Tuesday, April 6, 2010

An Interesting (But Long) Story

I want to tell an interesting story; interesting to me, at least, since I heard it from a friend and it's about musicians.

My friend, and I'll call him Mr. B here, called Friday to ask if I'd like to meet at our favorite bar for a beer.  Of course I would; that's what friend are for, and I always enjoy spending time with Mr. B.

Mr. B is an interesting guy.  He's a high-powered lobbyist with offices in several of the fifty-seven states as well as in DC.  He's also an amateur musician with a garage band and is a fan of rock and roll.  We're the same age and like the same kinds of music.

We were talking about rock and I mentioned having received an email from my son telling me that Levon Helm is going to play near Chicago this summer and asking whether I'd like to go with him to the concert.  Mr. B's eyes lit up and he said "Let me tell you how I almost met Levon Helm."

Back fifteen years or so, Mr. B's student intern approached him at work and said "Boss, my girlfriend Amy and I are graduating from the U in a couple of weeks.  Amy is a music major and wants to sing for her family and friends, about thirty people, after the graduation ceremony.  She reserved a back room in a bar near campus, but they've canceled the reservation because they expect a large crowd that day.  Would it be okay if Amy sang in your sun room or on your patio instead?"

So Mr. B said "okay", and ordered some food, beer, wine and rented some extra chairs for the event.

On graduation day, after the ceremony, Mr. B's intern and his girlfriend Amy arrive at Mr. B's home.  The intern says "Mr. B, I'd like you to meet my girlfriend, Amy Helm."    Mr. B says "Very nice to meet you, Amy, and congratulations on your graduation."

The intern says "Mr. B, You probably didn't know this, but Amy is Levon Helm's daughter."

Whoa.  Mr. B. asked Amy if her parents were going to be at the party, and Amy explained that her parents had divorced many years ago.  Her mother remarried and would be at the party with her stepfather, but not her dad.

A few minutes later Amy walks up to Mr. B and says "Mr. B, I'd like to introduce you to my mother and my step father, Donald Fagen."  Mr. B damn near passes out.  He's a life-long Steely Dan fan, and here's Donald Fagen in his living room.  The exchange pleasantries and Amy begins to sing.  She sings and plays guitar for an hour and it's wonderful.

Donald Fagen hangs out at the rear of the crowd, shy, not really interacting.  He disappears for a while and goes upstairs where a babysitter is taking care of the B's young children.  Mr. B learns later that Donald Fagen sat on the floor with his kids and sang nursery rhymes.

The Amy Helm concert ends and the guests drift out.  When there are only a few people left, Donald Fagen asks Mr. B if it would be okay to play the B's piano.  Mr. B says okay, and Donald Fagen sits down and plays Steely Dan songs for thirty minutes.  At Mr. B's piano, in Mr. B's family room.

At the end of it, the extended Helm family offers their thanks and everyone leaves.

Two weeks later a FedEx parcel arrives.  It's from Donald Fagen and includes a lovely letter, an autographed picture of Donald Fagen with Mr. and Mrs. B, two tickets to a Steely Dan concert in NYC, several CDs and a photo of Donald Fagen playing piano in the B's family room.

How cool is that?

Here's a great vid of Levon Helm singing "The Weight", a song made popular when Levon was the drummer for The Band.  You'll see Amy Helm singing backup in this vid, right next to Sheryl Crow.  Sing along with the chorus.  You know the words.

You might notice a guitar player who's wearing a fedora.  That's Buddy Miller, one of the best studio musicians in Nashville, or the world for that matter. Buddy has several CDs of his own, some with his wife Julie.  Buy one.  They are exceptional.  Buddy writes and performs "roots" music; music that harkens back to the beginning of country, rock and blues music.  How good is Buddy Miller?  Well, Robert Plant picked him to tour with Plant and Alison Kraus when they toured for the Raising Sand CD (another CD you should own).

Levon Helm has been in declining health of late.  He has suffered two bouts of throat cancer that silenced his voice for quite a few months.  He's touring again this summer, and I hope it doesn't become a "farewell" tour.  If you don't have a recent Levon Helm CD, I suggest "Electric Dirt", another paean to roots music.  The title song "Dirt Farmer" can be viewed on YouTube.

And since part of Mr. B's interesting story is about Donald Fagen, here's a vid of a song you'll no doubt remember.


  1. I've met Donald before, and he was a super nice guy. I actually found him to be very endearing, which may strike people as odd, as it goes completely against the "Steely Dan" persona. At one point, he walked by as I was talking to my parents, and asked if they were my parents, introduced himself, shook their hands, and talked to them for about ten minutes...and this was at a Steely Dan concert! He and Walter Becker are both real class acts.

  2. Loved this!! What a lovely story.

    And welcome, Matthew!

  3. Everything I dreamed Donald Fagen would be and more.

  4. Awesome story. Thats why the music is so good from both bands, they are real people. Go see the Ramble in Woodstock top 10 concert!

  5. I saw, heard, met Levon's band in Woodstock last night. Guess who played keyboard? Uh huh. Donald Fagen. Amazing experience.