I've had a number of jobs where I've worked with musicians and actors over the years. I rarely talk about those times...but every now and then I like to remember and share a few of them. I saw Levon Helm play a couple weeks ago and he was maybe not as strong as he'd seemed in the past, but I actually told a co-worker, "no he's okay, he's always looked like that"...only to hear he has passed away this week.
I used to work as a decorator and house artist at a night club. At one point when we had a lot of live acts come through...the producers thought I should extend my art job to be a host to the bands. They got me to decorate the green room in different moods and themes for various bands. Then spend time in the green room and make sure the artists were comfortable and had everything they needed and their Ryders were full. This time period was really rich for me. You couldn't be a star-eyed fool. You had to be clear, helpful and not giddy. I thought I would be the last person to fill that role but my bosses thought I'd be perfect.
I was very excited to be back stage with The Band. I couldn't believe it. I fixed up their room with Canadiana theme and lots of beer. A few of the guys didn't drink anymore but they had some guests. I landed up staying up all night with Rick Danko and Levon Helm. These were two of the funniest and nicest guys. Both excellent conversationalists and also both with quite silly humour. We basically shot the shit after they played an incredible set. Levon helm said goodnight around 4 a.m. and Danko and I kept on drinking beer and gabbing till the morning staff kicked us out at 9ish.
I loved The Band who were a rich huge part of my young listening days. I loved seeing Levon helm show up in movies and he was always outstanding. I am also grateful for the times I've seen him over the years.
Here is a memory from Garth Hudson about Helm...
"What is one of the most key memories: The early memories and the next three eras following that. I remember when I was a young fellow playing in Ontario second rock band: The Capers. We would sneak in for a matinee at the Brass Rail at Ontario. You could bring your family in and watch these guys play. They were a good looking bunch. The playing was big time to us. Levon was playing with Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks. They had a much bigger sound and they were all pros and wild people. I remember the way they played and looked.
"That was when I first saw Levon and Ronnie play in 1957, and then I went to Detroit with The Capers. Ronnie and Levon heard I was a good player and heard us play at the Torch Bar and wanted me to join the group. A half year went by and we weren't doing too well and one of the members had to leave and I left Detroit and came to London, Ontario, and joined up with Ronnie and The Hawks and then about 1964 we all left Ronnie and went out on our own. We were in New Jersey in 1966 and got a message from Bob Dylan that he wanted to listen to us and to consider having him go out on the road with us. We went from Somers Point and Dylan came in that fall and said OK.
"And that was the next era. We played all over the world. And then we came to Woodstock after that electric tour where everyone booed. There was the intermission. Everyone booed in England and Australia. The only place they didn't boo us was in Paris. They kind of didn't go for the acoustic thing there. They clapped. The only place in the world. Then came the Big Pink in Saugerties and wrote the songs and watched Bob at the typewriter and record "The Basement Tapes." Then we did our own recordings. Then "The Last Waltz" and we were on our own. Levon always came up strong ... after "The Last Waltz." Levon formed a group. The RCO Allstars had a remarkable player, Mac Rebennack, Dr. John. He was amazing. He's the main exponent of New Orleans.
"If we didn't have the job of writing and thinking about what we must say in words ... if we weren't known as entertainers, we would sit with friends and talk about old times. Here, people get together and we talk about things and it's a healthy pursuit to remember and go back and remember things from the past. It reminds you of other stories, so you apply them to a book or a journal of your life. Some of use do that. ..."
When was the last time you played with Levon?
"Midnight Ramble at Levon's. Jimmy Vivino and myself played some of the lesser known band songs that Richard Manuel and Rick Danko were known for. We opened the show for Levon and his regular orchestra.
"We went back into the kitchen after the show and Howard (Johnson) came in and said to Levon. 'You were strong tonight.' He was strong, and it wasn't that long ago."