Tag Archives: Levon Helm


Those of you familiar with these pages and my writing style surely know by now that I am prone to florid hyperbole and literary detours, but please bear with me when I state:

Today I present to you just about the best new song I’ve heard all year.

A few years back I worked as the doorman for The 55 Bar, a relatively small basement club in Greenwich Village that tended to host some of the most talented musicians in the modern scenes of jazz, blues, and the variegated spectrum between the two. Now, the roster of tremendous talent that frequented this establishment is something I will certainly get around to featuring in these pages. However, my nights there generally consisted of crowd control, selling tickets, setting up the stage and equipment, negotiating both the junkies shambling from Christopher Park across the street and the over-stimulated homosexuals from the surrounding clubs, listening to some of the most extraordinary live music of my lifetime, and drinking my weight in Maker’s Mark.

That doorway next to the stairs is where you could find me huddled through most long winter nights.

Club Helsinki. 405 Columbia Street. Hudson, New York 12534

Now, flash-forward to this past June 7th, when I attended the “A Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Levon Helm” tribute concert at Club Helsinki in Hudson, NY.

I must say that the major draw for me was that a contemporary songwriter whose work I love, Elvis Perkins, was scheduled to perform. He did not disappoint as he happened to play a rendition of one of my favorite The Band songs—Music from Big Pink outtake: “Yazoo Street Scandal” (featured here for my own Helm tribute).

Although I was familiar by name only with the majority of performers listed—The Felice Brothers, Shivaree’s Ambrosia Parsley, The New PornographersA.C Newman, Diamond Doves (who are the “Dearland” component of Elvis Perkins in Dearland), Elegant Too, and others—that night featured various configurations of these musicians performing spirited renditions of Helm tunes together. The sense of camaraderie on stage was magnificent, permeating the venue, and leaving the crowd with the impression that they experienced something joyful, which—regardless of many a band’s obvious talent—is something too rarely experienced at a concert these days. This sentiment perfectly complimented the democratic spirit of Levon Helm’s music.

Now, while my wife and I watched the show from the stage’s edge (and by the wobbly video above you can tell we were dancing and singing along too), there was one talented player who was incredibly familiar: A lanky-limbed kid with a chin and nose made prominent through contrast with a thick black mustache and chops, who continually switched from being a member of the horn section to playing the piano, and occasionally conducting the crowd while singing lead. My Wife (who also worked at The 55) and I were convinced that this kid must’ve played there—most likely alongside the singular saxophonist David Binney, was my guess. So as the show ended we approached him and as it turns out, he was not a performer at The 55, but a regular: one of those young students who, despite their good manners and apparent respect for the music, always mildly annoyed the servers; annoyed because, with these customers’ steady penchant for only ordering coffee, soda, and tea, the bartenders knew there was not much of a tip headed their way. However, after catching up through a brief but humorous chitchat (during which he displayed a cheerful demeanor and a gracious acceptance of each compliment) I knew that this kid named Adam Schatz was someone worth cocking an ear towards in the future.

With his words and mannerisms marked by an affable bounce, Adam Schatz explained that he was responsible for arranging all the horns that evening, and (after first being sure to give the majority of the credit to the event’s organizer and Diamond Doves’ drummer, Nick Kinsey) that the show itself was in part presented through the non-profit organization he founded: Search & Restore. As he states on the organization’s website, it is “committed to bringing the artists and audiences of new jazz and improvised music together in new ways, while never forgetting it’s DIY roots.” In a sense the organization operates as a promotional tool and resource for a whole slew of talented artists, but to my mind it seems to exist as well to remind the world that the culture of Jazz need not be relegated to archives and museums. It need not be a relic, xanthous with age and only admired through the protective glass of static sentiment and tradition. Music is a protean organism, it declares, and one that can be fully enjoyed out there this very night. In other words, as he stated when speaking to Ben Ratliff for The New York Times in 2010: “My mission is to bring people together around art. We don’t care who you are or how old you are. We just want you to get down.”

It was this very same positive attitude that made me wish to explore his music further. As it turns out, he seems to be pretty prolific, and certainly busy. Along with running Search & Restore, he participates in numerous music projects, including the Brooklyn based twelve-piece afrobeat group, Zongo Junction; the nine-piece psychedelic soul band, The Shoe Ins; playing self-described “zombie Jazz” with the band Father Figures; and the “melodic mayhem” of the improvisational duo Blast Off!; as well as performing solo under the moniker of Mrs. Adam Schatz (in honor of his “invisible and imaginary wife”). Catching a show of the latter this past Saturday, I must say these solo shows are incredibly amusing, filled with spirited asides, improvisation, and audience participation. In addition to all this he recently informed me that he would be joining the brilliantly idiosyncratic band, Man Man.

