Levon’s Drums: Sliding to a Different Tonality

Robbie Robertson: I wrote The Weight in late 1967 in a house I was renting in Woodstock, N.Y.

The Band…had already written enough songs for Music From Big Pink. But I wanted one more as a fallback, just in case.

Our drummer and singer Levon Helm had just returned after spending nearly two years away from the music business. I wanted to write a song that Levon could sing better than anyone in the world.

As the song’s words came to me, I wrote them on my portable typewriter. I got used to typing lyrics from Bob [Dylan]. I never saw him write anything with a pen or pencil. He’d make little corrections on his typed pages, but everything he wrote initially went through his typewriter.

The-Band-at-instrumentsThere was no magic to this process. It was just that Bob knew how to type. He had taken typing in school.

When the Band got together to rehearse at Big Pink in late ’67, I had a basic chord structure, a melody and words. I taught that to everybody. At some point during rehearsals, I stumbled across Levon adjusting his drumheads and the sounds they made. I had him loosen the heads so when he hit them, the sould would slide to another tonality.

We recorded The Weight in early 1968 at New York’s A&R Studios. We set up in a circle. We couldn’t record in isolation booths with headphones — we needed  to look at each other and lock in. We were used to sitting around playing together in Big Pink’s living room and basement, and hearing everybody at once.

Source: The Weight by the Band’s Robbie Robertson, by Marc Myers, Nov. 29, 2016, Wall Street Journal

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