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Levon Helm dies at 71; drummer and singer with the Band

Levon Helm's Arkansas-hewn voice and imaginative drumming helped make the Band — first known as Bob Dylan's backup band — into one of the most esteemed groups in pop music history.

April 20, 2012|By Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times

He established a second profession as an actor, starting with his role as country singer Loretta Lynn's father in the 1980 Oscar-winning biopic "Coal Miner's Daughter," and put his Arkansas drawl to work as narrator of the 1983 film adaptation of Tom Wolfe's book about the U.S. space program, "The Right Stuff."

"Levon Helm will always hold a special place in my heart," Lynn said Thursday in a statement. "He was as great of an actor as a musician. ... For me, watching him play the role of my daddy in 'Coal Miner's Daughter' is a memory I will always treasure."

Minus Robertson, the remaining members of the Band reconvened in 1983 and began touring, but three years into their career revival, Manuel hanged himself after a club performance. Helm, Danko and Hudson continued and recorded three new studio albums — "Jericho," in 1993, "High on the Hog" in 1995 and "Jubilation" in 1998. In 1999, Danko died of a drug-related heart attack.

And there were other problems along the way. In his 1993 autobiography "This Wheel's on Fire," Helm charged that Robertson unfairly claimed sole songwriting credits, and therefore publishing revenues, on songs he said were often the result of collaboration among several or all of the Band's members.

"Those songs weren't written," he told an interviewer in 2002. "They were planted, cultivated and grown over a period of time."

He also bristled in the book at how he felt that Scorsese's film painted Robertson as the star and put the others in subordinate roles. Consequently, Helm refused to attend when the Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In an interview last year with The Times, Robertson expressed his admiration for his former Band mates.

"I feel so lucky to have been in a group where it was a real band," he said. "This wasn't a singer and guitar player and some other guys. ... Everybody in that group played such a pivotal part in it. ... It made me feel excited about coming up with ideas and ways to structure songs, and that we could do this almost like a theater group: 'You sing those lines, and then you come in after that thing, and you come in on the chorus there.' It was a position I could take in this thing and not feel like, 'No, no, I need to be singing that part.' I could really stand back and look at it through more of a director's lens, or some position other than trying to be the center of everything all the time."

In addition to his wife and daughter, Helm is survived by two grandchildren.

randy.lewis@latimes.com

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