  (photo by Sasha Arutyunova, 2011). Landlady:  http://Landlady.bandcamp.com

However, today’s song comes from yet another group of his, Landlady. This six-piece group is a dynamic exploration of what can be achieved through the big fun of pop music. Released as a digital single this past month of September, “Above My Ground” is, as I stated above, just about the best new song I’ve heard all year. Delicately constructed, each element of the song is flawlessly implemented to arouse sincere pathos in the listener. It does so without resorting to plunging into the emotional schlock and pompous mewling many pop groups rely on in the hopes of receiving a little empathy in response to their disingenuously contrived ballad. Exquisitely hypnotic—through its ambient chiming, martial drumming, and the warm yelp of Schatz’s vocal, alternately ascending and descending the steps of each phrase in perfect rhythm, there is a true human quality to this song. This is a current I hear in the majority of his music; even considering certain reeling heights of dissonance, or the more manic Muppet moments of some of the compositions, the listener always gets the sense that there is an actual person there behind the curtains of these sounds. This quality is particularly evident as the song builds towards the chant of its crescendo; a chant that—to paraphrase his words when encouraging the audience to sing-along—is meant to be shouted at the heavens so that things can be OK, at least for the moment.

Below are the two videos the group released for this song, each with its own organic focus. I leave it up to you to decide which one you prefer, but with a song this infectious, I recommend you play one, wait a few minutes and then play the other.

 LANDLADY- “Above My Ground” (Official Vegetable Music Video, directed by Adam Schatz & Thomas White):

LANDLADY- “Above My Ground” (Official Human Music Video, directed by Lance Steagall)

Above My Ground” by Landlady.

Recorded at the Bunker Studio by Jacob Bergson and by Adam Schatz in his basement, mixed and mastered by Tom Tierney at Spaceman Sound.

Written by Adam Schatz, intro written by Ian Davis.

Adam Schatz- Vocals, Farfisa, Realistic concertmate

Renata Zeiguer- Violin, Vocals

Tom Tierney- Guitar

Ian Davis- Bass

Ian Chang- Drums, Guitar

Booker Stardrum- Drums

You can learn more about Landlady, purchase their music, and listen to this song’s b-side (a sultry cover of the Pixies’Oh My Golly”) all here:: http://Landlady.bandcamp.com

I highly recommend you attempt to catch a live show by Adam Schatz in one of his various musical incarnations, and in fact it appears that due to his hectic schedule, Landlady will be playing their final show of 2012 at 9pm on Saturday, November 3rd at Pine Box Rock Shop, located at 12 Grattan St., Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Adam Schatz (photo by Sasha Arutyunova, 2011).

You can experience a bit more of Adam Schatz and his music here, http://zombieville.tumblr.com/ and here, http://AdamSchatz.bandcamp.com.

So, Adam Schatz is certainly someone to look out for in the future, but much more than that, he’s someone to listen to right now.

——————————— —  —   –

P.S. As an added bonus (and perhaps to act as a final testament to how much I’m digging this tune right now), here’s Mrs. Adam Schatz performing “Above My Ground” solo at the NYC club, Le Poisson Rouge on September 7th, 2012.

———————————BOBBY CALERO—————————– – — –


Calero, R. [LacreoCalero]. (2012, Oct. 26). Adam Schatz, Elvis Perkins, Diamond Doves (and others) performing The Band’s “Ophelia.” [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJA2d8WwDzA&feature=youtu.be

Calero, R. [LacreoCalero]. (2012, Oct. 26). Elvis Perkins in Dearland – Yazoo Street Scandal. [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dINrgcrlbhs&feature=plcp

Ratliff, B. (2010, December 3). Sample Sale: Growing a Jazz Audience. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/05/arts/music/05archive.html?_r=0

Schatz, A. (2012). About Search & Restore. Retrieved from http://searchandrestore.com/about

Schatz, A. [AdamLouisSchatz ]. (2012, Sep 26). LANDLADY- ‘Above My Ground’ (Official Human Music Video). [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrCqVt-OdPw&feature=plcp

Schatz, A. [AdamLouisSchatz ]. (2012, Sep 24). LANDLADY- ‘Above My Ground’ (Official Vegetable Music Video). [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMtBig_xT1Y&feature=plcp

Schatz, A. [AdamLouisSchatz ]. (2012, Sep 11). Mrs. Adam Schatz- Above My Ground. [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-CaQOvaJtk

Schatz, A. & Davis, I. (2012). Above My Ground [Recorded by Landlady] On Above My Ground [Digital Single]. (2012).

