counterfeiters, the casual sharing with friends, the innocent dubbing of home videos, the raucous creation of new media from sampling… a myriad of things that each has it’s own purpose, place and value in the expanding ecosystem of digital existence.

    While parts may map closely to past experience the whole is something entirely unlike our history and no one analogy or comparison will suffice to make it comprehensible or sufficently define its boundaries.

    Easy copying and distribution are a fact of nature now and any problems had from that will never be solved by attempts to limit it.

    There was an ecosystem for media distribution and people built careers within it. It’s being replaced with a new ecosystem of simple and cheap distribution and there are people being harmed by that. It’s happened to others before and it’ll happen to more again.

    Sympathy for people left stranded by change is not good cause to shout at the tide to stay out. Canute was making a point others refused to see that no matter the authority people gave to him he could not force fiction upon reality.

    If enough people agreed that the disruption to artists who gave value to the world is worth recompense then a temporary way of replacing their lost rewards might be conceivable though I suspect people would reconsider any rash solution when the newspapers, authors and every other profession affected demands similar recompense.

    But laws like SOPA, ACTA and the TPPP are no such thing. They are a demand that the tide be kept back, which will not work but in the effort they will punish everyone that tries to work with the sea.

  23. Rick Turner says:

    And what was the cocaine budget in 1977? Astronomical, I’d imagine. I saw it around Fleetwood Mac… Blizzards…

  24. cbullard@hiwaay.net says:

    Understood, CG. I’ve no knowledge of it. I can conceive of a project where chords and melody were co-conceived in a session, eg, noodling together on a riff. Again, someone in the studio at the time would have to say. In a world of anonymous posts, who knows?

    But yeah, I get that. One point from experience: the rights are divided by who conceives the melody and lyrics. Ok. That leaves chords, arrangements and note for note compositions where the latter is the contributions of the session players, a voice without which most productions are one dimensional because one voice produced them. Track masters at the boards understand this. Yes, the song is the key but the lock is the recording that sells the song. For that reason, some deals apportion out more credit in other royalties so the other contributors receive better recompense, aka, shreddin the natch (Doonesbury). Songwriting and publishing credits overlap in the song and how the production is financed.

    Jon says Levon’s income was 150k per year. From which royalties, songwriting, mechanicals, performance? This goes to the point of how the technologies hurt the creators of the content by understanding what kinds of revenues collected are degraded by the non-linear copy events (no single source so no single copy count).


    We agree on most of this. The laws and organizations for collections are usually the people who control distribution. The rules of the ISPs are more important to us than their collection agencies.

    Last night to experiment and because I need the money, I turned on the monetization resources of YouTube for my work. Within a minute, it turned some off. Tonight I get to look at their documentation for responding to the that event. I played and wrote every note. Visuals? Nope, mashup. A smart system would deduct service costs for that and send it to the visuals collection systems but still monetize the piece. Of course, the visuals media companies would need their collection systems in place. How much is a quote worth? What is an atomic so costable resource in very large hypermedia? What is a composite?

    Still, it is Our Servers Our Rules and that is where the powers that be in the biz have chosen to deal. We can tell them that we will vote with out feet, but they know an internet server is not hostage to their customers any more than the phone provider is and more so when they are the same servers. Revolution of that kind is precluded by our acceptance of it as a utility and our cussed laziness. It won’t happen.

    So I’m up against the limits of what is free and what is acceptable.

  25. cbullard@hiwaay.net says:

    @Rick Turner

    Yeah. That’s when even the nexters like me looked around and went, “oh shit”. When the culture started to poison itself, that was the surrrender to the dark side taking the helm.

    A pure dream needs no downers or uppers. Just stayers.

  26. Larry Davis says:

    I visited Shangri La in 75′ with my dad who was a longtime friend of The Band from Arkansas. Later that day we drove to the Hollywood YMCA for The Basement Tapes album cover shoot with Bob Dylan. I will never forget cruising down PC1 with Rick and I’m guessing, you as well in the back seat picking up Richard at Neil Diamonds condo. Fondest of memories.

  27. Kelly Moon says:

    @Rick Turner
    You sound a little sensitive. Rich. $2,500 was a lot for that time. And to deny a breadth of brilliant music b/c of that silly incident isn’t worth it.

