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This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  2,756 Ratings  ·  202 Reviews
The Band, who backed Bob Dylan when he went electric in 1965 and then turned out a half-dozen albums of beautifully crafted, image-rich songs, is now regarded as one of the most influential rock groups of the '60s. But while their music evoked a Southern mythology, only their Arkansawyer drummer, Levon Helm, was the genuine article. From the cotton fields to Woodstock, fro ...more
Paperback, 328 pages
Published September 1st 2000 by Chicago Review Press (first published 1993)
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Sutter Lee I just finished reading Robbie Robertson's "Testimony". Altho Levon is the one who always had my heart, Robbie claims he always shared writing credit…moreI just finished reading Robbie Robertson's "Testimony". Altho Levon is the one who always had my heart, Robbie claims he always shared writing credit with all members of The Band. Near the end, everyone except Levon said they wanted to sell Robbie their writing credit rights (according to Robbie), and Levon was still waffling, altho, again, according to Robbie, Levon was not a songwriter. I just ordered Levon's book. Robbie seems sincere in his love for Levon, his best friend.(less)

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Michelle
Jun 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This had been on my personal to-read list for a while, just as my goal of attending one of Levon's Midnight Rambles had (I'd gone as far as to decide that this year, 2012, would be The Year I would make it happen), when the possibility of experiencing either while Levon's smile raged on suddenly vanished.

It was a few weeks after he'd died before I was finally able to open to the first page, sitting on the L train on my way to work - I don't think I will ever forget the experience of reading thos
...more
Zach
Jan 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
I'll always take Levon's word over Robbie's.
Nate
Dec 14, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: music
I was listening to The Basement Tapes today and remembered that I read this one a few years ago. Helm goes into his early life and time with Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan and of course the Band. I can't imagine someone being a huge Ronnie Hawkins fan in 2014, but the people who are into Dylan's legendary folkie-infuriating 65-66 shows/tours (see the Electric Dylan controversy) and the solo Band albums should seek this out, as it's a valuable resource. Most of the other dudes in the...Band come out l ...more
Bryan
Feb 04, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book. Helm said he had the best seat in the house as drummer for the The Band and his memoir shows it. Helm had a southern upbringing and was steeped in music and cotton farming. The Band always seemed southern to me, but I learned they were all Canadians, except for Helm. But Helm has enough southern boy to make up the balance. You get a good sense of how the band developed, the ups and downs, the personalities. Bob Dylan comes off as something of a strange, almost mythic figure ...more
Silvio111
Jul 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
One of the best music memoirs I have read. Levon Helm has a great attitude about the ups and downs of his career with The Band. The biggest mystery is- if he truly did spend so many years drinking and using drugs and travelling on the road, carousing, and staying up until all hours every night playing music with The Band, how in the world can he remember so many details going all the way back to the late 50s? Perhaps he was an obsessive diarist, although it does not seem to be his nature. Well, ...more
Julie Mickens
I was not expecting this to be a page-turner, but it totally was. I couldn't put it down once I got started. Levon is hilarious and very heart-felt.
Anne
Jun 05, 2012 rated it really liked it


Levon Helm was truly a national treasure when he died this past spring. Born into a cotton farming family near Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, he found that music could be his ticket out of this tedious work. As a young teen he and his sister Linda earned cash and renown playing and singing at local venues. While still a teen, local legend Ronnie Hawkins took him into his band, the Hawks, and through him Levon discovered the lucrative Northern circuit of Ontario, Canada. It was here that Hawkins put
...more
Wlwarner
Oct 18, 2010 rated it liked it
Ever wonder who those people are hanging around with Bob Dylan on the cover of the John Wesley Harding album? Levon has the answer, along with a number of other puzzling tidbits, such as what the hell was Neil Diamond doing at The Last Waltz, anyway? The writing in This Wheel's On Fire is fairly uneven, not that there's much "writing" in it to begin with: Most of the text seems to consist of the transcripts of tape recordings cobbled into a narrative. These quotations tend to be lengthy at times ...more
Alison
Sep 16, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Definitely to be read with a grain of salt. This is 100% Levon Helm's take on The Band, and his schism with Robbie Robertson really comes through. I got frustrated with Helm's self-flattery a little bit but when it comes down to it he really is one of the best out there, and this book is pretty much requisite for any Band fan.
Richard O'Neill
Dec 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fantastic read. I've never been a rabid The Band fan, but Levon Helm's book made me want to hear all of their music. If you like music or just want a great read I highly recommend this.
Kye Plant
Feb 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Makes me wish I had never paid money to see Robbie Robertson speak on his most recent book tour and read this first.
Lucas Beatty
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
I decided to read "This Wheel's on Fire" after having read Robbie Robertson's "Testimony." The two pieces work as interesting counterpoints. While Robertson comes off as the ultimate hero in his story, Helm has a different story to tell.

