Levon Helm, best known as the drummer and one of the lead vocalists in the Band, has died at the age of 71 from throat cancer.
He may have been American, but Levon Helm still had a huge impact on the history of Toronto music. It was here that he and rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins assembled the group of young Canadian hotshot players who would eventually become the Band. Just out of high school, he cut his teeth backing up Hawkins as they did the Canadian and American club circuit.
After parting ways with Hawkins, they went through a series of names, including a brief time known as The Canadian Squires, before settling in as the Hawks. They attracted the attention of Bob Dylan, who adopted them as his backing band during his electric years. The much-bootlegged Basement Tapes is them working with Dylan as he worked his way through that difficult transition
Helm, Robbie Roberston, Rick Danko, Richard Manual and Garth Hudson eventually changed their name to the Band, and recorded their first album the Big Pink in 1968. Their first single the Weight featured Helm singing lead, and while it wasn't an immediate commercial success, it is now considered one of the most influential songs of the 60s, and is easily their most recognizable.
The band's 1976 farewell performance was documented by Martin Scorsese in the Last Waltz, but Helm went on to have a strong solo music career until the very end of his life. Even after his voice was silenced by cancer, he continued to perform as a drummer And when his Cancer went into remission and his voice healed, went on to crank out three more Grammy-winning album between 2007 and 2011.
For more on Helm's solo career and his special relationship with Toronto, check out this 1983 NOW cover story on Helm.