Levon Helm, “A Mood I Was In” from Levon Helm and the RCO All-Stars (1977): Across the Great Divide

Most of 1977’s Levon Helm and the RCO All-Stars found the former Band standout having a hip-shaking, good-time hoot. The wistful, mystical “A Mood I Was In,” however, was more in keeping with the atmospheric ruminations of Helm’s former group — even if his old friends here nowhere in sight.

In fact, Levon Helm had surrounded himself with a guest-packaged aggregate simply bursting with talent. The RCO All-Stars included Donald “Duck” Dunn, Steve Cropper and Booker T. Jones of the MGs, Dr. John, Fred Carter Jr. and Paul Butterfield, along with horn players who would eventually join Cropper and Dunn in the Blues Brothers Band. Recording at Levon’s Woodstock studio, most of that bustling lineup of soul-lifters laid out for “A Mood I Was In” — giving the song (written by Carter, a fellow Hawks alum) this laid-bare, twilit poignancy.

You can’t help but wonder might have been, had the RCO All-Stars not been broken apart. They seemed to come together through happenstance, and then went their separate ways in a similarly random manner.

For instance, Steve Cropper says he got a call out of the blue from Duck Dunn, relaying Levon Helm’s invitation to join. After completing work on a Robben Ford project, Cropper suddenly found himself in the midst of a fast-moving, ready-made band. “We recorded an album and they decided to go on the road with it and we did,” Cropper told Bronson Herrmuth. “We went out and did kind of a summer tour. We went all over the United States — and we also did a tour in Japan, which was a lot of fun. Then, about a year or so later he decided to do another album and another tour, which we did, and it was basically the same guys.”

That is, until John Belushi caught a New Year’s Eve show by Levon Helm and the RCO All-Stars at the Palladium in New York. “It was a lot of fun,” Steve Cropper says, “and he hung and came to the after party and all that sort of stuff, and he really liked that band.”

Nobody knew it yet, but the Blues Brothers Band was born — but with that, Levon Helm the RCO All-Stars also sadly ended. As “A Mood I Was In” makes utterly clear, it was far too soon.

Across the Great Divide is a weekly, song-by-song examination from Something Else! on the legacy of the Band, both together and as solo artists. The series runs on Thursdays.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso