American Artists American Voices

Levon Helm: 1940 – 2012. Godspeed.

To paraphrase what was once written about Raymond Chandler, Levon Helm sang as if pain hurt and life mattered—but also with an irrepressible resilience. When Levon sang, it was as if the song had always existed.

The son of a cotton farmer and front porch musician out of Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, Helms’ high lonesome tenor was the heart of a cluster of multi-instrument playing, highly gifted musicians known simply as The Band. Guitarist and front man Robbie Robertson wrote most of The Band’s music, but it was Levon, the drummer for godsake, whose county roots-bluesy voice—weathered and indelible, even at a young age—that gave the group legendary status the moment they began to play.

Whatever our flaws, how can one not love an America that has given us the weave of musical influences capable of birthing an artist like Levon Helm?

Impossible, I tell you.

Early in the morning
When the church bells toll
The choir’s gonna sing
And the hearse will roll
On down to the graveyard
Where it’s cold and gray
And then the sun’s gonna shine
Through the shadows
When I go away

Don’t want no sorrow
For this old orphan boy
I don’t want no crying
Only tears of joy
I’m gonna see my mother
Gonna see my father
And I’ll be bound for glory
In the morning
When I go away

I’ll be lifted up to the clouds
On the wings of angels
There’s only flesh and bones
In the ground
Where my troubles will stay

See that storm over yonder
It’s gonna rain all day
But then the sun’s gonna shine
Through the shadows
When I go away

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