Father Dan Makes Gumbo

The Band: This Wheel's On Fire

The death of Levon Helm a day or two ago means that three-fifths of The Band are gone. To my taste, they didn't produce a great deal of great music. But the best of it, created in the space of a few years in the late 1960s, was really great, and extremely influential. I think most people would probably choose their self-titled second album ("Cripple Creek," "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down) over their first, Music from Big Pink. But it's the latter that's indispensible for me, or at least once was--I haven't listened to it for many years. It had a powerful effect on me, coming as it did in 1968 when psychedelia was at its height. Its loose, earthy, messy vibe was unlike anything else at the time, and although it didn't sound remotely like country music, it felt like it had very deep roots. Nowadays it would be called Americana. The second album, which was considerably slicker, didn't have its ramshackle soul. I think Big Pink produced some of my first reservations about where the "counter-culture" was going, by making me aware that there was something deep in the roots of the traditional culture that I loved. It was hardly a traditionalist work, but it had continuity with tradition.

This Dylan song was one of my favorite tracks from the album. I remember sitting in my apartment trying to work out the chords for it. Maybe they'll come back to me if I try.


RIP: Richard Manuel (1943-1986), Rick Danko (1942-1999), Levon Helm (1940-2012)


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One of the more memorable of my days as a musician was when the band I was in opened for Levon's blues band. This was back in 2001 or 2002 -- he wasn't singing at the time, having been struggling with throat cancer, and his daughter was the vocalist (very pretty girl with a great blues voice) while he played drums. We played in this tiny little blues bar that held about 80 people, and while Levon's band arrived on time, he and his daughter, who were travelling in a difference vehicle, got lost or stuck in traffic on the interstate, and were over two hours late to the show (they kept calling every half hour or so to tell the other guys where they were). He ended up not getting there till almost midnight, but played a full two-hour set. I got to watch him play from about 6 feet away, off to the side of the miniscule stage. The whole evening was quite an experience!

Wow, I bet that was great. I never really thought much about his drumming, and for that matter never knew who was singing in The Band, so I didn't have any sense of him as an individual musician. As a drummer, what's your reaction to this?

I think he's probably right -- Helm was decidedly non-flashy, but really, really good. He made it all look completely effortless.

The only other drummer I know who has the same sort of vibe is Jim Keltner, the session man who's played with just about everybody. One can say the same thing about Helm that's written on wikipedia about Keltner: "His drumming style typically melds deceptively simple drum patterns and a casual, loose feel with extraordinary precision."

everyone on this site has such great taste in music. If I didn't come here, I would still be just listening to van Morrison and Handel. On my day off on one Sunday in Lent someone here wrote about Chantal Kreviazuk. I put it in my amazon cart. I didn't buy, because it was Lent. I bought it after Easter, and it arrived yesterday and it is really, really good. It is a greatest hits DVD, and has one of my favourite songs, 'Leaving on a Jet Plane', done very well.

The Band generally has a very casual, loose feel, especially on Big Pink which is the album I mostly listened to, which is not something I associate with virtuosity. I guess I don't recognize really skilled drumming unless it's pretty attention-getting. It never would have crossed my mind to think of Helm as one of the great drummers.

Grumpy, If it wasn't for this blog, I wouldn't be listening to anything.


You could do a *whole* lot worse than Van Morrison and Handel! But there is a lot of great stuff out there.

The Band never meant that much to me. I would never object to hearing The Weight on the radio, but that's about the strength of my attraction. To me they were always just Dylan's back up. Which is certainly something.

Man, I am glad I changed my monicker. A student came to see me yesterday and asked if I was the person who wrote such and such on Caelum and Terra. It was a combox remark from 2006! Never could have happened back home.

Very interesting! I wonder if he or she was reading CetT and came across it, or was actively searching for you. I can't remember whether you used your last name back then or not.

I think of Music from Big Pink as a sort of auxiliary Dylan album, because there are several Dylan songs on it and the Band-written ones are pretty Dylanesque. The other albums are less so and maybe that's part of why I don't like them as much.

No, just my first name. But he immediately saw it was me. He was surprised I wrote so openly. I explained that when I worked in a conservative Protestant theology dept, there was no chance any one would read an American Catholic distributist blog.
No chance.

Like they say, the internet is forever. And everywhere.

I have occasionally used pseudonyms when commenting on blogs, so I could talk freely about something work-related (generally without mentioning my employer, just describing the situation). I thought long and hard about whether to make this blog anonymous.

You didn't say where you worked for a long time. Then one day you put up a photo.

The worst is the old list-serves. There's some really embarrassing (just in an intellectual way) remarks from yours truly floating around from them.

I think someone coming to this site would still have to dig for a while to find out where I work. Which is good.

I guess you're sure those are online? They wouldn't necessarily be, depending on how they were implemented.

Yes, I've run into stuff from eg the Voegelin Listserve from time to time. Which probably means all the Listserves are out there somewhere

I used to see a lot of comments of mine from listservs that I used to be on--mostly CetT and merelewis, but they seem to be buried in the past now.


And then, of course, Janet Cupo is the person who you contact about the NY Marathon.


Try this in Google:

janet site:caelumetterra.wordpress.com

Re listserves, it just depends on the administrator or other responsible parties. For instance, there's a work-related one for which the archives are online, but you have to log in to see them, and they don't show up in search engine results. But it's certainly been the trend to put them online.

Oh, but that's the current one. I was talking about an older one that Robert somebody had going. I think that Daniel was not too fond of it.


That would be the list referred to here, I think:


and if you click on the archive link there you'll see it's all been taken offline. I had a few conversations there, too, pretty unsatisfactory ones as I recall.

