Levon Helm Near Death

Yesterday, we reported that Levon Helm was not going to perform at Jazz Fest due to health issues. Today his daughter Amy and his wife Sandy have issued a statement:

Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer. Please send your 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! He did it every time he took the stage…We appreciate all the love and support and concern.

From his daughter Amy, and wife Sandy


Levon Helm at the 2010 Jazz Fest, by Aaron Lafont

In December 1998, OffBeat‘s Scott Jordan interviewed Helm on the eve of the opening of Levon Helm’s Classic American Cafe on Decatur Street. In it, he remembered a stint in New Orleans in 1966 when he stopped playing with Bob Dylan:

Yeah, that was a pretty skinny time, economically. I’ll tell you a funny story: I got fired from the Court of Two Sisters for eating the entrees while I was working. I had a pretty good meal before I got fired (laughs). The Aquatic Engineering and Construction Company out of Houma, Louisiana was good enough to give me a job at the time. I finally retired out of that off-shore stuff after a couple of trips and went back to Memphis to the cotton carnival and started playing with the Cate Brothers again, and shortly after that, it was time to go up to Woodstock—The Band had gotten back. We were with Dylan at the time I took off. I had done the American part of the tour, playing Texas and California and up in the East. Then they were moving to Australia and Europe, and I bailed then. And a long year later, I was up in Woodstock, and we were in the basement at Big Pink, starting to put the Basement Tapes together. We didn’t know that at the time, we were just strugglin’ and looking for anything, mainly trying to listen to ourselves. We would record something, and Garth [Hudson] would tape it, and we’d hear ourselves back. When you first start that stuff, it’s a hell of a hard lesson to take, ‘cause you sound like hell (laughs). You just can’t help it. We had to listen for a while, in order to stop doin’ that stuff that didn’t sound so good. I’ve had Duck Dunn tell me that too, that workin’ at Stax Records and bein’ the house band for Stax Records made him a much better player, because every day he would record and he would have to listen to himself back. They’d cut something with Otis [Redding] or Sam & Dave or whoever, and have to listen to it back and try and better that performance. Otherwise, you just work and sleep and work and do a song, and you’re just producing all the time, so at Woodstock for the first time we could kind of sit back and take our medicine with it. After a while, we’d get it going and record it, then tear it up and start all over with it and re-record it. And if you do that three or four times, you can finally shake the dust out of ‘em, if it’s got any kind of a hook or little thing that calls on you at all. That’s the only way we’ve been able to come up to what I would call record quality.

The whole interview can be found here.

Here’s The Band playing a Jazz Fest night concert in 1996 with original members Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson.

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See more of Aaron Lafont’s photos of Helm in 2010 at his Flickr feed.