The Alpha Wolf


Greetings Everyone: It’s been a long time since my last post and much has happened in the meantime. Aside from travels to SE Asia and Africa to look in on our foundation’s projects, Jutta and I have finally completed our move back to California and settled in. I had planned to soon post a note but in the last couple of days we have lost two very special people and now, not later, is the time to salute them and pay my respects. As most of you know Dick Clark was the pioneer who brought Rock n Roll to American Television, but he was and did much more than that. In a business full of outsized egos, he was a true Gentleman. Every time we played one of his TV shows in LA, he made us feel welcome, treated everyone with respect and took some time to chat a while. This easy going, friendly vibe permeated the whole set and working with his people was always a pleasure. The last time I saw Dick was in Lincoln, NE when we played one of Willie Nelson’s Farm Aids. Busy with broadcasting duties, Dick nevertheless took time say Hello, chat and wish us well. Some time thereafter he was kind enough to add a few words for the back of the John Kay & Steppenwolf “Magic Carpet Ride” biography. Over the years Dick’s various undertakings had grown into an empire, with numerous TV shows, Radio and other productions keeping him incessantly busy, yet he remained the gracious man he was from the beginning. Farewell Mr. Clark, you brought our kind of music to that little screen and through it into our lives, thank you.

Just hours ago the music community lost one of it’s great forces of nature, namely Levon Helm. Most knew him as the drummer and the singer of some of “The Band’s” best known songs, but Levon was in fact its heart and soul and gave the group its southern musical authenticity. I was still in high school in Toronto when I saw and heard Levon for the first time as a member of “Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks”. Ronnie and Levon, both from Arkansas migrated to Canada and there mentored young Canadians –Robbie Robertson, guitar / Rick Danko, bass / Richard Manual, piano and Garth Hudson, organ – who joined the Hawks and made it the great band it was. Seeing these guys play at the Concord Tavern - where on Saturday afternoons we under age Kids were able to attend – was nothing less than thrilling, absolutely chicken skin time. Robbie’s guitar playing was raw and searing and made other players emulate him for years. Ronnie as well as Richard and Levon would take turns on lead vocals and the whole band was cooking. There was no band in the country that could top them.

A couple years later the Hawks left Ronnie and became “Levon and the Hawks” for a while. Then after playing on John Hammond’s “Big City Blues” LP, they joined Bob Dylan as I’m sure most of you know. After Bob’s motorcycle accident put things on hold, they emerged as “The Band” and released “Music from Big Pink” which I think is still one of the best albums recorded by any American band. The film “The Last Waltz” showed them all and particularly Levon at the height of their prowess, even though it was to be The Band’s swan song. But Levon was all about the music and just kept going. Some years back Jutta – who knew Levon from the Toronto days as well – and I saw him with his band the Barn Burners in Nashville and, not surprisingly, they were excellent. With his daughter handling most of the vocals, Levon could rest his pipes, for he was going through his first bout with throat cancer. We visited after the show, he was in good spirits, his health was on the mend and he was looking forward to being able to sing again. Not that long thereafter, when the Wolf played a Blues Aid benefit in Memphis, I saw Levon again, he invited me to his “Midnight Ramble” at his barn in Woodstock, but I never had an opportunity to take him up on that. However Jutta and I saw and thankfully heard him sing as well, about a year ago in Vancouver where he played with a large band of fine musicians, including his daughter and horn players from New Orleans. I will always treasure that night. While I’ve seen many outstanding performances – Bob Marley as well as Bruce Springsteen, both for the first time in LA at Roxy, Ry Cooder’s Chicken Skin Revue and many more – Levon’s band performance was more than just a great musical event, it was a love fest between him the band and the audience. In spite of his failing health and frailty he gave all he had left and the crowd responded with an outpouring of affection that was nearly overwhelming, for they and we loved this man. America has lost one of its most faithful sons, one who never strayed from its musical roots. On Levon’s “Dirt Farmer” CD he sings about having a “Wide River To Cross”, I like to think he’s reached the other side by now and his journey is at a peaceful end. Farewell Levon, you gave us much joy and music to hold onto, may you be rewarded accordingly, wherever you are.

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