Happy Birthday Levon Helm: Performing Live With The Band In 1973

Hear Levon lead The Band through a host of their classics from Jersey City in '73.

By Nate Todd May 26, 2022 12:23 pm PDT

Levon Helm would have turned 82 today. The multi-talented co-founding member of The Band was born on May 26, 1940 in Elaine, Arkansas. Helm sadly died nearly 72 years later on April 19, 2012 after a hard-fought battle with lung cancer.

Highlighted by his highly collaborative Midnight Ramble jams at “The Barn” on his farm in Woodstock, New York, Levon’s legacy lives on in the space now called Levon Helm Studios. But Helm’s legacy is also inextricably linked with the group he helped to found in 1967, The Band.

The Band — drummer/multi-instrumentalist Levon Helm, guitarist Robbie Robertson, bassist Rick Danko, pianist Richard Manuel, and keyboardist Garth Hudson — released their landmark debut album, Music From Big Pink, in 1968 and would go on to put out three more studio LPs and a live record by 1972. But by that time, creative relations within the band were strained. In an attempt to level the playing field, The Band decided to record a covers album.

“That was all we could do at the time,” Levon revealed about the 1973 covers record Moondog Matinee in a 2002 interview with Gritz Magazine. “We couldn’t get along–we all knew that fairness was a bunch of shit. We all knew we were getting screwed, so we couldn’t sit down and create no more music. “Up on Cripple Creek” and all that stuff was over–all that collaboration was over, and that type of song (“Ain’t Got No Home”) was all we could do.”

Helm would continue with an interesting observation:

I’ll tell you something that they never gave us credit: you can’t tell how good The Band is, or not, when they’re doing their own stuff. Same with The Beatles, or anybody else. When they’re doing their own stuff, you can’t tell how good they are or how good they ain’t. You let both of us do a Chuck Berry tune–then you can tell how good the (two) bands are, can’t you? So, that’s what they never gave us credit for.

Although not appearing on the initial release of Moondog Matinee, The Band would open their August 1, 1973 concert at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, New Jersey with a Chuck Berry tune, “Going Back To Memphis.” An outtake of the Berry song would later appear as a bonus track on the 2001 re-issue of Moondog.

Levon led the group through the Chuck Berry rocker to kick off the show, which, despite The Band having just finished recording a covers album that would arrive in October ‘73, reads like a Band’s greatest hits. The group offered a bevy of classics like “The Shape I’m In,” “The Weight,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Life Is A Carnival,” “Up On Cripple Creek” and more with Helm singing lead or backing vocals on all the aforementioned tunes. The set also included Hudson’s keyboard wizardry on “Genetic Method” into “Chest Fever” and concludes with Levon singing lead on gritty funk-rocker “The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show.”

In honor of Levon Helm’s birthday, hear The Band perform from New Jersey in 1973 below for this edition of Throwback Thursday:

  • Mavis Staples & Levon Helm Live Album ‘Carry Me Home’ Set For Release

    Mavis Staples & Levon Helm Live Album ‘Carry Me Home’ Set For Release 

  • Watch Levon Helm & Mavis Staples Cover ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’

    Watch Levon Helm & Mavis Staples Cover ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’ 

  • Watch Mavis Staples & Levon Helm Perform ‘This May Be The Last Time’

    Watch Mavis Staples & Levon Helm Perform ‘This May Be The Last Time’ 

  • Remembering Levon Helm: Watch Levon’s 1983 Appearance On ‘Late Night With David Letterman’

    Remembering Levon Helm: Watch Levon’s 1983 Appearance On ‘Late Night With David Letterman’ 

JamBase Collections