‘Levon Helm: Rock, Roll & Ramble’ Book, From Insider, Arrives

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Photo of a beaming Levon Helm via his Facebook page

Levon Helm is the subject of a new book from fellow Woodstock resident and music journalist John Barry. The longtime music writer for the Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal wrote about Helm for the paper, part of the USA Today Network, and became a steady presence at Levon Helm Studios. Levon Helm: Rock, Roll & Ramble—The Inside Story of the Man, the Music and the Midnight Ramble, described as “a tale of tragedy and triumph set against a moving target of a music industry,” arrived July 10, 2022.

From the book announcement: Raised in poverty in Turkey Scratch, Ark., Helm clawed his way to fame and fortune in the music industry, lost it all and got it back.

When he died in April 2012, the legacy he left revolved largely around a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career that had brought him to the stages of Madison Square Garden in New York City and Wembley Stadium in London. He had played a pivotal role in launching the modern-day genre of Americana music. All of this was an outgrowth of Helm’s role as drummer, mandolin player and vocalist for The Band.

During the last years of Helm’s life, as he recovered from cancer and bankruptcy, he staged a comeback triggered by the Midnight Rambles, intimate house concerts he hosted at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, the very building he almost lost to the bank.

Helm kicked back hard and executed a vision decades in the making by turning the knob on his front door and invited his audience into Levon Helm Studios. Faced with foreclosure, Levon staged “rent parties” that, if not successful, would at the very least let him “go out with a bang,” as he said. Those rent parties turned into the Midnight Ramble.

A judge at a federal bankruptcy court in Poughkeepsie approved his proposal to use revenue from the Midnight Ramble to pay off his debts.

Photo © Greg Brodsky

The Midnight Ramble began without a budget. But word quickly spread among Levon’s fans and his musical colleagues, old and new.

Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello, Mumford & Sons, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, Norah Jones, and Dr. John, were just a few of the musical acts that made pilgrimages to the building forever known as The Barn, where Helm would host the weekly performances, proudly beaming behind his drum kit overseeing his top-notch band.

Related: Mavis Staples released an album in 2022, recorded with Helm at The Barn in 2011

Helm went on to release three comeback records inspired by the Ramble—Dirt Farmer, Electric Dirt and Ramble at the Ryman. Each won a Grammy.

On hand for just about all of this was music journalist John Barry, who at the time lived in Woodstock. Helm invited him to chronicle the achievements and travails that were capping his life.

Barry was given access to Levon and permission to compile hours upon hours of recordings that captured the why and the how of one of the most stunning comebacks in modern music.

[In 2019, Barry doggedly covered the unfolding and subsequent collapse of the plans for a 50th anniversary Woodstock festival for the Poughkeepsie Journal, with remarkable insight.]

Go see a Midnight Ramble in Woodstock! Tickets and information are available here.

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