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Published: 2012/04/20

Dave Schools Remembers Levon Helm

Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools has written a long, eloquent letter about Levon Helm and The Band. The bassist is currently on tour with Mickey Hart, who tweeted about Helm and remarked that Jerry Garcia now has a “good drummer.”

In a message posted to Panic’ homepage Schools says:

In 1978, when I was 14, my best friend and I rode our bikes down to the Byrd Theater in Richmond VA to see a movie called The Last Waltz. We had never heard of The Band, let alone The Staples Singers or Muddy Waters. We went because the movie featured performances by Neil Young and Eric Clapton.

But from the get-go that movie turned our musical lives around. We got a two hour education in the roots of Rock and Roll and perhaps, more importantly, what it took on a personal level to perform it nightly around the world.

Our young minds were forever changed by the stories told by the five members of the group and the original tunes they performed. We must have seen that movie six times while it was in its initial theater run. Each time we saw the film, something deeper was revealed that went beyond the sound of the music. It was as if the intent of the songs themselves reached right out of the screen and touched our souls.

And none touched my soul as deeply as those sung by Levon Helm. There was a real homespun honesty about the way he sang about the simple things in life and how sometimes they weren’t so simple. These were songs of the common man…sung by a most uncommon man. And that swinging beat…it was just irresistible.

When Widespread Panic spent hundreds of nights a year on the road we watched The Last Waltz constantly on the bus…first as a VHS and then as a DVD. The stories and performances never got old and never proved uninspiring. We even attempted to perform Ophelia, but it never got real good until we found a horn section.

At the end of The Last Waltz Robbie Robertson discusses the “impossibility” of 16 years on the road. 16 years seemed like a long time to us at the time. But now, sitting on the far end of 25 years of touring, 16 seems more like a good start to me. A start to a lifetime of making music.

Levon spent a lifetime making music that touched people’s souls. He beat cancer, continued to make music, and, in creating the now legendary Midnight Rambles, he brought people together who made even more music.

The music that Levon enabled was real, it was mined from the soul of American musical tradition, and it was imbued with the power of intent that seems to be lacking in so much music these days.

In the end that’s what people really need: the transformative power of working together to make something special. Levon was the powerful hub of this collaboration. He touched many souls and you can hear the power of that intent in the music being made by a new generation of bands who are just beginning their journeys up and down the roads of America. They will carry Levon’s spirit onwards and outwards through their music.

What a great contribution this man made.

And oh yeah…what a swinging backbeat!

Thanks for the inspiration and bless you Levon and all of your loved ones.

Dave Schools
April 19, 2012

Panic will remain off the road for the rest of 2012. Schools will perform with Mickey Hart Band at Live Oak, Fl’s Wanee fest today.


There are 8 comments associated with this post

me April 20, 2012, 12:37:27

Very nice letter… Levon will be sorely missed by many… If you haven’t listened to Levon’s “When I Go Away” now would be the time to!!! RIP Levon…

truth April 20, 2012, 13:59:36

Levon didn’t really “beat” cancer.

Jim April 20, 2012, 14:47:39

Thanks Dave ~ well said

Mike April 20, 2012, 15:05:42

Didn’t beat cancer? He was diagnosed in what, 1999? even if cancer took his life, he lived each minute up to that point to the fullest. We’ve all got to go eventually… I’d say Levon showed cancer who’s boss. His spirit shone through no matter how weak his physical state had become.

Adam April 20, 2012, 15:42:38

Dave and I are both from Richmond, VA. He went to the rival high school that we played against in a lot of sports. Its awesome to read his hometown story on here. I wish I was alive in 1978 to see the movie at the Byrd. Awesome theatre, they should show the last waltz again as a tribute! Great read, Dave!

denzack April 20, 2012, 16:58:55

Thanks for sharing those memories. I can remember spending the good part of 7 months after “Big Pink” was released trying to find any friend who knew the name of the group who sang the song “Take the Load off Fanny”. Ha. Fine.
I spent another few months trying to find an album that said “Music from Big Pink” on the cover. Ha.
Once I found it, it was as if I had found gold. I’ve never really put the album away since ’69.

McLees April 26, 2012, 17:56:11

Nicely put. I was so glad to get to hear you and the rest of the Mickey Hart band in Fayetteville, AR the other night. And I so appreciated the tribute to Levon. I listened to nothing but The Band on my way to Fayetteville from Little Rock. I grew up in a pink farm house outside Fayetteville in the early 70’s. We called our house Big Pink after the Band’s house in NY.

jb May 8, 2012, 09:19:55

Good read. I have to say I think the Ophelia in Memphis last year into The Shape Im in, was incredible. I lalmost eft the show thinkin it was over. So intense. Love you bro. Thanks

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