Ronnie Hawkins remembers happy times with Levon Helm
Published Friday, April 20, 2012 9:27AM EDT
Levon Helm, the legendary drummer and singer with the popular rock-and-roll group The Band, died Thursday after losing his 14-year battle with throat cancer.
Helm was 71.
The three-time Grammy Award winner had been fighting throat cancer since 1998. He passed away at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York surrounded by family.
"He just played two weeks ago," Ronnie Hawkins told CTV's Canada AM on Friday.
"It's been a very sad two, three days, but we were told. We were kind of expecting it," Hawkins said during a phone interview from Lakefield, Ont.
The Juno-winning rockabilly star was one of the first musicians to work with Helm and the members of The Band.
The group, comprising Helm, Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel met as the backing group to journeyman Hawkins in the late 1950s.
Those were happy times, according to Hawkins.
"We laughed at everything. We were learning. We didn't know nothin'," Hawkins, said with a laugh.
"All we wanted to do was play. Canada was a promised land for us," he said.
During his career, Helm was most widely known for the songs he sang with The Band that found their way onto the pop charts.
Those earthy, folk-rock tunes included "Up On Cripple Creek," "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "Don't Do It."
Helm and The Band also became Bob Dylan's backing band, touring with the singer in 1965, 1966 and 1974.
In a statement on his website, Bob Dylan said Helm was "my bosom buddy friend to the end, one of the last true great spirits of my or any other generation."
Helm and The Band also influenced numerous artists including Elton John, Elvis Costello, the Grateful Dead and The Beatles.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, band mate Robertson said "Levon is one of the most extraordinary, talented people I've ever known and very much like an older brother to me. I am so grateful I got to see him one last time and will miss him and love him forever."
When The Band decided to fold officially in 1976, music royalty showed up for their farewell concert in San Francisco's Winterland. That star-studded list included Dylan, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Ringo Star and Van Morrison.
Filmmaker Martin Scorsese later immortalized the farewell concert in his 1978 documentary "The Last Waltz."
Throughout it all, Helm's talents earned the respect of the biggest names in the music industry.
"Levon was very gifted," said Hawkins.
"He could have gone to Juilliard if he wanted. He had the brain capacity to do anything. He just chose to be one of the best musicians in the world," said Hawkins.