Levon Helm was a smoker for much of his life, not a huge surprise for a guy who began playing drums in roadhouse bands when he was still a teenager. Helm, the drummer and a singer for The Band, was hit with throat cancer in the 1990s. While that didn't derail a late resurgence of his solo career, it was complications from cancer that killed him in April. Now Club Passim in Cambridge will honor Helm with a benefit for the American Cancer Society on June 4.
There's no need to repeat here how central Helm was to the sound of The Band, that aura of American rural history that percolated up through its elements of rock and country, barroom and hymnal. He was the only American in the band, renowned as one of its three lead singers ("The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"), a brilliant and understated drummer ("The Weight") and a complicated character who was angry at the way a disproportionate amount of both attention and royalties seemed to accrue to guitarist Robbie Robertson. But the cancer actually begat a great second act to his career, as medical bills led him to began hosting the Midnight Rambles at his Woodstock barn and recording studio in the early 2000s, intimate concerts with many guest stars that led to albums and tours.
Passim regulars including Ryan Fitzsimmons, Danielle Miraglia, Sam Otis Hill, Patrick Coman, Autumn Hollow Band and Steve Mayone will pay tribute, with The Blue Ribbons as the house band. I would not be surprised to hear some of the Band's Americana classics sung by Helm, as well as songs from their longtime collaboration with Bob Dylan, or even some less well-known tracks from Helm's work in the 2000s, like his "Electric Dirt" album.
Tickets for the 7 p.m. show, $12, are available at www.passim.org or by calling (617) 492-7679.