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This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band [Paperback]

Levon Helm , Stephen Davis
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 1 2000
The Band, who backed Bob Dylan when he went electric in 1965 and then turned out a half-dozen albums of beautifully crafted, image-rich songs, is now regarded as one of the most influential rock groups of the '60s. But while their music evoked a Southern mythology, only their Arkansawyer drummer, Levon Helm, was the genuine article. From the cotton fields to Woodstock, from seeing Sonny Boy Williamson and Elvis Presley to playing for President Clinton, This Wheel’s on Fire replays the tumultuous history of our times in Levon’s own unforgettable folksy drawl. This edition is expanded with a new afterword by the authors.

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From Publishers Weekly

Arkansas-born Helm, drummer for classic-rock outfit The Band, and Davis ( Fleetwood ) here present a down-home account of the quintet's development. Whereas Barney Hoskyns's recent Across the Great Divide: The Band and America (Nonfiction Forecasts, June 7) portrayed the group as aesthetes squirreled away in Woodstock, N.Y., this firsthand chronicle highlights earthier episodes: the musicians' lowbrow rockabilly antics in Canada and the South, their incarnation as Bob Dylan's much-maligned backup band in the '60s and guitarist Robbie Robertson's estrangement from them in the late '70s. While Hoskyns quotes Robertson almost exclusively, the guitarist is rarely heard from here. Helm denounces notions that he and his fellows were smug: "Calling it The Band seemed a little on the pretentious, even blowhard side--burdened by greatness--but we never intended it that way." Although Helm and Davis open on the predictable downbeat--band member Richard Manuel's suicide--they close positively, with kind words from Dylan and the hope of a comeback. Of the two books, this plainspoken effort proves less dry and doesn't put its subjects on too high a pedestal. Photos not seen by PW .
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

Enjoyable history of a seminal late-60's rock group, told by the group's drummer with the help of Davis (coauthor, Fleetwood, 1990, etc.). The Band were an anomaly among groups of the era: Neither psychedelic nor commercial, their music harked back to the folk and blues roots of rock 'n' roll--and band members even looked like they'd just stepped out of a tintype. Working in seclusion in Woodstock, New York, with their sometime employer Bob Dylan, the group crafted a music that eerily captured the spirit of America's past. Here, Helm draws on his own memories of this heady time, along with interviews with surviving Band-men (other than Robbie Robertson, with whom he's had a nasty falling out), to give a fairly honest appraisal of the music and the times. Unlike some other celebrity rock-star memoirists, Helm doesn't concentrate on the sex and drugs that seem to be an integral part of any legitimate rock memoir, but describes as well the making of each album and the genesis of the songs. He also gives a scathing portrait of the making of The Last Waltz, the film of the group's last megaconcert, given in 1976--a film in which, Helm says, director Martin Scorsese glorified Robertson to the detriment of the group's other members. Helm's folksy manner can grate (``Memory lane can be a pretty painful address at times''); overall, though, a readable and evenhanded account that will appeal to Band fans and 60's nostalgists (though Barney Hoskyns's Across the Great Divide, p. 643, covers much of the same ground). (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs--not seen) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The trouble with autobiographies - especially rock star autobiographies - is that it's entirely too easy for the author to leave out information s/he is uncomfortable with. There is also a risk of turning your memoirs into a case of dirty laundry. Both of these problems surface at some points in this otherwise excellent memoir of one of the best and most fascinating bands of the rock era.
There is no doubt that Helm is the genuine article when it comes to rock and roll music. Born in rural Arkansas just before World War II, he grew up in the epicenter of the land and time that spawned the genre. The early chapters, with his accounts of rock's emergence and his early involvement with the new music as a teenager, are among the book's strongest moments. It is, after all, a story that needs to be told, given the fact that the radio and the rock press alike have been ignoring for decades the ongoing influence of the 1950s on post-Beatles rock. You'll never ignore it again after reading Helm's priceless accounts of toiling across the South and Midwest, backing up rockabilly great Ronnie Hawkins. Few others could offer the glimpses of that era that Helm does.
The evolution of Hawkins' band from a collection of Arkansas country boys to an all-Canadian (except for Helm) outfit was an unlikely one, but his account humanizes it all remarkably well. There could be more information on the Band's "lean years" - roughly 1963-65 - after their involvement with Hawkins and before Bob Dylan stepped in, and Dylan himself is as enigmatic as ever even in the memory of one who knew him; but then again, this was the least productive stretch of their long career.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Levon Helm tells the story of The Band beautifully and sincerely. This is a book about friends more than it is a book about a band. I had always heard that Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson have grown to hate each other. After reading this book I really don't think this is the case. Although Levon sounds a bit angry at times when referring to Robbie (often calling him "Robertson"), his words carry the tone of hurt feelings (of someone who misses one of his best friends) more than they do of anything even remotely close to hatred. This book has all of the great road and recording stories but the best part is the story that is told in between. Imagine a band that lives and creates together for the greater part of thirty some years. It is something that (unfortunately) you don't see anymore (imagine N'sync living in a small house together and writing songs in the basement!!!). Levon Helm had four best friends, three of which he lost to either death or lawyers and Hollywood. This is the story you will hear him tell. If everyone bought a copy of this book and gave it to the youngest musician they know, there might be some hope for the future of popular music.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great read! July 25 2007
At this point, I don't think Stephen Davis is capable of writing a bad rock n' roll book. This is another great example of Davis' ability to coax recollections, view points, and details out of willing story tellers.

