Sunday, April 15, 2007

This Wheel's on Fire

This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band
Levon Helm with Stephen Davis
1993, 2000

Thirty years ago one of heck of a farewell concert took place at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. Performers who attended and played included Eric Clapton, Neil Young & Neil Diamond, Muddy Waters, Ringo Starr, Ron Wood, Van Morrison, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan. The concert took place on Thanksgiving Day, 1976 therefore a turkey dinner and all the fixing were offered, including a vegetarian selection. Ball room dancing, with professionals mixed in to assure the right atmosphere, was encouraged and it was all recorded and directed by Martin Scorsese. But all of this was secondary to the big show, which was to bid good-bye to one of history's(even to this day) greatest bands ever assembled.

Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and Richard Manuel were The Band.

For anyone unfamiliar with who they were, I hope this lead-in will whet one's appetite to learn more about this great band who for years backed up Bob Dylan during one fabulous era of that legendary writer's career.

For anyone familiar with who they were, you surely need no hyping to be convinced that any book written by one of The Bands members would be worth your while.

This book provides not only a history of the early years of The Band, along with the early years of Levon Helm in particular, the history of the Last Waltz, and the post Waltz years, it also gives a history of so much of the early years of Rock 'n Roll.

In particular, Levon's childhood in Arkansas, his growth in music and all the local influences which shaped his style.

Ronnie Hawkins. A rambling musician who dominating the bar and club scene in Canada for many years and was also known well in the South. He was who gathered together the musicians who would later go out on their own, but first learned the ways of the stage under his tutelage. Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks were at a time the best at what they did.

Woodstock. Where it was, who came to live there and how their music developed, and of course the big concert.

Big Pink. Who said, "This album changed my life" which lead him to disband his own group which was in itself a historic combination of talent, and who was also denied entry into The Band.

Bob Dylan and Shangri-La

The story of The Last Waltz. Why it took place, how it came about, what was going on behind the scenes, who and why certain musicians were asked to perform. Back stage at the concert, the Bob Dylan issue, why this was the end of the Band and how Levon felt about all that.

The years following the Last Waltz. Why Robbie Robertson never toured with the other members again, the death of Richard Manuel, the fire in Woodstock at Levon's farm, and many attempts to re-capture the success of The Band.

And so much more, like the personal relationship and song development. The record contracts. The business side. The trivia.

Like Ragu, its in there.

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