Carry it on: Larry Campbell wants the music to continue at Levon’s

Teresa Williams and Larry Campbell. (photo by Dion Ogust)

It was out of the ordinary. Something you might even label ‘magic’ happened on Plochmann Lane, maybe 30 Saturday nights a year for the past eight years. What began as a small blues jam, a rent party to help pay the mortgage on his barn home/studio, anchored by the rock solid drumming of Levon Helm, turned into an event that put Woodstock back on the international musical map. Levon, a guy who’d once been on top, during those oh so young years with The Band, and then had been on the bottom, fighting cancer, inches from losing his home, called on some friends with big names, started playing music for music’s sake and climbed back to the top again.

Many contributed to this resurrection. Barbara O’Brien held it together managerially, administratively. Levon’s daughter, Amy Helm, put her heart into the enterprise. A bunch of incredible musicians came to revere the gig. Volunteers peopled the booths and the parking lots. And multi-instrumentalist, producer, and extraordinary sideman Larry Campbell came to run what evolved into a kicking 12 piece band.

“These eight years with Levon were the greatest musical experience in my life and fulfilled every desire I’ve ever had musically,” said Campbell, in a talk some three months down the road from the April death of Helm, the lynchpin of the operation, whose passing certainly had everyone around here, and in the wider musical world, wondering if there would be more Midnight Rambles to experience. Campbell’s words are especially earnest, springing from the thoughts of one who spent seven years on the road with Bob Dylan, after having toured with Cyndi Lauper, K.D. Lang and Roseanne Cash, playing on hundreds of recordings and thousands of dates.

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The Rambles will continue.

“Levon’s last words to Amy, Barbara and to me, were to keep it going and Barbara has actually turned that into a catchphrase — it’s honest. That’s what he wanted and we all wanted and the thousands of fans who have come to this repeatedly want us to do. We’ve done four (now five, the latest being July 21 with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh) Rambles since Levon died and the attendance was great.

“The first was his birthday. We were trying to figure out what’s it going to look like now. It was Amy’s suggestion that we just jump in there and do something as a way to honor him and the music…Until that moment came, we were struggling with, well, now what to do…we can’t go in there and do the same stuff and continue like nothing happened, because it will be less than it was. But after doing that first one, it was evident that we all have the authority and the skills to carry it on exactly as we were doing and that we didn’t need to figure out what this thing needs to be, we could let it become organically what it would.

“Things are moving along right now. There’s still a big black hole without Levon here. For the past eight years he’s been the center of my creativity, business and friendship. We had a great relationship personally and professionally. The fortunate thing is that Levon has left all of us in a really good position to carry on…he gave us something. Being around him gave us all an opportunity to drop a lot of baggage and just appreciate the essence of the music for its own sake. That certainly rubbed off on me. And I feel like it’s rubbed off on everybody else. This is the longest I’ve been with the same group of musicians where we all have a common focus. Everybody is in it for the pleasure of being in it. It feels like we’re carrying that on.

“He started it as a small blues band, you know, let’s get together and play. It was centered around Little Sammy Davis (the singer and harmonica player) and it came to be what it was, with the diversity of material…we had the authority for that diversity because it was Levon at the helm…

“I’m almost tired of saying it, but Levon was one of the handful of people who could perform any genre of American music with authority. You’d believe it, if it’s coming from him. Our association with him has given us that authority. Old songs, blues songs, country, gospel songs, Band songs. Each one of us in the band has strength and credibility in those genres. And you combine it all together and it’s the truth. We’re telling the truth. This band never loses sight of speaking the truth through our musicality.”

Then there are the fiscal aspects of it all.

There are 20 comments

  1. Barb

    An Angel in Heaven is guiding the Angels here on Earth!!! God Bless the Music and the people who make it and put the smiles on our faces and the tears in our eyes!!!!!

  2. Dave Hayes

    “Not to mention that it’s probably the best backing band that any guest artist can get.” NO KIDDING. And the most beautiful thing about that statement, is that this band is like an echo of The Band at The Last Waltz, and even more so, The Band back in the day. The waves that Levon made continue forward. I can’t wait to get out to the barn again. Much respect, Dave

  3. Prof. Oxygenhat

    Was really nice to see Larry and Teresa play the Allgood festival on Thursday with Phil and Friends knowing they would all be at the barn 2 days later.. Keep it going! And I’ll keep on coming back.

  4. George G. Chiodo

    This is a beautiful story continuing and a story of wonderful music alive in our world. Thank you Levon for planting the seeds and for all the blossoms that have grown in the eight years and counting.

  5. free58

    Nicely written article, about an awesome family of musicians, with incredible talents, an unbreakable love and respect, for the founding journeyman, whom had the heart, desire, love, awesome talent, to keep the real live music playing. And combined with the true friendship, of Barabra O’Brian, all the fans and volunteers, and local community, that love the man and the Music, this is a leathal weapon, for continual success. What’a more inspirational, is the outpouring of respect from artists new and old that want to be part of this awesome experience. Larry, Theresa, Amy and friends, are Living the Dream, and Keeping Levon’s dream and desires alive in the music! Congratulations to all at the Levon Helm Studio’s, for tell His storey!

  6. marty odorisio

    I cannot help but agree with every word larry just spoke . I knew larry from catching a ton of dylan shows, i can go back and close my eye’s and hear that music and larry had some big shoes to fill in j.j.jackson and i never thought he could do it but larry did it without breaking a sweat. I think larry could play a pair of sneakers if they had both laces. And then there is levon who was one of the most real cat’s ever to play music. you could see how happy he was on stage every night. I was at the last ramble at his barn and levon did not look good at all. My father and brother were taken by that horrible disease and that saturday nite in his barn my wife and i almost said at the same time levon does not have much time left and i mean that with the utmost respect and love.

  7. Jim Kearns

    I was fortunate to see the Levon Helm Band perform about a dozen times over the last six years and it was always a joyous,life affirming experience–it is heartening to hear that Larry ,Amy and everyone else up there is determined to keep it going–can’t wait to join them at a Ramble in the near future

  8. Mike Wicklein

    Once I had heard about what Levon had created at the barn, I wanted to get there and experience it. I haven’t gotten there yet…I’m just glad to know that the show goes on. He was a great spirit in American music, thanks for keeping the flame lit for the future.

  9. doug krecko

    Larry,that was beautiful.Don’t think anyone could have said it better.Levon must be so proud as he watches you all.we’ll see you in cutchogue.Keep it goin’.

  10. doug krecko

    Just re read this article.Seems to me that the band name should remain the same.It’s just one more way to honor Levons memory.The Levon Helm Band just says it all.

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