Levon Helm, second from left, in the cover photo for the Band’s second album.
From the L.A. Times’ music blog:
Levon Helm, the widely respected and influential singer and drummer with the Band, whose Arkansas drawl colored the group’s signature hits, including “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” died Thursday in New York of throat cancer.
The writer added that “Helm and the Band largely created the template for a genre now labeled “Americana music” for its blend of rock, country, folk, blues and gospel strains.”
An accurate summary of the Band’s musical influences, but I was puzzled by the reference to “Americana music” as a genre. Levon Helm grew up in Turkey Scratch, AR, and was able to experience first-hand not only roots music but an entire culture that’s almost totally alien to 21st century America. The same goes for Bob Dylan, growing up in Hibbing, MN, who wrote “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” which Helm sang — with all the irony and soul the song demands — on the Band’s Cahoots album.
Americana is not a genre, even if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame says it is.
The Band was the Band. Their music influenced a lot of musicians, but it didn’t create a template for anything. There’s no template or formula for the magic that happens when a group creates a sound that’s unique and timeless. And there’s no replacing the people who created the sound. Let’s just be thankful for the recordings.