on 13 February 2004
This book is written by the Levon Helm, who was is the Singer/drummer/mandolin player with The Band, which I'm sure most of you will already know. He gives his account of how he grew up and came to meet and form one of the most important bands in the history of music. What he conveys in this book, is a complete love of music from all different genres and his fellow band-mates. This biography is full of wonderful stories told with personality and humour. Ronnie Hawkins is featured throughout and is incredibly funny! It also gives you an alternative view on how the Last Waltz was put together and the tension that was mounting (understandably) between certain members of the band. Levon is just a really nice guy and gives full credit and respect to all folks deserved of his praise and remains modest and down to earth. I couldn't put the book down, it's so easy to read. A must for all band/music fans! In my opinion he is one of the greatest drummer/singers ever and this is his story.
This is the best Rock memoir I've read. Helm's bittersweet memories, humour and grievances are brilliantly presented. I suspect some punches were held back - particularly concerning Robbie Robertson, for whom Helm to this day still seems to hold a grudge - but there are episodes where you can feel sympathy for Levon. The 'Last Waltz' chapter is where his simmering resentment for Robertson finally explodes into anger.
An engrossing and stimulating read; makes you want to play all the albums again. That's the sign of a job well done. And Helm's STILL rockin'!
on 9 May 2012
Been meaning to buy it for some time - now prompted by sad news of Levon's death.
I could not put this down - a great life story, well-written, and interesting history on the development of his genre, going way back to the development of the blues and rock and roll and 'country rock'.
The Last Waltz is still one of the best albums and rock films ever made - interesting seeing it now with the perspective of the book.
The Band were always a mysterious group of musicians, seemingly arriving fully-formed on the scene with their debut record "Music From Big Pink". Their work - at least in the early part of their career - produced a remarkable collection of songs that draw from deep wells of American tradition, folklore and musical styles. Add to that their important role as Bob Dylan's backing band when he took the ground-breaking decision to go electric, and you get some idea of the significant position that they occupy in musical history.
Here, Levon Helm (writer, drummer, singer, mandolin player) tells the story of their musical journey, beginning with his own childhood in rural Arkansas (the rest of the group came from Canada, which added to The Band's sense of other-worldliness), his early attraction to music as a way of getting out of the chores on his family's farm, joining up with singer Ronnie Hawkins, and the evolution of Hawkins' backing group into The Band. He describes the relentless hours of playing and practicing that were the groundwork for their selection by Dylan and their apparently effortless debut, and the way in which they gradually lost momentum, culminating in their farewell concert (captured on film by Martin Scorcese as "The Last Waltz").
This is a very well-written memoir. Helm takes you along on his remarkable journey, introducing you to all the characters that he met along the way, and telling you what happened to them. Along the way, he shows you some extraordinary scenes, including The Band jamming with a very impressed Sonny Boy Williamson shortly before his death, Rick Danko trying to skin roadkill, Robbie Robertson singing "so powerfully" into a switched-off microphone in "The Last Waltz", and the lonely, tragic death of Richard Manuel. I don't think I've read such an interesting, entertaining biography in any field (let alone just that of music) in a long time.
on 12 May 2014
A very personal story
How good music was born, how it could associate so many American cultural facets : blues, gospel, rockabilly, country.
How a Canadian band can sing a song about the defeat of the Southern states in the secession war.
After reading the book I hear the Band's 4 singers individual voices better. And I hear their instruments better.
on 28 August 2012
If you are a fan of The Band, this book is a must! Written with real fire, honesty and passion. Levon Helm gives you a wonderful insight into his personal life, as well as the magic that was created with the Band! He goes all the way back to when he first joined Ronnie Hawkins. I flew through the first couple hundred pages and now I an nearing the end, I am trying to hold off as much as possible because I don't want the book to end! I recommend listening to these albums from The Band 'Music from Big Pink, Basement tapes and The Band (brown album)' whilst reading the book, its really great and makes you feel like you are at Woodstock in the Pink House, Levons Barn and Shangri-La! The Last Waltz must end someday :(