Tag Archives: levon helm
Sometime in early 2005, I bought my first ticket to Bonnaroo. I had always been music crazed and had attended hundreds of concerts, but had spent bulk of my youth listening to punk, ska, and R&B music. I wanted to go to Bonnaroo because something had changed inside me. A month before buying that ticket, I had heard The Rolling Stones for the first time ever, and I was falling in love with rock and roll. Artists like My Morning Jacket, The Faces, Rod Stewart, Elton John, and The Band had found their way into my constant CD rotation. Keep in mind that this was way back before we had ever even thought about forming the Guv’nahs. I was a big fan and a music appreciator, with no intentions of creating music, and certainly no intentions of being a singer in a band. About a month before Bonnaroo, I remember my roommates Justin Hoskins and Richard Baird telling me that if I loved The Band then I needed to watch The Last Waltz, a documentary directed by Martin Scorsese which detailed the final concert of The Band. So, I found a copy of the film and watched it. Shortly after that, I remember watching the film Festival Express and seeing a younger version of the band. Immediately, I became obsessed.
Besides just loving the sound of The Band, I also loved the dynamic of The Band. They didn’t appear to have a true leader. It looked and sounded like everyone in the group was a role player. If I was picking favorite personalities early on, then mine would have been Rick Danko, Levon Helm, and Robbie Robertson… in that order. But Levon’s voice was the one that I would eventually become most drawn to, because I felt like it was most like my own.
While at Bonnaroo, I remember asking myself what it was about live music that I loved the most… and I concluded that I loved live concerts because it was one of the few places on earth where a group can congregate and be collectively equal for a period of time. The crowd rolls in, but when the band starts playing, it doesn’t matter if you are rich, poor, black, white, or awkward… the music creates an environment of equality, even if only for 1 hour. When the band stops, normal life resumes… but maybe someone leaves a little bit changed. I was a dreamer then, still am I guess.
Fast forward 4+ years to August 2009 and I’m playing in a band a few weekends a year and working in a cubicle at the University of Tennessee with the rest of my time. I clearly remember sitting in my cubicle one day in early August and getting a phone call from an unknown New York number. Normally, I screen all unknown numbers… but for some reason I answered this one and it ended up changing the course of my life.
On the other end of the line was a voice that said, “Hey James, got your email. This is Justin Guip at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, NY. We listened to some of the demos that you sent us and we are really diggin it. When do you wanna come up here and record?”
We ended up going to Woodstock for 2 weeks in December 2009 to record Youth Is In Our Blood. While we were there we met Levon Helm for the first time. Kind, humble, and witty are the ways that I would describe him. We recorded that album in his home, which is named “The Barn”, and everyday we would watch him wake up, put on a robe and go take Muddy for a walk (his dog). Everywhere he went, he took Muddy with him. In the car, in the house, on a walk around the property. Everywhere. On a Saturday night while we were up there recording, we were asked to open up for the Levon Helm Band at one of his famed Midnight Rambles. Obviously, we accepted and had the night of our lives. After the ramble was over, Levon and his crew personally invited us to his personal Christmas party. Again, we accepted… thinking, there will probably be 200 people at this party. After our final night of recording, we head to Levon’s Christmas party… showing up a little bit late. When we get there, there’s a crowd of maybe 20 to 25 people, most of which are family members. In walk the Guv’nahs and our crew of 6, upping the party’s number of attendees by about 25%. We ended the night at some bar in the middle of Woodstock with Levon’s crew dancing and singing the night away. Levon was obviously asleep by about 10pm. After all, he was battling cancer and was in his late 60′s.
Levon’s management contacted us again about a year later and asked us to come up to The Barn and open for another of the Midnight Rambles, this time in January 2011. At the end of that night, Levon asked the Guv’nahs to get up on stage and encore “The Weight” with him and the band. Taking the stage, Levon leaned over to me and said, “Son, you’re taking the first verse.” Luckily, I knew all the words by heart. Nervous, I grabbed a mic between Levon and his daughter Amy Helm. The 4 count of the sticks, and then the song began. I will never ever forget harmonizing on the “Take a load off Annie’s” and the “Catch a cannonball” ending with his daughter Amy Helm. Every band member was on an instrument. One of the purest moments of true joy that I’ve ever experienced.