  28. Kelly Moon says:

    Rick – you sound about as smart as Levon’s book. Who is going to be more objective: their tour manager for all those years, or a drug-addicted, bitter drummer who lost his money up his nose? Not Robbie’s fault.

  29. Courtney L. says:

    @Stanley Morton
    Wow, Stanley, you should be a detective. Are you saying that Levon wrote the Band’s catalog of music in that three month period when Taplin was gone and then never wrote another song after that three month period. Do you think about you are saying before you post it or rre you on drugs too?

  30. Jon Taplin says:

    I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but in the three critical years of The Band’s ascendence, I was there every day. Robbie worked writing at the piano or guitar every day. In the first couple of years Richard and Rick did some writing as well. By the third album, only Robbie was taking the time and effort to write. The boys showed up at the recording studio and learned the tunes.

  31. Linda Quzts says:

    Thank you Mr. Taplin for stating the truth, for the record, once and for all. My only complaint is why you didn’t say anything sooner? Although, from the current comments, it wouldn’t have made much difference I guess. I don’t understand how someone who was nowhere around can tell someone who was there, that they’re wrong.

  32. len says:

    A man leaves a legacy to his family. His friends give it value. That is the power of love. However we feel or believe eternity rewards us, we can leave the future safe in the arms of love.

  33. Band Fan says:

    Would the songs be alive without Garth’s playing or Levon’s singing? I don’t think many would dispute Robbie did maybe as much as 90% of the songwriting. The question would be is it down to the actual songwriting? Anyway I read Levon’s book many years when it came out. I don’t remember him being that kind to Jon. I think Levon said something along the lines – he’s ok but I wouldn’t send him for the ammunition;)

    R.I.P Levon

  34. len says:

    Band Fan :The question would be is it down to the actual songwriting?
    R.I.P Levon

    As far at the money goes, copyright law works exactly like that. The sound and spirits that last are another matter. What we remember, treasure, learn from, or take comfort in is the work of The Band. That is indisputable.

    Whatever is driving this, the agreements are long ago and Levon Helm left a legacy beyond the Band. To honor his life, honor his work and see to it that he is remembered as a founder of a legendary musical group but also that it was just the beginning.

    Does anyone here really think his legacy should be about things that happened when these guys were kids? Let it be. To try to hurt Jon or Robbie or anyone else now doesn’t seem to honor anyone including us. It takes the joy and makes it bitter. It is Solomon’s sword to the child of the widow. Sad. Is it worth it?

    Jon has a body of work that speaks for itself.

  35. Kevin John says:

    Songwriting – The Final Word. The Band’s 6th member settled this a long time ago!!!

    The one other guy who was there and knows and is a perfect witness in that he doesn’t even like RR as he is sure he was short-changed financially by him is the Band’s Producer/6th member – John Simon……..who stated categorically some years back that:

    “ Robbie was the one who wrote the lyrics and wrote the music. Wrote the lyrics on legal paper, or whatever he wrote it on, and figured out the chords to the song and dictated the melody and chords to the other players”…………………………………………..Repeat that kids…..”dictated the melody and chords to the other players”

    ………………………..anyone here who has written songs knows how difficult it is and also knows how much help more accomplished players and especially singers can help bring what was written to life……………..George Harrison elevated so many Beatles songs to things of beauty that I could write about it for a full month…….he doesn’t get a song writing credit on any of them (other than his own compositions of course) and this is entirely correct……..adding textures or helping with arrangements is not song writing…………to be quite rude and in the words of the not always so humble or tactful Robbie Robertson…. “they were just doing their fu*king job”…………………………………..If that isn’t clear enough, check out the number of songs that were written by the other guys since 1976……………..I have 4 Levon albums dating back to 1978 and not a single self-penned song (and only 2 or 3 co-writes)……..Rick had only ONE song that was self-penned and sadly “Sip the Wine” was not even his song………………Richard was the one guy who was a songwriter and he admitted himself to having completely dried up creatively by 1971! And he got full song writing credit on the songs he did write for the Band……………………….”Dirt Farmer” might well be the most enjoyable album by any member of the Band ( I still play it regularly ) but it is a “covers” album – done brilliantly by quite simply one of the most talented/soulful musicians this industry has ever known………….No other singer alive can put me in 1850, 1920 and 2007 all within the space of 10 minutes…….but if I read another blog/review that has at its heart the “fact” that RR ripped off his band mates by stealing their songs – I think my head might explode.

