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Levon Helm: An appreciation

Levon Helm and The Band provided sweet relief in the 60s and 70s from the pummeling of British supergroups.

By John KeheStaff / April 19, 2012

In this Nov. 27, 1976 file photo, Levon Helm, of The Band, plays drums at the band's final live performance at Winterland Auditorium in San Francisco.

John Storey/AP/File

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In a band with three superb singers, his is the voice we remember.

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"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "Up on Cripple Creek," and "The Weight" were songs so unique they required a brand new category, Americana.

The Band’s drummer and frequent lead singer Levon Helm died today at 71. Helm will forever be the voice of roots rock, with the cricks and hollers of his native Arkansas reverberating in every note. His muffled drum sound and the rollicking rhythms were conjured from an old wooden kit that looked like a civil war relic, but they inspired a whole generation of drummers – like Ringo before him, like Gene Krupa before him.

Levon Helm will be missed, like his magnificent Band has been so sorely missed.

The Band grounded us when we were all over the place at the turn of the 70s. They reminded us of how great, how soul deep, how rich a vein America’s story could be to mine. After Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys lost their way, after the Byrds crashed and burned, all we had were the heavy British supergroups –- Cream, Led Zeppelin – and Jimi Hendrix pummeling us into weary submission.

“Take a load off Fanny, and put the load right on me” was an irresistible invitation, and we all gleefully climbed on board for the ride up on Cripple Creek. “Whoo hoo!”

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