Music From Big Pink, the beginning of Levon Helm’s legacy

Over 71 years he created 29 albums, performed hundreds of exciting concerts and acted in 11 feature films. On April 19, 2012, The Band drummer and vocalist, Levon Helm, died in the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Levon Helm

Helm, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 as a part of The Band, performed live since 1957. Born in Elaine, Ark., Helm started his storied career as a member of the rockabilly band The Hawks who backed up singer/songwriter Ronnie Hawkins. The Hawks moved from Arkansas to Toronto, CA in 1959 after signing to Roulette Records.

The Hawks, which included guitarist Robbie Robertson, bassist Rick Danko, pianist Richard Manuel and organist Garth Hudson, toured the world, backing up Bob Dylan. The group would write songs with the great Dylan, recording an album in Woodstock, NY in 1967 called The Basement Tapes.

Helm, disheartened by the negative reaction to Dylan going electric, didn’t participate in the 1965-66 tour, working on an oil rig in Arkansas instead. Helm returned in 1967. From then on, The Hawks would be referred to as The Band.
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Remembering The Big Man’s Last Show

Thousands gathered on the beer-can-littered sidewalk that ran along Perry Street in Buffalo, NY. The line stretched over three blocks.

Photo Credit: Harry Scull Jr.

The crowd shouted a chant of five “ohs” amongst itself, breaking out in a drunken, off-pitch harmony. Many had been waiting all day outside HSBC Arena (now known as the First Niagara Center) to get their chance to see Bruce Springsteen.

It was a cold Nov, night but the biting winds of Perry Street wouldn’t put a damper on the crowd’s evening.

Two months before, Springsteen and the E Street Band had not thought of going to Buffalo. HSBC Arena became the last addition to the band’s Working on a Dream tour.

No one knew how Buffalo received this honor, but the near half-million inhabitants had no reason to complain. This would be a night of many firsts for the E Street Band and one unfortunate last.

April 13, 2012, Bruce returned to that very arena to once again dazzle western New York with a night of blue collar, patriotic, passionate and powerful music. Only these clichés can describe what the crowd heard. Sadly, this show had to be played without the band’s saxophone player and world music icon Clarence Clemons.

Photo Credit: ABC News

Back to that night, Nov. 22, 2009, Springsteen scheduled his show to start at 7:30. Now 8:00, the crowd, still chanting, stood outside waiting for the venue to open its doors. I stood in that line, spending my last $50 to make sure I would see my hero play live.
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The sexy siren of the blues

They come in many names. Blackie, Brownie, Number One, Polka Dot, Betty Jean, Bertha and even my beloved Donna, all have graced the ears of millions. They become friends and partners, personified by the bright, audibly seducing auras that surround them.

If you heard them you would write the same thing.

These sirens, curvy and passion-filled, pioneered the sounds of today’s guitar music.

In 1954, Leo Fender sat down to create the next great solid-body electric guitar.

A think-tank of George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares sat down with Fender in the Fullerton, Calif. office with the idea to create a guitar that would be light, easy to play and allow musicians to reach higher notes on the fingerboard.

They did not want to electrify a piece of wood like other electric guitars. They wanted style, gloss and, most of all, playability.

Fender had experimented with this idea before. In 1950, the company created the Broadcaster. Now known as the Telecaster, the guitar’s body was cut away on its right side, allowing access to the eardrum-piercing notes. The guitar’s single pickup created a bright twang similar to throwing stones at the side of a steel shed.
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Bowerbirds coast to popularity with The Clearing

Pete Seeger furiously paced backstage at the Newport Folk Festival, enraged by electrified sounds coming from the stage. The folk legend threatened to take an axe to the wiring to stop the desecration of this pure music


Today’s fans of the genre should be thankful he restrained. Without electrification, the music world would be sans Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Neutral Milk Hotel, Fleet Foxes and many more.

Modern folk band, Bowerbirds, continue the folk genre.

Two schools of folk exist in today’s music. Much like the rap war between California and New York, east again battles west. In folk, the Pacific northwest, based out of Seattle, holds a majority of the genre.

Fleet Foxes, The Decemberists and The Head and the Heart reign as the champions of the Pacific wilderness, creating innovative and unique varieties of folk.

The east’s Mecca of folk lies in the south. Bowerbirds, from Raleigh, N.C., Iron and Wine, from South Carolina, and many others top the east coast list of folk musicians.

The latest release from any of these bands came on March 6, 2012. Bowerbirds, who just made the move to Dead Oceans Records, released their third LP, The Clearing.

