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Thread: Blues, Stomps, & Rags #24

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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Blues, Stomps, & Rags #24

    Mark Lavon "Levon" Helm (1940-2012), whose name came up in Blues, Stomps, & Rags #23, is best know for being drummer and singer with with The Band, but, like all members of the group, he was a multi-instrumentalist. Helm grew up in Turkey Scratch (I had to get that name in), Arkansas, where he began playing guitar at eight, before moving on to other instruments: drums, harmonica, and mandolin. I was unable to find any information on when he started mandolin, but he was playing it by 1968 when The Band released Music from Big Pink. Skimming his memoir, This Wheel's On Fire, which I read years ago, I was unable to find mention of mandolin before page 180, though I could have missed something. Since so much information on Helm is available, I won't say too much about him. Starting in the late 1950's, he apprenticed with the Arkansas rockabilly star, Ronnie Hawkins, as a member of the Hawks, who moved back and forth between Toronto and Arkansas, and eventually toured with Ontario lads (who couldn't pronounce the Arkansas vowel in "Lavon") as Levon and The Hawks. The Hawks backed Dylan, though Helm quit during Dylan's controversial 1965-66 electrical tour, rejoining later. After a long period of off-the-road musical work, The Hawks took the name, The Band (because that's what they were called around Woodstock, NY, where they lived), and released Music from Big Pink, a highly influential album. At the time, Big Pink sounded thoroughly rooted, yet like nothing that had come before, making a great many musicians and fans stop dead in their tracks. During their years with The Band, Richard Manuel played drums when Levon played mandolin. Over the years, Helm worked with a great many other prominent musicians and led a number of bands, making more recordings, winning numerous awards, and acting in Hollywood movies.

    Levon's love of playing and performing comes through in the following videos. He doesn't do any fancy stuff when he plays blues mandolin. On these videos, he plays mostly simple two-finger chords (or partial chords), leading the singing while strumming blues rhythm, and letting his bandmates perform the solos. Still, he's rock solid as one might expect from an outstanding drummer.

    Here's Levon Helm with his band in 2008. His daughter, Amy Helm, plays drums. If the links don't work, search YouTube for "The Levon Helm Band - Got Me A Woman - 8/3/2008 - Newport Folk Festival".

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVn2GOYJe4I



    And here's The Levon Helm Band in 2011 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, playing an old Band tune. If the links don't work, search YouTube for "Levon Helm Band - Rag Mama Rag - Ramble at the Ryman".

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1LCj1_WYIo

    Last edited by Ranald; Oct-14-2018 at 11:02am. Reason: clarification
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Pittsburgh Bill
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    Default Re: Blues, Stomps, & Rags #24

    If i were asked who my favorite musicians were, Levon would be on my short list I never found his mandolin picking on par with his drumming but when all things shake out he had entertaining in his blood and to my impression was a stand up guy that most would be proud to call a friend.
    I had heard somewhere that Richard Manuel did some respectable drumming and Levon, already a drummer and guitar picker, always liked the mandolin and decided to learn for job security.
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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Blues, Stomps, & Rags #24

    Quote Originally Posted by Pittsburgh Bill View Post
    If i were asked who my favorite musicians were, Levon would be on my short list I never found his mandolin picking on par with his drumming but when all things shake out he had entertaining in his blood and to my impression was a stand up guy that most would be proud to call a friend.
    I had heard somewhere that Richard Manuel did some respectable drumming and Levon, already a drummer and guitar picker, always liked the mandolin and decided to learn for job security.
    I'm with you, Bill. I could enjoy watching Levon play, even without sound. In both Levon's and Robbie Robertson's memoirs, they comment on Levon finding Richard to be an excellent drummer, though he only started drumming at Big Pink during Levon's absence. Robertson said that Manuel was the type of person who could pick up any instrument and start playing after a few minutes. Both books are worth reading by the way (R.R.'s is Testimonial). They're often complimentary but sometimes contrast greatly.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Default Re: Blues, Stomps, & Rags #24

    Hi. I'm making my first-ever mandolin. And actually Levon Helm was my inspiration for wanting to make and also learn to play. Can anyone tell me the make and model of that mandolin he is using in the Newport Folk Festival video/images? That is actually what I am modeling my current project off of. Thanks!

    -Mark

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    Default Re: Blues, Stomps, & Rags #24

    Looks like a Gibson F5 Jam Master.

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    Default Re: Blues, Stomps, & Rags #24


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