Levon Helm, the Grammy-winning co-founding member of the Band, is set to undergo an undisclosed medical procedure that will keep him from performing for at least a month.
Helm suffered through a bout with throat cancer in the late 1990s, a condition that originally led doctors to advise a radical laryngectomy. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer instead underwent a difficult series of radiation treatments. The tumor was successfully removed, but Helm’s vocal cords were damaged. It took years for him to regain the tenor voice that helped define the Band, but he’s since released a trio of well-received albums and regularly held house concerts in New York state’s Ulster County dubbed “The Midnight Ramble.”
“Levon will be undergoing a medical procedure that will necessitate his absence from the February 11th, 18th and 25th Rambles,” according to a message posted on www.levonhelm.com. “We wish him the best and we know he will have a speedy recovery. We’ll continue with the normal Ramble schedule with special guests joining the band. Those guests will be announced shortly.”
No further details were available.
Helm’s 2007 comeback album Dirt Farmer earned a Grammy for best traditional folk album. The follow up Electric Dirt then won the first-ever Grammy for best Americana album in 2010. Helm’s live album Ramble at the Ryman, issued last year, has been nominated for a Grammy in the same category. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him No. 91 in its list of the 100 greatest singers of all time.
Helm, 71, a native of Arkansas, performed over the weekend at the Midnight Ramble, appearing with singer-songwriter Dar Williams. He’ll reportedly also appear at Rambles scheduled for Jan. 21 and 28 and Feb. 4, then resume touring in March with performances scheduled in Milwaukee, Chicago and elsewhere.
Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Levon Helm. Click through the titles for complete reviews …
LEVON HELM – RAMBLE AT THE RYMAN (2011): We’re reminded again here that Levon Helm was the loamy voiced, rail-jumping rhythmic center point of the Band, its yearning storyteller and gritty soul. Their records were drawn from continuity, bringing in dizzyingly diverse, age-old influences and performed in a chorus as if by brothers. That has always made a treasure hunt out of selecting any individual triumph on their old records. Not here, as this Ramble becomes a showcase for Helm. It’s also an important reminder: The Band’s principal songwriting credits may have gone to Robbie Robertson, but they were then — and are here, again — often completely inhabited by Helm’s carnal Arkansas drawl.
LEVON HELM – ELECTRIC DIRT (2009): Nothing drove old Levon Helm down. Not the messy dissolution of his group, The Band; the perhaps inevitable subsequent financial ruin; a terrifying bout with throat cancer; a pair of shatteringly tragic deaths within his inner circle; or a yawning quarter century span between solo records that made him all but obscure in modern musical circles. There is, of course, a dark and deep sense of loss — this candid accounting of, and quiet mourning for, the old times, the old ways, the old friends that fans of some of The Band’s best-known Helm-sung tunes (“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “The Weight,” and “Up on Cripple Creek”) will recognize. But Helm sings with the bone-deep confidence of someone who has eyeballed our biggest fears and lived to tell the tale.
LEVIN HELM – DIRT FARMER (2007): His earthy, Arkansas drawl epitomized the roots-minded rock combo The Band just as much as Robbie Robertson’s evocative compositions on American folklore. And now he’s back with a rare studio album that makes The Band sound like a sleek, electronica dance music. There’s not a trace of a plugged-in instrument anywhere and amongst songs by Steve Earle and J.B. Lenoir are songs that aren’t even copyrighted anymore. But Helm’s steady drumming and blessedly rural warble remains. That should be plenty good enough for any fan of The Band.