I thought Helm's writing was entertaining - a real backwoods, country style of story telling. It made for an enjoyable read. I enjoyed learning about the early parts of Helm's life in Arkansas, working the cotton fields.

He definitely has a chip on his shoulder re
...more
Baylee
Aug 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: i-own-this-book
I really liked this book. I liked how it felt like Levon was talking right to you about his life and The Band. Some parts were a little slow for me, but ultimately it was fun to read his life from beginning to end. I also really liked the updated ending. Levon seems like such a happy-go-lucky country boy and I really liked how humble he was. Most rockers aren't. He wasn't the best writer of all time, but I enjoyed knowing the story of The Band.
Bliss
Mar 13, 2012 rated it liked it
A compelling read, not least because Levon shares some colorful stories of The Band's early experiences with the likes of Ronnie Hawkins and Sonny Boy Williamson. But it's impossible to ignore the ax he's trying to bury in Robbie Robertson. Deserved or not, this would be a better book if he had kept that animus off the page.
Bern J
Jun 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Great insights into what it's like living in a legendary band.
It's a Peter Pan existence that sure has it's downside.
Rick
Nov 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best rock and roll memoirs I have read. Just read the damn thing, will you?
Mike
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fun
The only downside to this book is that it sort of ruins watching The Last Waltz for me. But the rest is upside.

Turns out Levon Helm is the most American person the 20th century has ever had the decency to spew out. He's basically a personification of the Heartland, writing in the same voice he sings in. Helm has stories to tell, plenty of them, but I fell in love with this autobiography as soon as I realized he didn't have a "story" to tell -- no agenda, no pretentious theme, just a guy who was
...more
Pris robichaud
Jan 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing

Best Notify My Next Of Kin, This Wheel's About To Explode, 21 Mar 2007




"If your mem'ry serves you well
You'll remember you're the one
That called on me to call on them
To get you your favors done
And after ev'ry plan had failed
And there was nothing more to tell
You knew that we would meet again
If your mem'ry serves you well
This wheel's on fire
Rolling down the road
Best notify my next of kin
This wheel shall explode "
Lyrics to 'This Wheel's On Fire' Bob Dylan

'The Band' "They were grown men
...more
Noah Dropkin
Nov 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So glad I read this. The Band’s journey wasn’t always smooth or free of friction and acrimony. But they were witness to the formative years of rock and roll which was a great scene portrayed in Levon’s memoir; probably my favorite part of the story.

I really became aware of The Band when I was 17, though of course knew songs like The Weight and The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down from childhood. My awareness began after seeing The Last Waltz. Fascinating to read about that and how the band portr
...more
Evan Kirby
Aug 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Every story has a thousand sides, and this is Levon's take of the history of The Band. Not surprisingly, he's quite bitter about it all (most specifically about Robbie Robertson) and it honestly comes off annoying after awhile as the book just ends up seeming like his outlet just to complain about everything at every chance he gets. There's also a weird thing where it's his autobiography, but there's a ton of quotes from other people and band members reminiscing or telling their side of a partic ...more
Naomi Krokowski
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Levon Helm was a rascal, a true storyteller, and grateful all his life that music was his living instead of cotton farming in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas. His humble beginnings and loving family helped him survive the excesses of rock stardom and betrayal by his teenage cohort and fellow Band member Robbie Robertson. The losses of his other band mates entirely too young (Richard Manuel of suicide at 42, Rick Danko of a heart attack at 56) have colored Helm's views understandably as well.
I grew up
...more
Steve Schrader
Nov 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well I read both this and Robbie Robertson’s book. Liked both. This was simpler and chronologically told the history better. Based more on Levon’s style I suppose. He also went forward to 2013 and covered the deaths of the Band members unlike Robbie.