Yesterday, Levon Helm passed away after a long battle with cancer. He was surrounded by many friends and family at the hospital as he left this world and went onto the next. The crew that worked for Levon was one of the most tightly knit groups of people that I have ever encountered. We received a phone call today from the studio engineer, and he said that the vibe up in Woodstock is still very positive. We pray for strength for them during this next phase of each of their lives.
Levon Helm was a good man. He brought joy to the world. On stage and in person, he was inspiration and an encouragement to many. I am thankful for the short time that we got to spend with him.
this past weekend is the biggest weekend the guv’s have ever had. It was our second trip to new york. we played in the city on thursday then shot up to woodstock to open up for the levon helm band at a midnight ramble session. the wives came along so it was like a family vacation, it was cool. the murph was there too. tony d made us some spinach balls, cookies, and yogurt pretzels for our journey because we like snacks. we piled into the mule to start the first leg to hagerstown maryland. i could feel it was gonna be good weekend because william shatner hooked us up with some hotel rooms and i bought a nesquik double chocolate milk for the road.
some of you may have read my last blog about pulling into new york city while driving a 30 foot long airport shuttle. edgy times. i drove us in last time so james decided to take the pilot seat for this go around while i was the motivational copilot. we decided to implement a different strategy for this trip. instead of worrying about how horrible it was last time to get into the city we spoke blessings over the mule. the blessing was to pull straight in and park right next to the load in doors at the venue. statistically, judging by last time, there was a negative 21% chance of this happening but we believed that it was our time. we have a technological device called a gps that tells you what to do when you have no idea where you re going. sometimes it works well and sometimes it is full of lies. for this trip the gps was on point and according to the instructions we only had one turn to make once we entered the city to get to the venue. it was early afternoon so there was minimal traffic pulling in so it was a smooth arrival. we got in the city easily and sure enough the venue was about 50 yards ahead and the one turn was exactly where we were hoping to park. we made the turn and there was a huge parking space right in front of the load in doors. victorious. all the wives went to some science place called anthropology and we loaded into the venue for sound check.
we were excited to play new york again because last time it was an awesome turnout and we gained a lot of fans. we also had a ton more energy because we didn’t have to deal with driving our gear across the city. sound check felt really good as well so there was an easiness about this night that created a good chill for all of us as a band. we played with the northbound traveling minstrel jug band and the rozatones who are both really cool bands so check em out if you get a chance. it came time for us to come on so we hit the stage to bring the rock to the people of new york. the crowd doubled what was there last time and the wives were in the front row dancin and singin our songs. It was so inspiring to us to have all this support so we gave em a rock and roll sandwich to the faaayse. we love new york city.
the next day we woke up to 12 inches of snow on the ground but the roads were plowed so that didn’t stop us. we stayed a little ways north of the city so we could wake up and get on the road to woodstock for a chill day because the ramble wasn’t until saturday. last year we went to woodstock to record our album “youth is in our blood” at levon helm studios. we were there for two weeks so we decided to stay in bob clearmountain’s vacation home which is located in the byrdcliffe colony. it’s such an awesome house that we decided to stay there this time to maximize the chill. bob clearmountain is an award winning studio engineer who mixed songs as well as complete records for artists such as bruce springsteen, the rolling stones, bryan adams, as well as many others. as we got closer to woodstock we called our producer justin guip because we wanted to stop by to see him. we arrived at levon’s house and it was like we never left. levon was pulling out when we arrived and he was waving at us and giving us his signature “go get em boys” thumbs up. he just got out of the hopital so it was good to see him out and moving around. his dog muddy was in the passenger seat. it was really cool to see everyone, levon, guip, brendan, chris, barbara, walt, the whole team levon staff, it felt like we had only been gone for a few months. they run a very family oriented ship there so we felt really “at home”. one day i’m gonna purchase a vacation home in woodstock and it will be a glorious day. i will have many cookouts with tons of beer and steaks for my friends at my vacation home. we hung out at levon’s for a while and then i heard ashley say taco night. tha cozmo loves tacos. i got really happy and we gave each other a high five. our friend from ascap, robert filhart, was there with us and he offered to shuttle us all to the house so we could leave the mule at levon’s. thank you for being awesome robert. the wives made tacos and guac for us. it was delicious. i ate 2 burritos and three tacos, then later they made cookies for dessert. we built a fire and had family hang time where we sang songs and danced around the living room to celebrate the weekend. the next day we slept in for a little while then went into town to get some food. the first group shuttled in was me, the murph, the hoskins, and the doodys. we went to the oriole 9 cafe. me and the murph got the cuban sandwich which was scrumptious. i also got some bacon on the side with a classical coke that was in the old school eight ounce glass bottle. our lunch was awesome. when we finished we walked around to check out some of the shops in town then we had a rendezvous at the hot chocolate factory. shortly after, we went back to the house to relax til sound check. it was a good day.