LEVON HELM: MAY 26, 1940—APRIL 19, 2012; R.I.P.

…And we’re back! Due to moving into a new apartment and a mass amount of work to be done towards obtaining a Master’s Degree (and various other complexities and duties that all fall under the general rubric of that’s life) I simply have not been able to do what I wanted for this blog over the past month. However, I return today (most likely only to disappear again…at least for a little while) to pay my respects with a small tribute to Levon Helm, who passed away last Thursday on April 19, 2012, at 1:30 pm at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He was 71 years old.

Levon is perhaps best remembered for his distinctive drumming—that flesh-and-blood shuffle, the thick sod of his backbeat—as a member the outstanding group known simply as The Band, but he also contributed lead vocals (as well as mandolin and other string instruments) for some of their most memorable songs, such as “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Jim James, talented lead singer for Louisville, Kentucky-based rock band My Morning Jacket had this to say about Levon’s singing back in 2008 for a piece in Rolling Stone Magazine:

“There is something about Levon Helm’s voice that is contained in all of our voices. It is ageless, timeless and has no race. He can sing with such depth and emotion, but he can also convey a good-old funtime growl. […] There is a sense of deep country and family in Levon’s voice, a spirit that was there even before him, deep in the blood of all singers who have heard him, whether they know it or not.”

Raised on a cotton farm in Marvell, Arkansas, Levon Helm hooked up with another Arkansas native, hot-blooded rockabilly singer “Mr. DynamoRonnie Hawkins, who took the teenage Levon on tour in Canada to play drums for his band The Hawks.

Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks, ca. 1959.
Ronnie Hawkins, vocal, Jimmy Ray Paulman, guitar, Levon Helm, drums, and Willard Jones, piano

They soon had a hit with the song “Forty Days,” an appropriated spin on Chuck Berry’s “Thirty Days”:

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Like it? Buy it.

Touring and promoting this hit, Levon stated that they played “places so tough, they make you puke twice and show your razor before they let you in the door” (Scott, 2000). While up in Toronto, Hawkins and Levon recruited the best sidemen they could find, sidemen who would eventually form the nucleus of The Band: Garth Hudson; Richard Manuel; Robbie Robertson; and Rick Danko. A few years later in the late summer of 1965, as The Hawks developed through a grueling tour schedule into a precision outfit with a psychic-like level of musical communication when on stage, Bob Dylan was looking for a backup band for his first U.S. “electric” tour and ended up recruiting this group, which would soon be known by the succinct moniker of The Band. (As a small aside, it should be noted that Hawkins, among many other achievements, went on to perform at the 1992 inaugural party for President Bill Clinton–him being a huge fan of The Hawks–and Hawkins has also performed for every Canadian prime minister since John Diefenbaker).

Robbie Robertson, Bob Dylan, and Levon Helm, 1965.

On October 5th, during Dylan’s extensive tours of 1965, Dylan took Levon and the rest of The Hawks into Colombia’s Studio A at 799 Seventh Avenue in New York, and attempted to flesh out several song-sketches that he had accrued in the two months since he was last in a studio. The majority of the “songs” from this session, such “Jet Pilot” and “Medicine Sunday” would remain little more than fragments, but they were able to record a complete take of “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” a song Dylan had previously tried to record with little success during the Highway 61 Revisited sessions back in July. The version recorded with The Hawk’s was subsequently released as a single on December 21 of that year.

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Like it? Buy it.

Other than some particularly clever and corrosive lyrics, in my opinion “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” is a less than stellar composition by Dylan, and it failed to replicate the success of Dylan’s previous two singles (although interestingly enough, with the prior two singles being “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Positively 4th Street,” this song could be seen to complete a trilogy of vicious songs, all full of admonitory barbs delivered by a resolute tongue through a bitter sneer; or something to that effect).  Although I do think the band play the hell out of it despite its shortcomings, apparently Phil Ochs and I shared the opinion that “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” is not among Dylan’s best work from this period: Dylan played him the song when the two were riding in a limousine, and when Ochs expressed a lukewarm feeling about the song, he was kicked out of the car while Dylan yelled, “You’re not a folk singer. You’re a journalist” (Schumacher, 1996).  Again, in my opinion, with its mid-period Dylan sense of absurd wordplay written in a fevered minute and its mercurial whirl of all-around amphetamine fun, the standout recording from this particular session is the much more enjoyable, quasi-parody of the Beatles: “I Wanna Be Your Lover.”

Dylan & The Hawks

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Like it? Buy it.

