On The Road Again. A Message For Levon Helm!
Larry Campbell came to us at the Ranch last weekend with the sad news of what might be Levon Helm’s last battle this side of the great divide. I remember, I think it was sometime in 1968, I was staying at the Landmark Motel on Franklin in Los Angeles with the rest of the Airplane. We might have been recording… I don’t remember. What I do remember is that Eric Clapton had the room next to mine. Eric played a tape for me of Music From Big Pink and of course, like everyone else in the music loving world, I was knocked out.
Years later in the mid 80’s, I moved to Woodstock, N.Y. and somehow met Rick Danko and Levon Helm. After all those years of being a fan, in was an honor to be able to count them as friends. I toured Japan with them in the 80’s and wound up filming an instructional video for Happy Traum’s Homespun at Lee’s place.
Our paths would cross from time to time as we crossed and re-crossed America playing music and brushing off the dust of ten thousand motel rooms. That is what we touring musicians do… and Levon did it like he did everything… wheels up and throttle to the wall. Life dealt him his share of adversities and he took his lumps and kept on pickin’ for all of us. I got to hang with him a little more when I recorded my River Of Time project and then Hot Tuna’s Steady As She Goes. We would talk about music… a little, but what we really connected on in this part of our life… was family. To see him happy with his wife, his daughter and his grandson was to know that he was right where he needed to be. After all is said and done… it is the love of family that brings us home.
As I write this, I am on a bus from Ohio to Florida to play a festival. Were he not where he is today, he would either be on a bus himself with Larry Campbell and his friends, or home in Woodstock walking his dogs with the kid.
Levon helped create what has become the soundtrack to a large part of my life. He was always a friend and a comrade in arms. The span of his art has joined two centuries.
As you approach this final voyage Lee, may your journey beyond the stars be filled with light. You will always be in our hearts. Fair winds and following seas brother!