  36. Sasha Kelly says:

    He was delusional and on drugs. His book is not a true account of things. It’s through the eyes of a bitter, addicted man who needed someone to blame for his sad life. The reason so many people loyally came to follow and adore Levon was because he kept alive the Band’s music (i.e., songs RR wrote, mind you). Band fans wanted a place to continue enjoying the magic of the Band and Levon avidly provided that space. But he never wrote a damn song. Not with the Band and not after the break up of the Band. He could sing his heart out but he was full of shit and bitter at everyone.

  37. Linda Quzts says:

    Well said Sasha

  38. Carey Adamson says:

    @Kevin John. I’ve heard a lot of fans try and tell a story about who wrote the songs and how they were written but I’ve never read such a pure, honest unbiased take. Thank you. And I too will lose my mind if I read any more ignorance-based comments about the songwriting of The Band. Robbie is a songwriter before, during and after The Band and was responsible for writing their greatest pieces. Now the rest of the guys were responsible for bringing that vision of his to life with their unique style of playing and singing and as “the band” they each played very important roles. But like in all bands some guys write and some guys don’t and Kevin has CLEARLY defined what it is to WRITE a song.

    One final thought from me is that Levon didn’t write his book either…

  39. len says:

    One wonders what the catalog value of Ring of Fire would be if it had been recorded by the songwriters only. Possibly not that much although any group of high school band students could have played the opening with the same results. The voice and the delivery make all the difference.

    Despite all lionizing, pop songwriting is only slightly harder than high school jounalism and The Band catalog is not exactly a good place to study chord relationships past the primaries we all learned from Mel Bay.

    Whatever… if these are RR fans pissing on a man’s grave before the ground gets hard and it runs back onto their sandal toes, maybe the Band didn’t leave much worth writing about after all.

  40. Kevin John says:

    Carey……Thank you for the kind words………I had written this and posted it on The Band website mid April of last year just after RR released HTBC. Then, as was the case in many of the articles written after Levon’s passing, it was very frustrating to read the silliness about writing credits……………….The dispute was really one of publishing that the tabloid tinged Stephen Davis distorted in his book on Levon and one that has taken on a life of its own…………The hilarious part is that we are led to believe by these folks that it was fine to keep Garth’s and Levon’s names off the Richard and Rick songs but not the Robbie ones………………………Final note: I take just as much offence at anyone portraying Levon Helm as a drug addled bum…………….He was never at any time anything of the sort…….and the sort of low-life types like Don Imus and Stephen Davis who thought it fine to ridicule the journey of one man’s visit to a long lost friends death bed just brings dishonour to themselves and exposes how little they truly understand music or life……….Robbie has always taken the high road when it came to his relationship with Levon Helm…….His fans should also………I shall leave you with RR’s comments on the band from an interview with Carol Caffin ( Rick Danko’s former manager ) last May :

    Crawdaddy!: How would you want the Band to be remembered?

    Robertson: I would want the Band to be remembered as a real band. There was just a wonderful balance in this group, the way the whole thing worked. What Garth [Hudson] did was completely unique. Nobody else in the world was able to do anything near what Garth would do in the group. Rick, his singing and his playing’god only made one of those, and he broke the mold after that. Richard Manuel could make you cry in a second with his singing, and he was also just an amazing, beautiful soul, too. And Levon is one of the most talented people I’ve ever crossed paths with in my life. Levon taught me so much and is the closest thing I’ve ever had in my life to a brother. So anyway, I just have such warm, fond memories of the Band, and I would just want that to be passed on.

  41. len says:

    The dispute was really one of publishing….

    Levon taught me so much and is the closest thing I’ve ever had in my life to a brother. So anyway, I just have such warm, fond memories of the Band, and I would just want that to be passed on.

    There ya go. Let the music matter. Let the rest be.

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