By Michael Hill ,AP
By Michael Hill ALBANY, New York — With songs like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “The Weight” and “Up on Cripple Creek,” The Band fused rock, blues, folk and gospel to create a sound that seemed as authentically American as a Mathew Brady photograph or a Mark Twain short story.
In truth, the group had only one American — Levon Helm.
Helm, the drummer and singer who brought an urgent beat and a genuine Arkansas twang to some of The Band’s best-known songs and helped turn a bunch of musicians known mostly as Bob Dylan’s backup group into one of rock’s most legendary acts, has died. He was 71.
Helm, who was found to have throat cancer in 1998, died Thursday afternoon of complications from cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, said Lucy Sabini of Vanguard Records. On Tuesday, a message on his website said he was in the final stages of cancer.
Helm and his bandmates — Canadians Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel — were musical virtuosos who returned to the roots of American music in the late 1960s as other rockers veered into psychedelia, heavy metal and jams. The group’s 1968 debut, “Music From the Big Pink,” and its follow-up, “The Band,” remain landmark albums of the era, and songs such as “The Weight,” “Dixie Down” and “Cripple Creek” have become rock standards.