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Levon Helm's Drums

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#1
benisraelthompson

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Does anyone know what drums (and what year they were) Levon used in his heyday? Especially the dark brown snare drum (I think he used it in The Last Waltz). And what is that made of? I love the tone of his snare drum.
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#2
dwludzild

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WOW..........I was thinking about posting this the other day as well. Levon was no "GEAR" guy. He would use tape, towels, pillows, single headed bass drums or whatever else he wanted to do to get his sound. I doubt if his kits would be good enough for most of the folks on any of these drum forums. He would also ride his crash and crash his ride.

I think the brown kit was Slingerland. The black diamond pearl kit was Ludwig. He also used a Classic Maple Ludwig kit in "new" black oyster on the 1989 Ringo tour. His last kit at the studio and live was natural maple Slingerlands.
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#3
thin shell

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I believe the BDP kit was a round badge gretsch.

The brown single tension with maple wood hoops can be seen with a big Ludwig on the front of the bass drum in this video.

the weight
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#4
dwludzild

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Thanks for adding that info. I was wrong about two out of the four kits I talked about.
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#5
5 Style

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WOW..........I was thinking about posting this the other day as well. Levon was no "GEAR" guy. He would use tape, towels, pillows, single headed bass drums or whatever else he wanted to do to get his sound. I doubt if his kits would be good enough for most of the folks on any of these drum forums. He would also ride his crash and crash his ride.


I thought that everyone... or at least lots of folks do that. I know that I do. Not so much crashing the ride, but definitely a lot of riding the crash. If I play my 18" crash close to the bell it isn't so washy and if I play it closer to the edge it's more of a Keith Moon kind of sound, for want I want that effect. I go for getting as many sounds out of just a few pieces of gear as I can.... and I guess that Levon felt the same way about it.

As far as Levon's gear... Like some others have said, he really didn't seem like much of a gear nut. I read his autobiography not long ago and I don't remember much about his gear choices. Not much about in there about his approach to drumming either. Books like that tend to be more memoirs, more about the lives and less about the work. I think that perhaps folks like Levon are worried that they'd loose too many readers if they go into to much detail about the art of what they do... and that's too bad. Great book anyway though. I do vaguely remember that he had a kit outfitted with wood hoops and such to look old and so it wasn't Civil War era gear repurposed for a drum set. He may have had some of that stuff too, but admittedly I'm fuzzy on the details.

Edited by 5 Style, 24 April 2012 - 12:42 PM.

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#6
FloydZKing

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I tried figuring all this out a few years ago and got pretty close. He played on regulation gear in his later career (and died a Gretsch endorser), but here are the interesting ones.

The snare is the main perpetrator in his unique/antique sound. No idea what the model is, but it's 20s/30s american in 4x15 (maybe 4x14) and has wood hoops, lots of single-tension lug rows and sports calf heads and gut snares. Whatever the drum is, that SOUND is a product of those 4 main things : Calf, gut, wood hoops and single-tension. He almost certainly put his wallet on there too.

The OLD drums he used in the early 70s seem to be a mis-matched assemblage of single-tension drums from the 30s era. I've never divined from pics whether they are Lud, Sling or Leedy. This set has a 14x28 BD, apparently with calf heads. The rack tom is a 10x14 marching snare converted. The floor toms look to be tenor drums or larger snares, probably 12x15 and 14x16. I've seen more modern FTs substituted in spots.

The drums in the soundstage songs from Last Waltz are a mix of his older set and 2 modern b/o Ludwigs (possibly rented for the video shoot) added in - the BD and the 9x13. The 9x13 is a "Cub," Ludwig's cheapest juvenile snare. I've never seen a clear side view of the BD, but it appears to match the Cub, both mid-70s single-tension b/o drums - the very cheapest in the catalogue.

The BDP set he played live for the Last Waltz is a roundbadge Gretsch, looks like 20/13/16. He is playing his older snare though, as described above. FWIW, I believe that he recorded just about everything with this Gretsch set, excepting the old snare, which is heard on much of his work. Also pretty sure that these older drums (found in a pawn shop) don't appear until the second album. Big Pink sounds like all Gretsch and on "I Shall Be Released" you can clearly hear him strumming his 42-strand Gretsch snares wires. Try it with a 20-strand and you'll see it's true. You won't be able to get that duration/rate with regular wires.

Edited by FloydZKing, 24 April 2012 - 12:37 PM.

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#7
4164SB

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Along with Ginger Baker's, Levon's instructional video is a favorite!


