Yesterday we learned the sad news that Levon Helm, the great drummer and last surviving vocalist of The Band, is in the final stages of his decades-long battle with cancer. The statement, posted by his wife Sandy and daughter Amy on his website, asks for "prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey. Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration . . . he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance!"
Speaking Saturday at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Band guitarist and songwriter Robbie Robertson asked for "love and prayers to my bandmate Levon Helm." The Band was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994.
The Band famously called it quits in 1976 (the subject of the oft-cited "best concert documentary of all time" The Last Waltz), and Helm pursued a solo career before reuniting with The Band for a few more albums in the '90s. After battling throat cancer in the 1990s, Helm went on to record three Grammy-winning solo albums-- 2007's Dirt Farmer, 2009's Electric Dirt, and 2011's Ramble at the Ryman, a live album recorded at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium. His contributions to rock and folk are inestimable, but what better way to keep him in our thoughts than to take a tour of his best work.
12. "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"
A great live version from The Last Waltz.
11. "Anna Lee"
From 2007's Dirt Farmer, his first studio album since 1982.
From 1975's Northern Lights - Southern Cross, Helm called this album "the best album we had done since The Band" in his memoir.
9. "Don't Do It"
A cover of Marvin Gaye's "Baby Don't You Do It," this live version is from New York's Academy of Music in 1971.
8. "Chest Fever"
Songwriter Robbie Robertson said, "I'm not sure that I know the words to 'Chest Fever'; I'm not even so sure there are words to 'Chest Fever'." He has also stated the song does not make sense as a whole. It's a jam, sensible or no.
7. "Rag Mama Rag"
From the eponymous second album, "Rag Mama Rag" charted at #57.
6. "Jemima Surrender"
Judging from YouTube, this is quite a popular song to cover today.
5. "You'll Never Again Be Mine"
Helm takes a turn at a previously unheard Hank Williams song, from The Lost Notebooks Of Hank Williams.
4. "Daniel and the Sacred Harp"
A song that was allegedly never been played live by The Band.
3. "Poor Old Dirt Farmer"
This song takes a look at the plight of the declining American small farm, with clips of Helm interacting with farm owners and workers.
2. "The Weight"
The song that introduced many of us to The Band, but despite its millions of plays, still sounds fresh each time.
1. "Up on Cripple Creek"
Here's another great take from The Last Waltz.
Got a favorite Levon Helm vocal or song? Add it in the comments!