As far as a previous reviewers comments about Helm's drug use admissions; I think he must have this book confused with Motley Crue's "The Dirt". The book doesn't really touch on drug use much at all.

Be aware that this book is definitely from the perspective of Levon Helm. Why wouldn't it be? It was not written by The Band. It was written by Levon. Some people might not like what they read in this book, but at least it's honest. Yes, there appears to have been some childish disagreements among the band members, but you have to remember these guys were rock stars! Most of them didn't have to "grow up" the same way most people have. Most of them have never even had a real job.

Bottom line, if you're interested in what happened behind the scenes with The Band, you'll probably enjoy this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read by a great drummer Dec 31 2011
By Stix
Levon Helm was the American member of the great 1960s band, The Band. In this autobiography he shares his perspective on the formation, development and great success, and then break up of the group.

He has some harsh words for band mate Robbie Robertson - mostly due to the fact that Robertson received sole songwriting credit for a lot of material that was created as a result of the active collaboration of all the members. He also hates The Band's famous film, The Last Waltz, and he reveals that most of the tracks had to be redone after the event because the original sound quality was so poor.

There are some great stories about being on the road as a travelling musician. Helm still tours doing what he loves, and he's a great drummer. You'll want to spend some time listening to The Band's music after reading this very engaging and well crafted book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars This Wheel's on Fire Nov. 15 2000
By A Customer
I thought this book was very entertaining and seemed to be somewhat fair handed. I did take exception with the reader from Berkely, CA who cautions us to "not take it for gospel" as if he knows the inside truth. I do not take everything Levon says for gospel but at least he was there and knew the other members for 20+ years. How long has the reviewer been in personal contact with Levon to certify him an "old coot"?
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent
The book is a look inside the inner workings of a legendary band,no punches are pulled here,Levon was one of a kind.
Published 11 months ago by anthony lewis
5.0 out of 5 stars read it!
wicked read. would recomend this book to anyone. it is a wonderfully written stories straight from the horses mouth. cool pictures too!
Published 18 months ago by Neila
1.0 out of 5 stars still waiting
2 weeks past end of expected delivery period, sorry not from these guys again.I am only reviewing the reliability of the delivery...still haven't seen the item!
Published on Oct. 12 2011 by rob
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book!
Very informative and great insight about The Band. Is a little bias but he seems down to earth and was great!
Published on Feb. 12 2009 by Jeffrey Rice
1.0 out of 5 stars The grand realization of what was under Neil Young's nose
Let's get one thing straight: I don't have anything against drug-taking rock stars (are there any other kind? Read more
Published on Nov. 20 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Laughed out loud!!!!
Although Levon Helm's anger very apparent this is one of the funniest books I've read. His story telling is great.
Published on Nov. 8 2003 by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars the book of the band
i would have liked to have seen a contribution by robbie included and some reflection from richard. levon's time away is moved thru too quickly when he was away. Read more
Published on Sept. 20 2002 by William D. Tompkins
5.0 out of 5 stars If You're A Fan of The BAND, There's No Doubt...
...you must read this book.
Levon's down-home personality floods every page, and makes you wish you'd known him and his family growing up. Read more
Published on July 19 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars this wheels on fire
Levon Helms story of the band is more american history than just a rock and roll war story . he spins a tale that takes you to the delta and all over our world . Read more
Published on Dec 12 2001 by Paul F. Schmitz
5.0 out of 5 stars 'You are there' accounts of on-the-road touring
This Wheel's On Fire provides the story of the Band, with participant Levon Helm using his memoir to tell how the and evolved from Southern rock roots to become a mainstay of... Read more
Published on March 3 2001 by Midwest Book Review
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