it was time for the ramble. we were so excited to open for someone we really look up to as a musician as well as a person. levon is a legend and a huge inspiration to our band and we were pumped to be back to play with him once again. we also heard that jimmy vivino (leader of conan o brien’s basic cable band) randomly showed up to play with the levon helm band so we knew it would be a special night but we weren’t aware of how special. he was in town from l.a. to visit his son and decided to stop by to play the show. it came time for us to go on and we held nothing back. the crowd was so into the music that we got an encore. it felt really good, our set was rockin. we cleared off the stage for the intermission and went downstairs to do a cd signing then came back up for levon’s set. they were amazing, the energy was maxed out and the crowd was feelin it. about mid way through they’re show i looked down at the set list and noticed that the last song was “the weight”. i started thinkin to myself, “man that would be cool if they invited us on stage to play the weight with them.” slowly that thought consumed my brained and about 5 minutes rolled by where i drifted into a dream world and played that scenario out in my head. eventually i snapped back to reality to catch the remainder of the show. i started to have this rumblin feelin in my belly when they finished the last song before the weight. something was gonna happen but i didn’t know what. sure enough larry campbell (grammy award winning producer/arranger, virtuoso of multiple instruments, and front man of the levon helm band) started talking about us on the microphone. he was complimenting our music then he invited us all on stage for the last song. wuuuuuuuuuuuuurd. i couldn’t believe it, it really happened. i walked on stage and larry told me to grab the acoustic guitar that was sitting in the rack. i never play acoustic guitars but it was the only one that was available so i just had to roll with it. so there we were, a red-headed american rock and roll band from knoxville on stage with grammy award winning levon helm band. crazy. we started the song and james sang the first verse and killed it. levon had a full grin on his face the whole time. it was priceless. meanwhile i’m tucked in the back next to jimmy vivino trying not to do anything stupid. i figured i wasn’t going to do much on the song since there was 25 people on stage so i was in chill mode. next thing i know, larry looks at me and tells me to take a solo. i felt like i was gonna poop my diapers. as i mentioned earlier i was playing an acoustic so i felt like i was about to fight a dragon and my only weapon was a carton of eggs and a slingshot. i couldn’t let south knoxville down so i accepted the challenge. it was the longest solo i have ever played on an acoustic guitar in my life and it felt good and buttery. after the show was over we hung around with the band for a while then took off to the house to celebrate our epic night.
the next morning we woke up and the wives made us bacon and eggs. tha cozmo also loves bacon and eggs. before we left woodstock we wanted to stop by and check out “big pink” which is the legendary pink house where bob dylan and the band composed several huge songs, including “the weight”. they would rehearse in the basement. we started our journey to “big pink” following snowy back roads through woodstock. it was a slow trip because it started to get really “hilly” and we didn’t want to get stuck anywhere. finally we approached parnassus road where the house was supposedly located. the map told us to take a right but it looked a little sketchy because the road was really narrow and covered with snow. there was also no houses in sight. a few of us walked down the road to scope out the territory but there was no luck. it was getting late and we had to get back to tennessee so we were about to give up because the roads didn’t look friendly for the ol mule. after pondering for a moment we decided to take a left and drove in a huge circle. we couldn’t find the house on the left side of the street either. once we arrived back to the intersection we had a better angle to turn where the map was telling us to go so we decided to risk it. as soon as we turned onto the narrow, snowy road someone turned in behind us so we were stuck, there was no turning back. the mule was stopped in the middle of the road blocking everything when the people in the car walked up to the driver side of the mule. they knew who we were and why we were turning down into the woods. it turns out they were the people who owned “big pink” and we were right the first time but we didn’t go down far enough. pushing further we pulled up to the house. originally we were just going to take a picture out front and leave but the owners invited us to come inside. they gave us a tour and told us a bunch of cool stories about bob dylan and the band. i wanted to ask them if i could have a glass of kool aid but i figured that might be pushin it. we got to see the basement and everything. just think, we were about to give up, decided to go the opposite route, looped around right back to where we came then got trapped in by the owners. it worked out great because they were forced to talk to us because we were blocking the entire street. it was the greatest weekend in all the land. i also got to hang out with one of levon’s dogs. it’s gonna be a big year for the guv’s, thanx to everyone for your support.