I Wanna Be Your Lover by Bob Dylan

Well, the Rainman comes with his magic wand

And the judge says, “Mona can’t have no bond”

And the walls collide, Mona cries

And the Rainman leaves in the Wolfman’s disguise


I wanna be your lover, baby, I wanna be your man

I wanna be your lover, baby

I don’t wanna be hers, I wanna be yours

Now, the undertaker in his midnight suit

Says to the mad man, “Ain’t you cute!”

Well, the mad man he jumps up on the shelf

And he says, “You ain’t so bad yourself”

OOOooooooooooooooh yeah

I wanna be your lover, baby, I wanna be your man

I wanna be your lover, baby

I don’t wanna be hers, I wanna be yours

Well, Jumpin’ Judy can’t go no higher

She got bullets in her eyes, and they fire

Rasputin he’s so dignified

He touched the back of her head an’ he died


I wanna be your lover, baby, I wanna be your man

I wanna be your lover, baby

I don’t wanna be hers, I wanna be yours

Well, Phaedra with her looking glass

When she lays upon the grass

She gets so messed up she faints –

That’s ’cause she’s so obvious and you ain’t


I wanna be your lover, baby, I wanna be your man

I wanna be your lover, baby

I don’t wanna be hers, I wanna be yours

            Eventually the tour with Dylan (and the vitriolic responses his electric performances provoked from the audience) took their toll and Helm left to work on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Fortunately, Helm returned in time to participate in one of the most prolific periods for both Dylan and The Band: the informal recording sessions conducted while convalescing in the seclusion of the Woodstock area of New York during the latter half of 1967 and early 1968, which resulted in both what is known as The Basement Tapes as well as The Band’s 1968 debut album, Music from Big Pink. Just one of the numerous songs recorded at these sessions that concern themselves with “carnal bewilderment and helpless delight” (Marcus, 1975) is the rambunctious swagger that is the Levon Helm sung “Don’t Ya Tell Henry.”

—————————————(CLICK TO LISTEN)

Like it? Buy it.

Dylan & The Band after the crash

For a year The Hawks had shown Dylan how to cut loose and rock out on stage; now, down in that basement in upstate New York the members of The Band received a one-of-a-kind education in music history and song craft from Dylan, just as they had once learned from Ronnie Hawkins, and soon they were applying this knowledge in creating a unique rustic sound that seemingly had antecedents so familiar, and yet what was produced was some strange, new thing; certainly much stranger than the psychedelic pop that had become the latest fashion.

The Band

"Down in the basement." 1969, Woodstock, NY– The Band — Image by © Elliott Landy/Corbis

At their best, these five guys could create a swirl of sound as if you were dancing drunk and sweaty atop an organ filled with dust, or they could communicate a shiver like fever in the marrow; either way they could make you feel something. For a band so rooted and adept within the entire spectrum of American music, it amazes me that Levon Helm was the only member to actually have been born and raised within this nation. It seems that because of that very fact exactly Helm was chosen to sing lead for one of my favorite The Band tunes: the bizarre tale of finding pleasure during desperate times that is the Music from Big Pink outtake: “Yazoo Street Scandal.”

The Band outside the "Big Pink."

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Like it? Buy it.

Yazoo Street Scandal by The Band (lyrics by Robbie Robertson)

Stranded out in the night,
Eliza took me down
To see the widow give
Rain to the town.
It’s against the law
To be a tonic man,
But the widow knows
She’s got the upper hand.
So I went on in
Feelin’ kinda wheezy.
You know she soothed my mind, boys,
She rocked me kinda slow and easy
All day and all night.

Pick a card before you go
It’s a long trip to Mexico.

Eliza wait by the door,
I can’t stay here anymore, no, no.

Then she took a pill
She washed her feet in the mud
She said “Look out son,
You know, I just ordered a flood
For forty days and forty nights.”

Then I dropped my shoes,
Eliza called my name.
She said it looked to her
Like it’s gonna rain.
Then the cotton king
Came in chokin’
And the widow laughed and said:
“I ain’t jokin’.
Take once for all”
She said “Now don’t ya tease me.
I just fell in love, boy,
So rock me kinda slow and kinda easy,
All day and all night.”

Sweet William said
With a drunken head:
“If I had a boat,
I’d help y’all float.”
Eliza stood there watching,
William in a trance,
As the widow did the St. Vitus dance.
But just then an old man
With a boat named “Breezy”
Said: “You can ride with Clyde, boys,
If you rock it kinda slow and easy,
All day and all night.”

