Monday, April 23, 2012

New Oldies - Leave Me Alone by The Canadian Squires

Today's New Oldie is another from the Future Superstars category. This is actually the first record that featured the complete lineup that would one day evolve into The Band. At the helm was Levon Helm, who passed away last week on 19 April 2012 at age 71. He was born Mark Lavon Helm in Elaine, Arkansas on 26 May 1940 and grew up in a nearby town called Turkey Scratch. But his career was cultivated in the fertile ground around Toronto, Ontario, Canada. His band mates found it easier to say LEE-von than LAH-von, and he allowed that name to stick. It's been said that two big fans of The Band, Elton John and Bernie Taupin, were thinking about Levon Helm when they wrote Levon, a song that's either about a drug dealer or an attempt to contrast Jesus with organized religion, or perhaps both. Here's a homework assignment: Listen to it again and see what you think.


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.

Are you ready for an advanced degree in Musicology? Classes are being held daily at MusicMaster Oldies and you're all invited to attend.

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