Keep on, keepin on. That’s what we’re doing. All is well on the Guv’nah front. Much thanks to the hometown crowd for the Bijou Theatre sellout, and much thanks to all our fans for supporting us and buying our new CD. We sold more copies of Youth Is In Our Blood in the first week of its release than we sold of the self-titled album in it’s first year of release. Thank you so freaking much. For those who are really worried, the new bus is doing just fine… still haven’t given it an official name but i’ve been calling it The Mule… named in honor of it’s previous owner and Knoxville hero, Scott Miller. Alright, gotta run… but wanted to also let yall know that we just got a call from Levon Helm’s people up in Woodstock, and they want us to come back up there and open for Levon on January 22nd…. get your tickets quick if you wanna see us open for the legend in his own hometown. See yall on New Year’s Eve at the Bijou Theater!
Saturday night we had the great honor of performing at the famed “Midnight Ramble” which is hosted by the incredible Levon Helm at his home in Woodstock, NY. To say that it was a wonderful evening would be a huge understatement. It was a truly special experience for all of us, and something that none of us will never forget.
We have been up here for the past week working on our new album and we played a short opening set consisting of some of the new material. It was a great feeling to play the new songs and have a positive response from the Ramble crowd. James, who has been battling the flu all week, fought through the set and sounded great. Afterwards, during Levon’s set, it was surreal to hear him and Larry Campbell give us a shout out. They were very gracious hosts, and their set was amazing. Levon sang for the first time since the summer due to some throat issues, and it was pretty surreal to be in attendance for this particular show. Also making the night amazing was having so many of our closest friends and family members up here with us. A huge thanks to all who made the journey up here to join us, we really appreciate you. The whole night was very special.
Our time in the studio is also going well. As James documented earlier, our time up here in New York started a little bit on the rough side, but I think we have turned a corner and are hitting our stride. We have all the basic tracks done and will be focusing on the overdubs and vocals this week. The songs are all turning out great, and I think that these tracks are a huge step forward for us. We can’t wait for you to hear them.
So thanks to everyone for all the messages of support, and thanks to all the great people at the Ramble for making us feel right at home. We are having a blast up here and are looking forward to another great week. Please keep James in your thoughts and let’s hope his voice can fully recover soon. We will be checking in periodically and posting some studio pics, so stay tuned.
Friday afternoon in Woodstock. We’ve gotten the rhythm tracks down for 9 songs. The fellas are in the other room working on another one as I sit here and type by fireside. Everything is sounding REALLY GOOD. It’s hard to believe that we’re getting to record here. Pictures of legends are on all the walls. The entire studio made of wood. It feels more like a getaway cabin than a studio. Everyday we see Levon Helm walk out his back door to go play with his dogs for a few minutes. The temperature outside right now is 26 degrees, and we’ve had about 10 inches of snow since we’ve been here. As some of you might have heard, I came down with the flu on the day we got to Woodstock and was sidelined to the bed for 2 straight days. The good news is that I finally got some antibiotics and I am on the road to health. Today, I can talk… but I’m hoping that I’ll able to sing by tomorrow night for our performance in Woodstock. I won’t be recording any vocal tracks until next week, so yall can just pray that I fully recover by then.
The first couple days in the studio were tough. We had serious trouble finding our mojo and were really discouraged… wondering if we were actually ready to record this album or if we needed to go home and rehearse for a couple months before making it happen. At the end of the day on Tuesday, our producer took me to the side and told me that we really needed to get it together or we should just cancel the second week in the studio and go home and work on our songs some more… to say we were feeling down would be an understatement.
We woke up Wednesday morning, hoping that our tune would change… but then we looked out the window to 8 inches of snow. Bad news. This was a problem because:
a) Our house is at the bottom of a 500 foot downhill drive way. Angle of decline, approximately 40 degrees (according to Cozmo)
b) Our van is 17 years old, has fairly bald tires, and is rear wheel drive.