Well, there were lots of those conversations between Christopher Zehnder, John Medaille and a guy named Bill Drennan in which everyone wrote very long messages with about 10 points in each message and then they all answered all the points and I could just not keep up with a discussion like that online.

There were other conversations about living simply or homeschooling and I think that most of what I said was probably aimed in that direction--especially the latter.

I don't remember you from there, but maybe I read something you wrote.

I don't think he CIN discussions weren't the listserv though. That started after CIN shut down. There might have been a Yahoo group, too.


Yes, I remember those long long long multi multi multi-point discussions. If I had that crazy-eye-rolling Gmail emoticon here I would use it. I made very little effort to read them. They were physically almost unreadable anyway, as the software inserted a new ">" in every reply (more crazy-eye-rolling). I can't remember now for sure whether it was email or a forum but I was thinking it was email. It certainly *read* like email, late '90s style. I only contributed a few times--I found most of it tiresome or annoying.

Right! All those carats! I had forgotten. So you had the original post
>interspersed with the answer
>>and the answer to the answer
>>>and the answer to the answer to the answer
>>>>except this is backwards because the original should be on the bottom with the 4 carats.


Or no, it should be on the bottom but with the 4 carats, or 5, or 6.


"I guess I don't recognize really skilled drumming unless it's pretty attention-getting."

Yeah, that's probably the case with a lot of folks, and I imagine it's the same with other musical instruments as well. There are certain drummers I like who aren't standouts in the skill department, but whose style I enjoy. Bev Bevan of E.L.O. and the guy from The Cars, whose name escapes me, are in that category. Other guys are extremely skilled AND have an interesting style -- Stewart Copeland (The Police) and Springsteen's drummer, Max Weinberg, come to mind.

Then there are guys like this, which is scary. Just the fact that he is keeping time on the hi-hat AND a cowbell with his left foot (heel and toe, I think) while doing all the other stuff and keeping the bass drum foot going too is simply amazing. I'm not a huge fan of drum solos, generally speaking, but this one is pretty unbelievable.


You mean he's using both feet/legs?! I guess so. Wow, that is unbelievable. Seems like simply maintaining your balance while sitting on a stool with all four limbs going great guns like that would be difficult. I know organists do that, but they aren't having to beat the hell out of their instrument. Actually that's a pretty awesome bit of music overall. Those are *real* musicians.

For some reason a few years ago I started paying more attention to what's going on in the drums in pop music and began to appreciate how difficult just the basics probably are. I get lost real fast if I try to tap out anything more than a really simple rhythm.

All drummers use both feet (one on the bass pedal, the other on the hi-hat pedal) but he's actually doing two things simultaneously with his left foot while maintaining the right foot on the bass pedal as well. I've never seen anyone else do that.

"Those are *real* musicians"

I've been to a lot of concerts and have seen Metheny live three times. For pure musicianship and sheer talent, I've never seen anyone better than them.

Ok, now I'm even more impressed with drummers. I can sort of imagine being able to do that if it's something really simple--1-2-3-4 on the bass, 2-4 on something else, etc. But complex interplays like this guy is doing...makes my brain hurt.

>>>and the answer to the answer to the answer

I had forgotten that. It seems like the 19th century

Indeed, although it still occurs.

Somehow I missed Janet's comments on that. Not only did you get all the ">" but frequently the line breaks would be all crazy. It strikes me as almost sad now that they put so much effort into those unreadable and now-forgotten exchanges, but maybe it helped them clarify their thinking.

the drum solo is almost a contradiction in terms


If you can't distinguish Levon Helm from Robbie or, God Forbid!, Rick, then anybody gushing about everybody's taste in music is a suck up!!!

Levon Helm is God and Clapton Worshipers are Herestics!!!

Damn beer. Heretics, I mean.

Due allowances must be made for beer, naturally, but I have to point out, pedantically, that what I said (if that's what you're referring to) is that I never knew who was singing. The album just lists the names of the band, nothing about who plays or sings what. I mean the original LP of Big Pink, of course--don't know about others.

Okay, the gravelly Ozark hillbilly voice that apparently just makes women melt, or a certain type of woman anyway, was Levon Helm.

The others are Canadians.

Yeah, I remember being surprised to learn that they were a mostly Canadian band. All the vocals are fairly American-sounding. But I guess that's like being surprised that Mick Jagger sounds American--it's just part of the music. Which one is singing lead on This Wheel? I definitely wouldn't call it gravelly. Now that I think about it, the choruses on that song are more what I think of as the typical Band vocal sound.

Oh, and speaking of drum solos: when I hear the term I immediately think of the 16-minute "Toad" on Cream's Wheels of Fire album, of which approximately 30 minutes are a drum solo.

I'll have to get off this bambulance to hear the version you posted, but my memory insists either Danko or Manuel had the lead on Wheel.

Manuel kicks off "the shape I'm in " and Danko sings the verse about Crazy Chester and his dog, Ol Jack in "the weight "

Find a copy of the last waltz documentary Scorsese made if you want faces to voices.

Levon didn't need to solo because, with apologies to Mr Keen, when Levon thumped the doghouse, that 'as sho'nuff rocknroll!

Stole some ER bandwidth.

Rick Danko, bassist, on lead. Don't quote me but I'd risk my right pinky if forced that Robbie sang the dominant harmony.

Levon sang lead on the weight, the night they drove ok Dixie down, don't you tell Henry, the aforementioned cripple creek, stuff like that.

Oh, and the most awesome cover of when I paint my masterpiece ever. The one with the accordion and the extra lines at the key change. "Traveling, round the world in a dirty gondola, wishing I was in the land of coca --cola! "

Saw The Last Waltz when it came out, actually, but not since, so I don't remember many details. I'll have to see it again.

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