Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 25th April

The First Time I Ever Heard The Band
was when Sam Charters came through London in 1969, leaving America behind. He gave me his five favourite albums, one of which was Music From Big Pink

Levon…
always reminded me of my dad. Wiry. Ornery. Absolutely lived for music and drink-fueled good times. A great turn of phrase. The man who made the party happen—wherever he was. So whenever I watch any footage of Levon, I’m always put in mind of Bill.

The Song That Meant The Most
“The melody—too beautiful and out of reach for any words I have—spins the chorus into the pastoral with a feel for nature that is really hedonistic—

Corn in the field
Listen to the rice as the wind blows cross the water
King Harvest has surely come

—and a desperate, ominous rhythm slams the verses back to the slum streets that harbour the refugees of the pastoral disaster.”
—Greil Marcus, Mystery Train

“King Harvest was one of his greatest, most intuitive performances, and the sound of his kit more than did it justice. “King Harvest was one track where I got my drums sounding the way I always wanted them. There’s enough wood in the sound, and you could hear the stick and the bell of the cymbal.” Jon Carroll wrote that Levon was “the only drummer who can make you cry,” and listening to him on King Harvest—the anguished fills and rolls, the perfect ride cymbal figure accompanying the line Scarecrow and a yellow moon, pretty soon a carnival on the edge of town—it’s hard to disagree.”
—Barney Hoskyns, Across The Great Divide: The Band & America

Two Bits A Shot
In the nineties, in the early days of rocksbackpages, Barney and a group of us were pitching ideas to Malcolm Gerrie (creator of The Tube) for magazine tv shows about music. My most unlikely idea was to almost fetishistically examine great musicians’ instruments… and of course the opening feature would have been Levon’s wood rimmed kit, with the harvest scene painted on the bass drum, filmed from the inside out…

Levon Helm, Thank You Kindly
“They took me out to the location, and it was like going back in time: The film crew had rebuilt Butcher Hollow, Loretta’s hometown… We started work late in February and filmed for about six weeks, until old Ted Webb [Loretta’s father, whom Levon was playing] passes away… I was sad when my character died and my part of the movie was over. I didn’t really want to get in the coffin for the big wake scene, but I also didn’t want to be thought of as superstitious or “difficult.” So I told Michael Apted he’d have to get in first to show me how to look. So he kind of warmed the thing up for me, good sport that he is. As the “mourners” gathered around to sing Amazing Grace, I had to sit bolt upright. It was like coming back to life.

Cut!

“It’s my funeral,” I told them, “and if you’re gonna sing Amazing Grace, it’s gotta be the old-fashioned, traditional way.” And I taught ’em in my dead man’s makeup how to do it shape-note style like they would’ve back in the holler in those days. Some of the ladies they’d hired as extras turned out to be church choir singers, so once we’d got it off the ground it didn’t sound too bad. We rehearsed it a few times, then I got back in the coffin, and we shot the scene.”
—Levon Helm (with Stephen Davis) in his biography, This Wheel’s On Fire

Comments

  1. A great blog, that offers plenty of fresh insights stylishly and doesn’t waste time doing it. But I’m keen to know – what were the other 4 records that Sam Charters gave you? cheers.

    • “Kind words, Ethan, thank you kindly” John Wayne, The Searchers.

      Hi, Chris
      Sam was just staying with us, I should have asked him! I remember one as being The Wildweeds (on Vanguard, the first band of country songwriter and founder of NRBQ, Al Anderson). I’ll have to really think about the others…

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