"You take what you need and you leave the rest, But they should never have taken the very best" is a refrain from The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, one of the best known songs of The Band.
Levon Helm, the revered drummer and singer of group the Band who kept the band's heart for more than three decades, died "peacefully" on April 19.
Born in Elaine, Arkansas, in 1940, the son of a cotton farmer, Helm rose to fame in the late 1960s and 1970s as a member of The Band, a folk rock group.
His soulful, drawling vocals highlighted many of the group's hit recordings, such as "The Weight," "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," and "Up on Cripple Creek."
Helm, 71, was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998. He fell on hard times as cancer took his voice and medical bills threatened his house.
"You got to pick one -- pay your medical bills or pay the mortgage. Most people can't do both, and I'm not different," he told CNN in 2010.
So The Barn, as the residence is known around Helm's adopted hometown of Woodstock, New York, became the setting for what he called a "last celebration." Not quite. Instead, The Barn became the center of an unlikely and unrivaled rock 'n' roll revival.
It was there that Helm regularly hosted the Midnight Ramble, weekly concerts that attracted sell-out crowds and all-star support. The result not only paid the bills but also led to a creative resurgence for Helm, with his collaborations producing back-to-back Grammy-winning albums: 2007's "Dirt Farmer" and 2009's "Electric Dirt."
"If I had my way about it, we'd probably do it every night," Helm said. "I never get tired of it."
Helm remained with "The Band" until their 1976 farewell performance, The Last Waltz, which was recorded in a documentary film by director Martin Scorsese (an excerpt is embedded above). Many music enthusiasts know Helm through his appearance in the concert film, a performance remarkable for the fact that Helm's vocal tracks appear substantially as he sang them during a grueling concert.
In the late 1990s, Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer suffering hoarseness. Advised to undergo a laryngectomy, Helm instead underwent an arduous regimen of radiation treatments at Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Although the tumor was then successfully removed, Helm's vocal cords were damaged, and his clear, powerful tenor voice was replaced by a quiet rasp. Initially Helm only played drums and relied on guest vocalists at the Rambles, but Helm's singing voice grew stronger. On January 10, 2004, he sang again of his Ramble Sessions. In 2007, during production of Dirt Farmer, Helm estimated that his singing voice was 80% recovered.
The Midnight Ramble was an outgrowth of an idea Helm explained to Martin Scorsese in The Last Waltz. Earlier in the 20th century, Helm explained, traveling medicine shows and music shows such as F.S. Walcott Rabbit's Foot Minstrels, featuring African-American blues singers and dancers, would put on titillating performances in rural areas. This was also turned into a song by the Band, "The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show," with the name altered so the lyric was easier to sing.
"After the finale, they'd have the midnight ramble," Helm told Scorsese. With young children off the premises, the show resumed: "The songs would get a little bit juicier. The jokes would get a little funnier and the prettiest dancer would really get down and shake it a few times. A lot of the rock and roll duck walks and moves came from that."
Helm has refused to play The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down since 1976 even though he continued to hold "Midnight Rambles" concerts several times a month at his private residence in Woodstock, New York.
Fans remember Levon Helm as he faces final stages of cancer. CNN.
Levon Helm, co-founder of The Band, dead at 71. CNN.
Levon Helm, icon of Americana music, 'in the final stages of cancer'. Guardian.
Fauquier ENT Blog: Levon Helm, Singer/Drummer for The Band, Dies of Throat Cancer http://goo.gl/tDgxL
Levon Helm. Wikipedia.