Happy Birthday Levon Helm: Covering Grateful Dead

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Today marks what would have been late great The Band drummer Levon Helm‘s 76th birthday. The dirt farmer born in Blaine, Arkansas on this date in 1940 passed away on April 19, 2012 at the age of 71 having succumb to the effects of cancer. His Southern-toned vocals were essential to defining the sound of The Band, with whom he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1994, and the effortless swing in his drumming has been a source of envy for many who have sat behind the kit.

In honor of Levon, below is a look back at a few times he performed songs in the Grateful Dead’s live repertoire. Below are examples of three Dead originals and a traditional song regularly performed by the group which shared many bills with The Band in the late 1960s and early 1970s including Woodstock and the famed Festival Express across Canada. Levon’s reformed The Band also opened the final Grateful Dead concert at Soldier Field on July 9, 1995.

First up are videos from the Levon Helm Band’s show at the Independent in San Francisco on August 13, 2010. Joining the group that night included My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James sitting-in as well as Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh joining in on “Attics Of My Life” and a take on “Tennessee Jed.” A song often performed live and recorded for his 2009 LP Electric Dirt, watch audience-shot footage of “Tennessee Jed” captured by jahk2 after a clip of “Attics”:

Longtime Helm cohort, Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen was with the Levon Helm band at Mountain Jam 2010 for a performance of “Shakedown Street.” Here’s a short capture of the cover via Saint Annie followed by a longer (slightly lower quality) video from Ace D.:

Finally, though not an original, Helm and his band also covered the traditional “Deep Elem Blues” which was played often by the Grateful Dead. This pro-shot segment from Gathering Of The Vibes in 2011 features Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir as well as drummer Joe Russo sitting-in with the Levon Helm Band. Watch the officially released performance here: