Some Sunday Love: The Band (with the Late Levon Helm on Drums), “Don’t Do It,” New Year’s Eve, New York City Academy of Music, 1971
I was surprised to find this video on You Tube. I’m convinced that this is the original footage of that long ago night along with the song. Rock of Ages and Music from Big Pink remain my favorites from The Band. Its drummer and sometimes lead singer, Levon Helm, died from the effects of cancer in New York this past week. He is the young, thin bearded man singing his heart out behind other thin young men, Robbie Robertson (in the red jacket), and Rick Danko, who preceded Levon in death in 1999. The doomed Richard Manuel is on piano, and the bearish-looking Garth Hudson is working that organ.
The Band was backed that night by what Levon called some of the finest horn men in town, assembled by another great arranger as well as all-round musician, New Orleans-born Allen Toussaint, for that moment during their tour. For the record, those guys were Howard Johnson on baritone saxophone; Snooky Young on trumpet and flugelhorn; Joe Farrell on tenor and soprano saxophones and on English horn; Earl McIntyre on trombone and J. D. Parron on alto saxophone and E-flat clarinet.
Unfortunately, that quiet statement of respect and awe is missing from the opening of this video, but I remember it, just like the moment I played this song late at night when there were no customers at an independent record store I worked at during my college days at San Jose State. “Don’t Do It,” like discovering Big Pink in high school, was a revelation. Those moments of discovery and of good times.
Yes, “Baby, Don’t You Do It” was a Holland, Dozier and Holland song. According to Wikipedia, it was a song about a man pleading with his woman not to treat him so badly or to leave him, because he’s “tried to do my best.”
The Band recorded the song numerous times under the title, “Don’t Do It”; the different versions, both studio and live, appear on several of their albums and box sets including the 1972 live release Rock of Ages). “Don’t Do It” was the encore performed by the Band in their 1976 concert film The Last Waltz, though it was featured first in the film. However, it was not included on the 1978 soundtrack album; the track was included in the 2002 box set edition of The Last Waltz soundtrack. The version of “Don’t Do It” from Rock of Ages was issued as a single reaching #34 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the autumn of 1972; the track was the second – following “Up on Cripple Creek” and final Top 40 single for the Band.
It was a Motown song that was sung by Marvin Gaye to perfection. Then again, perfection is bound to be complimented and even surpassed in some respects. Soul has no color, only feeling. And Levon provided it.
It seemed early last week that there was a race to greet The Grim Reaper. Dick Clark, once touted as “the world’s oldest teenager,” had passed over to where Don Cornelius was no doubt waiting for him. Not only Levon Helm was dying, but one of the brothers Gibb, Robin of the surviving Bee Gees, had fallen into a coma, weakened by liver disease and pneumonia, and the news was not good. However, he has lately come out of the coma after being serenaded, during the watch, by his family and close friends in the hospital. He and Barry had talked about reconstituting The BeeGees, but it may be too late for one last performance.
It was reported that Robbie Robertson spent some time with Levon Helm in his hospital room, and I’d like to think that all that mess and feuding between them was finally put aside for the love of the music and the times that they had had together.
These are some good people passing over. Respect them by playing and appreciating their music. And you can tell that the guys love it so much that it shows in their bodies. You’ll come to notice little things, as I did, watching this video. The brother with his trombone—Earl McIntyre—in the back grooving to the sound before he plays his part. The cameraman showing a rear view of Levon Helm playing his drums and it looks as if he could come out of his seat. They are feeling it and of course, so does the audience. You barely see that kind of thing when you see music being played live these days. Am I wrong?
Bless you, Levon. Come back to us again.
- Fans gather to honor Levon Helm at Woodstock home (pbpulse.com)
- Memorial set for Levon Helm at his Woodstock home (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Fans Gather To Honor The Band’s Levon Helm (huffingtonpost.com)
- The Band’s Levon Helm dies at 71 (radionz.co.nz)
- Levon Helm, drummer and singer with The Band, dies at 71 (rawstory.com)
- The Band’s Levon Helm Dies at 71 (seattlepi.com)