Happy birthday to Levon Helm, drummer and vocalist for The Band, bringing classic American roots, country, blues, gospel, R&B, rockabilly and rock into a popular mixture. From Arkansas, he started playing music at a young age, with Bill Monroe as a first major influence. Another early influence was James "Peck" Curtis, drummer for Sonny Boy Williamson II.
He started his first band in the mid '50s and was inspired after witnessing early performances by Elvis Presley, Bo Diddley and other greats. In the late '50s he joined Ronnie Hawkins' band. Several members of that band became known as Levon & The Hawks and they did a lot of touring in the South, East Coast, Canada and Texas. They hooked up with Bob Dylan but shortly after Helm took a break from the band but returned after awhile. They continued working with Dylan and changed their name to The Band in time for their 1968 debut album Music From Big Pink. Helm contributed drums, lead & harmony vocals, bass, string instruments and songwriting to The Band.
He left The Band in '76 and continued with a solo career (and some screen acting as well), working in formations with Ringo Starr, Dr John, Booker T & the MG's, some Band reunions and others. The Band performed at the concert commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall. The later years found him hosting young musicians at jam sessions (often with big-name guests as well) around Woodstock NY while he battled some health problems. After going through throat cancer in '98 he couldn't sing for several years but eventually made a strong comeback. Cancer did get him again at the age of 71.