Levon Helm At Home On The Throne
Levon's influences fell somewhere between the Country music of the Grand Ole Opry and the African rhythms of F S Walcott's Rabbit's Foot Minstrel shows. A six year old kid watching Bill Monroe And His Blue Grass Boys knew right then where his life would lead. He grabbed a guitar, beat some drums, and at the tender age of eight, decided to bring even more music into the world. It's a good bet that his turntable spun platters from Sonny Boy Williamson II, Robert "Junior" Lockwood, Conway Twitty, Bo Diddley, and Elvis Presley. Levon also admired another cat from Arkansas, Ronnie Hawkins, and the two would end up sharing the same dream for a while.
Before finishing High School, Levon was already playing the clubs and bars around Helena, Arkansas. Ronnie Hawkins was impressed and invited him to join his band, The Hawks. They drifted around the South filling clubs with rockabilly music, then headed north to Canada. It was 1959, and 24 year-old Ronnie and 19 year-old Levon had just stuck a chord with Roulette Records. That led to a contract, several records, and a couple of Canadian hits that crossed over the 49th parallel, landing smack in the middle of the Billboard Hot 100. A cover of Chuck Berry's Forty Days in May 1959, followed by a Ronnie Hawkins original, Mary Lou in August 1959, a song that's guaranteed to turn heads and rock the house even today.
Here's Mary Lou by Ronnie Hawkins And The Hawks on Roulette 4177 from 1959:
When Ronnie moved on in 1963, Ronnie And The Hawks turned into Levon And The Hawks, with a single on Atco Records, The Stones I Throw, that crept up to the #22 slot in Toronto on 1050 CHUM in November 1965. By this time, drummer Levon was the only non-Canadian in the group, which included Robbie Robertson on guitar, Rick Danko on bass, Richard Manuel on piano, and Garth Hudson on organ. The whole lot of them could sign well and fluently play just about any instrument.
Here's The Stones I Throw by Levon And The Hawks on Atco 6383 from 1965:
Flipping names once more, the guys released today's New Oldie in 1966 as The Canadian Squires. Robbie Robertson channels Bo Diddley to deliver a Garage Rock sound that showcases the range of the band's incredible talent pool.
Here's Leave Me Alone by The Canadian Squires on Ware 6002 from 1966:
Bob Dylan was going electric and invited them to tag along as his backing band. They followed him to Woodstock and helped him shake off the stereotype of spokesman for the elite beat generation. Breaking away, manager Albert Grossman helped shoot down Levon's suggestion to call themselves The Crackers, and the band became The Band. And the rest, as they say, is history.
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