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Levon Helm :: Blog

Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"

Wednesday, April 25: 1 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

The Band recognized that while the soul of a song lived in its performance, its style was found in the arrangement. "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is an exquisitely structured song:  acoustic guitar frames the verses, Levon Helm's drums roll into a moving chorus, and Garth Hudson adds faux harmonica with organ and a real trumpet. Recorded in 1969 and released on the Band's self-titled second album, the song's arrangement created a dramatic tableau for the poignant vocals. It's perhaps ironic that rock's most famous song about the Civil War was written by a Canadian, Robbie Roberston. It had to be sung, however, by the Band's only U.S. citizen: Arkansas native Helm. Helm is as vividly natural in this Southern role as when he played Loretta Lynn's father in the film Coal Miner's Daughter. The song's Virgil Caine meets his rebel's death, and he dies nobly. Joan Baez' cover of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," which appeared on her album Blessed Are…, reached Number Three on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971. The Band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ...


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Remembering Levon Helm

Thursday, April 19: 3:59 p.m.
Posted by Jim Henke
Levon Helm (1940-2012)

The only non-Canadian member of the Band, Levon Helm was known for his deeply soulful, country-accented voice and his creative drumming style, which was highlighted on many of the Band's recordings, including "The Weight,” "Up on Cripple Creek,” "Ophelia" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

Helm was born in Marvell, Arkansas, and grew up in Turkey Scratch, a hamlet west of Helena, Arkansas. He saw Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys when he was six and decided to become a musician. He began playing the guitar at the age of eight, and he took up drums shortly thereafter. After graduating from high school, Helm was invited to join rockabilly star Ronnie Hawkins' band, the Hawks. Shortly after Helm joined the Hawks, the group moved to Toronto, Canada, where, in 1959, it signed with Roulette Records. In the early 1960s, Helm and Hawkins recruited an all-Canadian lineup of musicians: guitarist Robbie Robertson, bassist Rick Danko, pianist Richard Manuel and organist Garth Hudson. In 1963, the band parted ways with Hawkins and started touring under the name Levon and the Hawks and, later, as the Canadian Squires before finally changing back to the Hawks. Then, in 1965, Bob ...


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