The good news is that Cozmo is a total beast and led the hour-long snow shovel enslaught that ensued. For a full 60 minutes, Guv’nahs were filing in and out the front door… doing 10 minute shifts with snow shovels and then coming in to warm their fingers before returning to the shoveling… but Cozmo remained, for the full 60 minutes. We finally got the van to the top of the hill and rejoiced in our victory. We started down the mountainside to the studio, and just when we thought we had finally defeated the evil spirit that was upon us… our van started smoking. Dark black smoke. Really freaking bad smoke. Smoke was billowing both inside and outside of the van. Everybody was freaking out, lots of yelling, Chris said we should bail out the windows, and Justin suggested just slamming the brakes and leaving the van on the side of the road and just walking to the studio. Well, the smoke wagon finally got to the bottom of the mountain and pulled into a gas station to check out the situation. We all got out to survey the scene and were quickly greeted by an old woman in the parking lot who said, “Something is really wrong with your van!” Thanks, genius.
Well, after about 2 minutes Mitch noticed that the parking brake had been on for the entire descent from the mountaintop. I won’t name who drove 4 miles down the mountain with the parking brake engaged. Immediately, Justin rejoiced in the backseat with a loud shout…. throwing his hands in the air… as if he had just found the fountain of youth…
This was the moment that turned our week around. It literally felt as if the clouds had opened and the sunny skies had flooded in.
Immediately all of our attitudes changed and good music started to flow close behind.
I’ll check in again with yall sometime really soon. You’re only allowed to laugh at this blog post because it has a happy ending. Ha. We appreciate all your thoughts and prayers. Good things are happening my friends.
Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, NY
For those who haven’t heard, we have just confirmed that we will be recording our next album in December at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, NY. We also have the incredible honor of opening for Levon at the Midnight Ramble on December 12th. To say that we are excited would be an incredibly huge understatement.
Simply put, Levon Helm is a national treasure. To be able to record our next album at his home studio up in Woodstock is an absolute dream. We are honored beyond words to get this incredible opportunity.
When we first got together and started this crazy idea for forming a band, we were heavily inspired (and still are) by the timeless music of The Band. Not that we sound anything like the legendary group, but we just loved everything about them. We loved that they made it ok to play whatever kind of music you wanted and not be afraid of fitting nicely into any categories. Our music is definitely a melting pot, one full of rock, country, soul, blues, and who knows what else. Artists like The Band broke down barriers and made that type of thing possible.
The Band just had that vibe of five guys who loved to play music. They didn’t care to have any one of them in the spotlight. In their heyday, they gave a real sense of community, a “we’re all in this together” mentality, which is something that we strive for today. They continue to have a huge impact on us, as we are just six guys who love to play music together. We have an incredible time doing it and we know that every one of us is a vital part of the puzzle.
In particular, we have always had a deep admiration for Levon. The guy was just so cool, no matter who you were. The only southerner (or American) in one of the most Americana bands of all time, we had a natural affinity for the man behind the kit. He was just a boy from our neighboring state of Arkansas who turned out to be one of the greatest musicians of all time. He was the bearded singing drummer belting out some of the most memorable lyrics of the 20th century, yet he still had that southern drawl, charm, and wit – the kind of guy you’d love to sit and have a drink with while he told you stories. He was it for us.
When Levon beat the cancer that threatened to take his voice (and life), the inspiration level for us went through the roof. We went to see one of his “Rambles on the Road” last year and when I left I smiled for days. The man has still got it. He just beat cancer and at his age still put on one of the best shows I had seen in a long time. His playing was great. His voice was great. He was still the man.
So, this December we will make the journey up to Levon’s home in Woodstock. Levon Helm Studios is a place we have wanted to be for a long time now, and we are ready to go up there and try to channel some of his energy in recording the best album possible. Recording in a studio that has seen such legends as The Band, Eric Clapton, and Keith Richards as well as some of our favorite contemporaries like The Black Crowes and My Morning Jacket is the definition of a dream come true for us, and we cannot wait to be there.
We cannot thank you all enough for your support of this crazy path we have been on for over three years now. We can’t do it without you, and you are every bit a part of all the great things that are beginning to happen for us. We hope to see you on the road this fall, and can’t wait for you all to hear this new record as soon as possible. We would have never thought this could be a reality a few years ago, but here we are, still pursuing this sound we have in our heads and still trying to create a feeling of community at all our shows. We are having a great time, and we hope that this is the beginning of a long and joyful ride. We are glad to have your company along the way.