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Levon Helm with Stephen Davis: This Wheel's on Fire

Levon Helm and the Story of The Band

[cover art - 1st ed.]   [cover art - 2nd ed.]

[Cover 1st ed.] [Cover 2nd ed.] [Back cover 2nd ed.]

If D.W. Griffith's movie was called Birth of a Nation, this book should be called Death of a Nation. Torrid and timeless, explodes in the pure Dixie Delta dialect of rockabilly, the back beat of America, the entire landscape - wisdom and humour roaring off of every page, expertly written by one of the true heroes of my generation. You've got to read this!
--Bob Dylan


"One of the most insightful and intelligent rock bios in recent memory."
--Entertainment Weekly

"The story is astounding, the telling is wickedly funny, and Helm's take on Robbie Robertson is caustic enought to melt rust."
--Modern Drummer

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 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.
--From Publishers Weekly, 1993

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 covers much of the same ground).
--Kirkus Reviews, 1993

Levon Helm and Stephen Davis wrote an addition to "This Wheels On Fire" in 1999/ 2000, a new chapter about Levon's daughter Amy, his blues band The Barn Burners, health problems, Rick Danko and a few other topics. This was added to the new edition of the book, published in September 2000.

Levon Helm and Stephen Davis: This Wheel's on Fire - 320 pages - William Morrow & Co. 1993 - ISBN 0-688-14070-X
2nd edition September 2000, Chicago Review Press, ISBN 1-556-52405-6, 328 pages.

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