The Band's Levon Helm died Thursday, April 19, at age 71. The drummer and singer is being remembered far and wide for the purity and soulfulness of his music.
Helm's voice -- laden with backwoods Arkansas twang -- adorned The Band's biggest hit, "Up On Cripple Creek," from 1969. His drumming elevated many of the group's classic tunes with its distinctive sense of stripped-down swing.
Hampton's Vaughn Deel, who leads the group Suzy-Ray-Vaughn, got the chance to hear The Band May 11, 1984, at The Boathouse in Norfolk. Even though the group officially broke up after the famous "Last Waltz" concert on Thanksgiving Day 1976, Helm, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson got back together in the early 1980s without guitarist and songwriter Robbie Robertson.
That's the version of The Band that Deel saw in Norfolk. Deel said he saw a group billed as The Band not long after, but that one only featured Danko and Manuel.
"The first one was absolutely amazing," Deel said, "one of the best shows I’ve ever seen in my life." The Cate Brothers backed them up, Deel recalled. Levon and Richard Manuel would switch off on drums. "It was just an all over amazing show. You could see the joy they had performing. Especially Levon. He was in his element when he was on stage."
For Deel, highlights included "It Makes No Difference" from The Band's 1975 album "Northern Lights-Southern Cross," and "Up On Cripple Creek."
"Also, I loved the way they ended the show. They did some encores, but they ended with the Kenny Rogers song 'Blaze of Glory.'" Rogers, of course, didn't write the tune. It was penned by Larry Keith, Danny Morrison and Johnny Slate. But Rogers had a Top 10 country hit with it in 1982.
The sentiment was perfect for a closing number. "To me, it was so great," Deel said. "I was thinking when they broke up, 'I’ll never get to see this band,' but they sounded so good at The Boathouse.
"They weren't my favorite group. That was always Little Feat. But The Band was very influential to me because of the sound. Bob Dylan has always been my favorite singer. That connection made me want to know more about The Band. Of course, once I heard them I couldn't get enough. It was that loose feel. You were wondering if the song is going to evolve or resolve. It was a tight looseness. There was an ease in the music that made you want to tap your foot.
"And Levon's singing, his voice is the voice of America, it’s the voice of Americana."
(Richard Manuel, left, with Levon Helm at The Boathouse, May 11, 1984. Photo by Vaughn Deel.)Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times