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#8
sillyilly

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Along with Ginger Baker's, Levon's instructional video is a favorite!



WOW!

he always sounds like himself, no matter what drums he plays.
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#9
plemon1

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The Black diamond kit is a late 50's RB Gretsch kit he got them new when he joined up with Ronnie Hawkins and went up to Canada for the first time. the Ludwig kit on 'The Weight' was a rental, along with the crazy-cool Gibson harp guitar Robbie was playing (they filmed that song on a Hollywood sound stage). Not sure about the other vintage single tension/marching pieces.
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#10
drumnhands

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Levon was a Yamaha drum artist from 1978 until he moved to Slingerland a few years ago. It was my understanding that there was supposed to be a signature kit Slingerlnd kit built for him but I don't know if that ever materialized, Slingerlnd dissapeared shortly after he made the move. I don't remember exactly when he made this last move.
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#11
4164SB

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#12
4164SB

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It was my understanding that there was supposed to be a signature kit Slingerlnd kit built for him but I don't know if that ever materialized, Slingerlnd dissapeared shortly after he made the move. I don't remember exactly when he made this last move.


He was playing Nashville Slingerlands until late 2009 early 2010 and then Gretsch.
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#13
Keeper John

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This is the house Gretsch kit he used at his Midnight Rambles.

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#14
BennyK

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In person :

Ludwig / Gretsch mongrel kit. 22 13 16 ( BDP)with a six lug gretsch wood snare ( 5") - early 80's with the Cate Bros.

Yamaha 24 14 18 honey amber varnished at his club in New Orleans ...

Ludwig 6ply classic maple 22 13 16 ( blue wood grain, probably rentals from Steve's Music here in Ottawa)- early 90's

Gretsch wood snares with both of the above, always a 5 incher...

Never seen him with the wood hoop Ludwigs, only on film.

20 12 14 16 Slingy's with a matching 6.5 snare.

Never more than two cymbals.Left side ride 18" with rivets, right side ?, don't know. He augmented to 4 cymbals with the Slingerlands .

Edited by BennyK, 24 April 2012 - 05:31 PM.

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#15
benisraelthompson

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In person :

Ludwig / Gretsch mongrel kit. 22 13 16 ( BDP)with a six lug gretsch wood snare ( 5") - early 80's with the Cate Bros.

Yamaha 24 14 18 honey amber varnished at his club in New Orleans ...

Ludwig 6ply classic maple 22 13 16 ( blue wood grain, probably rentals from Steve's Music here in Ottawa)- early 90's

Gretsch wood snares with both of the above, always a 5 incher...

Never seen him with the wood hoop Ludwigs, only on film.

20 12 14 16 Slingy's with a matching 6.5 snare.

Never more than two cymbals.Left side ride 18" with rivets, right side ?, don't know. He augmented to 4 cymbals with the Slingerlands .



This is awesome, thanks! Any ideas what the Gretsch snares might be made of?
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#16
BennyK

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In person :

Ludwig / Gretsch mongrel kit. 22 13 16 ( BDP)with a six lug gretsch wood snare ( 5") - early 80's with the Cate Bros.

Yamaha 24 14 18 honey amber varnished at his club in New Orleans ...

Ludwig 6ply classic maple 22 13 16 ( blue wood grain, probably rentals from Steve's Music here in Ottawa)- early 90's

Gretsch wood snares with both of the above, always a 5 incher...

Never seen him with the wood hoop Ludwigs, only on film.

20 12 14 16 Slingy's with a matching 6.5 snare.

Never more than two cymbals.Left side ride 18" with rivets, right side ?, don't know. He augmented to 4 cymbals with the Slingerlands .



This is awesome, thanks! Any ideas what the Gretsch snares might be made of?



Wood, with a wad o' something taped near the rim.
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#17
benisraelthompson

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haha!
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#18
BennyK

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The older Gretsch, like the 6 lugger, would have been the thinner Jasper shell...I think.
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#19
Sonorholic

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I think if you look closely that the wood hoop Ludwig kit, they seem to be made up of budget marching drums and might not have been so 'old'. Somehow I seem to remember seeing B/O badges on 'em.

Look in a ludwig catalog and you'll see what I'm talking about.
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#20
4164SB

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In person :
Never seen him with the wood hoop Ludwigs, only on film.
Never more than two cymbals.


Here's 2 vids of him playing a wood hoop set (not the movie prop) and a 3 cymbal set up.




Edited by 4164SB, 24 April 2012 - 07:37 PM.

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