Archive for May, 2012

Levon Helm and Adam “MCA” Yauch

Posted in Music Business, Players, This and That with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2012 by theguitarcave

I spent some time the other night watching old Band videos on Youtube. There isn’t a day goes by that I don’t thank the Almighty SB (Supreme Being) for Youtube because prior to Youtube, there was really only The Last Waltz and Festival Express style footage of The Band playing live. (Not that there’s anything wrong with those films. THEY ROCK!!) There was Dylan’s tour, but Levon Helm wasn’t along for that and Levon was THE MAN. He wasn’t a guitar player, although he did pick, but he WAS a great drummer, great singer and the real deal. The trio of voices that made up The Band; Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel have all passed on, but without a doubt there has never been anyone who sounded quite like they did.

In an era of loud rock and long guitar solos, The Band, even though they were awesome musicians and could’ve played 20 minute rave-ups rotating on multiple instruments, took another route. They wrote really great, tight songs that had a much more intimate and traditional sound than was fashionable at the time. Even today, any of their performances are distinct and timeless. I could write very long posts on how great a bass player/singer Rick Danko was or how Richard Manuel, aside from being a great piano player, was as close as any white singer ever got to Ray Charles. But unfortunately I’m PRESSED these days and am still a little worn out from writing that 12,000+ word essay on Gimme Shelter. So I’ll let the videos do the talking. Here’s a rare live show from Pittsburgh in 1970 that includes The Weight, Wheels on Fire and Up on Cripple Creek.

I always liked Levon Helm’s drumming style and his vocals were awesome. The only member of the group not from Canada (he was from Arkansas), Levon was a colorful character and his passing marks the finale of a musician who was a true American. The way he played, sang and lived is pretty unique to this country and while the rest of The Band certainly had their roots in rock and roll, country and jazz together, it was Levon who added that extra authenticity that made it special. He wrote a book a long time ago, This Wheels on Fire, which is a GREAT read. Not only does it describe the best (and worst) years of The Band, but it also details experiences with people like Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and others who were big influences on Levon and the rest of The Band. There was a whole lot of acrimony between Levon and guitarist/writer Robbie Robertson over the years, but supposedly Robbie visited with Levon before he passed, so I hope they were able to bury some hatchets and get some joy and laughs out of all of the amazing music they created together over the years. Here’s another one of my favorites that features a Garth Hudson-powered riff/solo and Levon, Rick and Richard singing Chest Fever at Wembley Stadium in 1974.

I hadn’t been in NYC very long when Fight For Your Right…To Party became an international smash. This was the first time most of the world had ever heard of the Beastie Boys, but they were pretty well-known in the East Village, the neighborhood I was living in. The first time I saw them was in an awesome pizza place that used to be on the corner of 1st avenue and 4th street. They had recorded their first single, Polly Wog Stew, at a studio that used to exist not far from where I’m typing right now. The guy who owned the studio, the late Jerry “Dublee” Williams, was an awesome gent and fantastic guitar player that I wrote about in the Letch Patrol post. There was also a whole lot of punk and hardcore around at the time and you can hear this in the Beastie Boys’ music. I’ve never been a huge fan of hip hop, but the Beasties put their hardcore influences to good use, sampled great rock records, never took themselves too seriously and were always quintessentially NEW YORK. They released some extremely popular, critically-acclaimed discs over the years and helped usher in a whole new era of music and like many trailblazers, were never eclipsed by anyone who followed in their wake. I really dug some of their stuff from the mid-90s (audio and video) and as they went from home-town punks to mature artists, Ad-Rock, Mike D. and MCA became the predominant MCs in the USofA.

I actually met Adam Yauch aka MCA once in a studio and he was a real quiet, down-to-earth kind of guy. The Beasties were total superstars at the time and my band was recording a five song EP and we totally weren’t superstars, but we were working at the same studio and with the same engineer, so it was that kind of mellow thing that happens in NYC all of the time. You never know who is going to walk through the door or sit next to you at the restaurant or pizza place. Today and for the last couple of weeks many people are mourning, reflecting or giving a rocking send-off to both MCA and Levon Helm. While it might seem that they were cut from a different cloth musically, the truth is all of us were enriched by what they brought to the world of music and that great band in the sky gets better every day.