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levon helm RIP

The death of Levon Helm, drummer with The Band, has been universally mourned.

Not only was he a fantastic singer and player, but it seems he was much loved by musicians and fans alike.

As if often the case when a significant performer dies, news reports are accompanied by a quick burst of a ‘hit’ that people will know.

In Helm’s case, I heard snatches of The Band performing ‘The Weight’ and ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.’

But beyond their real fans, those are probably the only two songs The Band are known for.

Considering their importance as Dylan’s backing team of choice and the role they played in creating ‘Americana’ in the late 60s, that’s nothing short of a scandal.

It was this sense of outrage that prompted the actor Martin Freeman to make a radio series I produced for the BBC in 2006 entitled ‘The Great Unknown.’

Over 6 programmes, we featured artists who Martin deemed undervalued – or neglected by the wider public because of a lack of mainstream radio play.

The series, which devoted 30-minute shows to the Staple Singers, Boz Scaggs, Ramsey Lewis, Traffic and Roberta Flack concluded with The Band.

As you can imagine, we had a lot of fun making the programmes – and as Martin is a confirmed vinyl fan and we were working in a digital studio, I had the tricky job of cueing up the needle on the record player.

Here then are three tunes from the programme which perfectly illustrate Levon Helm’s talents and, if you’re not an afficianado of The Band, might send you off on an exciting musical safari.

The Band – Ophelia

The Band – Up On Cripple Creek

The Band – Time To Kill

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