            Robbie Robertson—The Band’s guitarist, and principal author for this song—once stated that it was based on an actual Yazoo Street in a town in Helm’s home state of Arkansas: “I thought, ‘Wow, they don’t have streets like that in Canada. There’s no streets up there called Yazoo!’ It was like, ‘Jesus, let me make up a little story here about stuff going on in this kind of almost red light district.’ Everything was lit in red in that song for me.” Because the song was set in the South, Robertson decided that Levon Helm would be a more appropriate singer, employing his “best redneck-wildcat yelp” (Hoskyns, 1993).

Levon Helm in 1968. (Photograph: Elliott Landy/Redferns)

Yazoo Street Scandal” remains perhaps my favorite of Levon Helm sung tracks by The Band. Not because I believe it to be the “best” by any means, in terms of performance, sentiment, or composition, but simply because it’s so much damn fun to listen to. Fun being roughly 50% of what The Band’s music is about for me; the other percentage chiefly concerns empathy.

After The Band dissolved, Helm dabbled in acting, most notably playing Loretta Lynn’s father in the 1980 American biographical film Coal Miner’s Daughter. Later on in life Helm released the acclaimed solo albums Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt, and hosted the “Midnight Ramble,” a regular concert series featuring numerous guest performers at his home studio in Woodstock, N.Y. This is something I’ve always intended to attend but never got around to justifying the time or the money for. Now I regret that.

But to bid an appropriate farewell for Levon Helm, I have chosen to conclude with The Band’s Martin Scorsese documented farewell concert of November of 1976, The Last Waltz.

The Last Waltz

At this show not only did they get to play alongside both their influences and those they influenced themselves, but they were reunited with their former mentors.

First, with Ronnie Hawkins,

Rick Danko and Ronnie Hawkins perform during the Last Waltz performance on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976, at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. — Image by © Neal Preston/CORBIS

and later with Bob Dylan, who had just completed the second leg of his  Rolling Thunder Revue tour at the end of that May.

Dylan backstage at The Last Waltz, 1976

One of the most gratifying moments of Dylan’s performance that evening was when The Band assisted him through an impassioned, yet immediate rendition of “Forever Young,” a song that they had all recorded together back in May of 1973 for Dylan’s Planet Waves. This sort of emotional transmission is what The Band could do best:

The Band and friends perform in The Last Waltz (left to right: Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Rick Danko, Bob Dylan, Ronnie Hawkins, and Robbie Robertson); credit: Neal Preston/Corbis

However, always a personal highlight for me was to watch Levon, along with the rest of The Band, perform with The Staple Singers (being perhaps the most direct influence on The Band’s approach to vocals—the chain reaction of each voice coming in as a separate layer and playing its own unique part, as opposed to the popular method of multiple voices attempting to reach a harmonious and simultaneous neutral). So here it is:


——————————BOBBY CALERO


The Band and Martin Scorsese (1978) (Creators). Watanokuni (Poster) (2009, April 17).

The Band, The Weight [Video] Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjCw3-YTffo

Bob Dylan, The Band, and Martin Scorsese (1978) (Creators). Mysyougetu (Poster)

(2011, Aug. 9). Forever Young [Video] Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUKUMmM89IQ&feature=fvwrel

Dylan, B. (1965). Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window? [recorded by Bob Dylan]

On Biograph. [CD] Sony. (1997)

Dylan, B. (1967). Don’t Ya Tell Henry [recorded by Bob Dylan and The Band] On The

Basement Tapes. [CD] Columbia. (1975). Sony Legacy. (2009)

Dylan, B. (1965). I Wanna Be Your Lover [recorded by Bob Dylan] On Biograph. [CD]

Sony. (1997)

Hoskyns, B. (1993). Across The Great Divide: The Band and America. U.S.: Hal Leonard


James, J. (2008). Levon Helm. Rolling Stone,1066, p106. Retrieved April 24th, 2012

from Academic Search Complete

Magill, J. & Hawkins, R. (1959). Forty Days [recorded by Ronnie Hawkins and the

Hawks] On Ronnie Hawkins/Mr. Dynamo. [CD] Ais. (2011)

Marcus, G. (1975). The Basement Tapes (p. 6) [CD liner notes]. Columbia Records

Robertson, R. (1968). Yazoo Street Scandal [recorded by The Band] On Music From Big Pink [Extra tracks, Original recording reissued, Original recording remastered]  [CD] Capitol. (2000)

Schumacher, M. (1996). There But for Fortune: The Life of Phil Ochs. New York:


Spencer, S. (2000). Levon Helm’s Next Waltz. Rolling Stone, 839, p46. Retrieved April

24th, 2012 from Academic Search Complete