The band started the album off with their best track, “Tuck the Darkness In.” A bass-heavy, warm sounding electric guitar combines with the deep twang of a dreadnought (deep-bodied acoustic guitar), creating an inspirational tone.
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The Boss’s legend continues with Wrecking Ball

Against a white background, a scrawny man clad in a tight black leather jacket and tighter denim jeans leans against a hunched-over giant wielding a tenor saxophone.

Courtesy: The Improper

This iconic image has defined Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen and the E Street Band since 1975. Tracks like “Thunder Road” and
“Born to Run” make even today’s youth sing at the top of their lungs.

Justin Townes Earle, a nationally recognized independent folk singer-songwriter, once said, “If you don’t like Bruce Springsteen then you don’t like Woody Guthrie meaning you don’t like music,” as he prepared to cover the Boss’s Nebraska hit “Atlantic City.”

Springsteen took motifs and styles from the folk/rock legends of the ‘50s, crafted them from his perspective and added brilliant musicians such as Roy Bittan and Clarence Clemons. The result: 42 years of breathtaking albums, catchy hits and a rock-and-roll-hall-of-fame-worthy career.

In 2006, Springsteen paid homage to his hero Pete Seeger and assembled a masterful group to record many of Seeger’s iconic songs. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions connected the gap to Bruce’s listeners where his inspirations came from.

Boss released Working on a Dream in 2009. This album, consisting of Golden Globe winning track “The Wrestler,” sparked a promotional tour that would lead to incredible things.

For the first time in history, The E Street Band would perform entire albums live for to-capacity arenas. Two months before the end of the tour, Bruce wrote the song ‘Wrecking Ball” to pay respect to Giant Stadium and its inevitable demolition to make room for a new stadium.

The E Street Band played five dates at its hometown stadium, selling out the near 80,000 person stadium every night. Bruce played the entirety of Born to Run, that same album with Bruce leaning against Clemons, all five nights.

The tour ended on November 22, 2009 in Buffalo, NY. This author had the chance to see this show, amazed throughout the three-and-a-half-hour-long show.

Unfortunately for The E Street Band, this would end up being the last show with Clarence Clemons who died of stroke complications on June 18, 2011. He was 69.

Many thought that the band couldn’t go on without “The Big Man” as Clemons became known.

On March 6, 2012, Bruce and the band defied all odds and released his latest album, Wrecking Ball.
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String virtuoso uses adversity to create masterpiece

Broken hearts fuel passionate music. With his latest release, Break it Yourself, Andrew Bird proves that a break-up can inspire an incredible songwriter to work at an increased level.

Bird’s previous releases dealt in observations regarding our natural surroundings, science and human behavior. His 2003 release, Weather Systems, dealt in this theme throughout the album.

Photo Credit:

“And every time you turn the soil, another cloud begins to boil,” from the title track of Weather Systems shows the power man has on the environment.

Sidenote: Righteous Babe Records, owned and operated by Ani DiFranco in Buffalo, NY, released Weather Systems.

With his previous five studio albums, Bird has defined a genre known as chamber pop. His music takes motifs from pop music and combines them with chamber instruments like the violin and mandolin. The instruments ring with the sounds of Mozart and Tchaikovsky, proving they have been handled by a classically trained expert.

Since his 2009 release Noble Beast, Bird has made many changes. He left Fat Possum records and signed with Mom+pop Records. He started writing film scores, releasing a soundtrack for the film Norman. He played a 165-date tour in 2009 all the while in heartache from a relationship change. He suffered a heel injury on tour and dug himself deep into his work.

“I think he just ran himself ragged,” said Bird’s bassist Mark Lewis in an interview with Rolling Stone. “Being out and busy can be a false escape,” added Lewis.

Bird left the tour, wounded both in body and spirit, and began to write.

In his reclusive attempt to recover, Bird wrote 14 songs that flow together masterfully.
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Be the Void challenges indie-rock typecast

Choruses of ahs shower over pulsating piano chords. Dual guitars blend like watercolors on a canvas, filling the musical spaces in the recording. A diaphragm-powered, nasal voice brightens the sound, shining like dew in the summer sunlight on a long blade of grass.

The songs from Dr. Dog’s newest album, Be the Void, translate to images, showing off their artfully crafted layers like a landscape painting.

In previous albums, Dr. Dog has followed the route of other indie-rock bands, bringing in vintage equipment, nerdy motifs and whiny lead vocals.

Be the Void ignores most of those stereotypes, creating a sound all their own.

The Philadelphia-based sextet’s previous release, Shame, Shame, used many themes from emotional music. Dark/whiny lyrics, such as “Where’d all the time go?” and “I do believe there are no more tricks up my sleeve,” filled most of the 11-track LP. Songs on that album, as well as its predecessor Fate, blitz the listener with dark minor chords and emotionally striking lyrics, influence the listener to have sad feelings.
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