Levon Helm's new band (L-R: Amy Helm, Levon Helm, Larry Campbell and Theresa Williams). Levon Helm's daughter Amy took care of him when cancer hit, and got him back in the studio.
Ahron R. Foster
Drummer Levon Helm once backed Bob Dylan and sang with Van Morrison. Now, 30 years after The Band split up — and 10 years after he was diagnosed with throat cancer — Helm is putting out a solo album. The Washington Post has called Dirt Farmer "an exquisitely unvarnished monument to Americana from a man whose keening, lyrical vocals have become synonymous with it."
When The Band was backing Dylan in 1965, Time magazine described the combination as "in some ways the most decisive moment in rock history." The Band went on to record its own highly influential albums Music from Big Pink and The Band in 1968 and '69, before splitting up in the mid-'70s.
Since then, Helm has performed solo and with other musicians, and has acted, as well. (He played Loretta Lynn's father in the biopic Coal Miner's Daughter and had a part in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.)
For the past several years, Helm has presided over monthly concerts in a barn on his Woodstock, N.Y., property, which he calls Midnight Rambles. The first featured a performance from the late blues legend Johnnie Johnson, and more recent Rambles have brought out musicians such as Emmylou Harris, Allen Toussaint and Elvis Costello.
Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1996. The treatment regimen included both surgery and radiation, and for a time he couldn't sing.
But his daughter Amy Helm, of the band Ollabelle, moved back to her father's home to care for him, and she encouraged him to record once his voice returned. She performs on Dirt Farmer, his first solo studio album in 25 years.