Thursday, April 19, 2012

Levon Helm

A bummer news week.

Levon was born in 1940 in Arkansas,  & he was one of those special musicians old  enough to participate as a teenager in the development of rock & roll, & young enough to reap the rewards as it morphed into "rock."  A superb drummer (I rate him nearly in a class with Al Jackson Jr. for his economical funkiness) & singer, he could do both at the same time, but would just as soon play country blues on a mandolin.  He didn't need to "appropriate" anything to play rock & roll. He played it as naturally as a peach tree produces peaches.

I wasn't a big fan of The Band (liked them a lot with Dylan). After their classic second album I thought they became robotic live performers, their albums uneven & too dependent upon Robbie Robertson.  Levon really shined as a freelancer after The Band broke up. He became one of the most beloved of rock musicians. Once you knew his work you never underrated him again.

I do owe The Band in a strange way.  Invited to a party of WFMU DJs in the late '70s to watch the debut TV  screening of The Last Waltz, The Band's farewell concert, finding The Band, as I mentioned, robotic, & many of the guest performances awful or nearly so, &  seeing the DJs' uncritical enrapturement  with the group & movie, pretty much convinced me that, although they were an affable bunch like you'd find in a friendly frat house,  they were out-of-touch, narrow,  & that I could do  free form radio better than most of them, unusually self-confident for me. The bar wasn't set that high.   After I joined WFMU, I found a small group of DJs there who felt the same way I did; We gradually raised the bar, easing these other "classic rock" type DJs out the door & on down  the middle-of-the-road, &  became fixtures on the WFMU schedule for years afterward. A number of them are still on the staff, & one who joined shortly after me became the station manager, a job he holds to this day.

The Band did have some memorable moments and it is sad the guy had to die a long hard death, unlike Dick fucking Cheney but I was very surprised to hear about your experience in radio.

Admittedly, I only drop by once in a blue moon but Kudos to you man.
Most people pay attention to me only when I say something about music.
I'm looking for you to say something about Pete Fornatale that I can link to. ;-)
Oddly, I don't recall much about Pete in his WNEW FM heyday, although I must have listened to him a lot. He had a good FM voice & could put together interesting sets of music when he was allowed to do that. I was more a fan of Rosko & Alison "The Nightbird" Steele; they were what we used to call "rappers" & I tuned in as much to hear them as the music they played. By the mid-Seventies I'd lost interest in commercial FM rock radio.
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