I understand the issues he had with Robbie and the Last Waltz but at the same time he didn’t put in any effort to writing where Robbie did. Was Robbie more stat struck and a name dropper no doubt but at the same time Levon left The Band himself for
...more
Rick Bayko
Jul 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Lately I've been immersed in books by and about members of The Band. Great to read about the special bond among the five members that made for some timeless music. Also troubling to read about the self-abuse with drugs, alcohol and other relationships. I wish I had seen them in person, but thank goodness for Youtube so that I can watch videos of them whenever I want.
Peter Moreira
Oct 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Second time I've read this. I read it this time because I just read Robbie Robertson's book and wanted a reminder of what Helm had said. I love the story of The Band and am fascinated on where they disagree. Helm tells a great story and, as always, brings that raging Southern fury to everything he does.
Michael
May 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
via NYPL - One of the best rock n' roll memoirs. Helm's storytelling voice is completely authentic with his speaking voice, a down-home storyteller who just wants to make music and share it with the whoever will listen.
Bo Olsen
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found this to be a great rock n roll tale that I just flew through. I took in three of their concerts and have all their records, but this book takes you on the real journey from Levon's point of view which is rather interesting and plays out a rock n roll life.
Charlie Wiener
Oct 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Qquite a read, heartbreaking in it's honesty, well, told and sad how it all fell apart. But that is the world of music and this is a fantastic tale, Highly recommend
Paul Basile
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Thoroughly enjoyed this bio by the late, great Levon Helm. Playing the music in the background, as one is reading, makes the story come to life.
Brett Rohlwing
Oct 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Better than Robbie's book.
Gerald Jerome
Aug 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The history of The Band as well as Levon Helm intertwined in one retelling. Levon's own personality leaps from the black and white pages through his folksy manner of narration. The basics are all there and by the end of the book you're sure to have a greater depth of knowledge concerning the evolution of what came to be known as The Band.

Even so, there are some moments where you're not sure if the emotional attachment Levon had to The Band and its members doesn't blur some of the picture. It's c
...more
Phil Doherty
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
From the cotton fields of Turkey Scratch, Arkansas to the snow and ice of Ontario, from the early days of Rock 'n Roll to jamming with Eric Clapton and Ron Wood, Levon Helm and the Band dominated the World music scene with a style of music that mixed traditional world folk music with the blues of the African slaves.
Levon Helm originally published this autobiography in 1993, when he was 53 years old and his heart and mindset was that of a troubadour, travelling well worn roads and playing the sig
...more
Brent Wilson
Jun 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
An amazing ride-

Took me awhile to get hooked - past Levon's growing-up years in Arkansas. Once the road band took shape, backing Ronnie Hawkins, I got hooked.

Levon - the only US American in the bunch (the rest were added as Hawkins toured Canada) - was the de facto leader of what was really was a backup band (to Ronnie Hawkins and then to Bob Dylan). Maybe 'anti-leader' is a better term, because they wanted to be leaderless. Levon's candor and vigor and intelligence are apparent - quite a guy.

Fi
...more
Colleen O'Neill Conlan
May 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bio-memoir
I got this book for my husband. He loved it and kept sharing bits from it, so I read it as soon as he turned the last page. It's part memoir, part rock-and-roll tell-all, part cautionary tale, and part insider's view of "the business." It sounds like it comes straight from Levon's lips, an Arkansas boy's telling of how it all went down, how I'd imagine he'd sound if he was telling it while sitting at his own kitchen table. I love The Band, and I loved The Last Waltz, and it was hard to read of H ...more
Jamie Beckett
Feb 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
In fairness, I practically idolize Levon Helm. He struck me as the heart and soul of The Band in the same way Keith Richards pumps the bluesy rock 'n roll blood that makes the Rolling Stones such an iconic band. Levon's history is an American success story, from farm boy, to wild man, to broke, to unbreakable. His unrepentant joy at the prospect of playing music for a living, for living and working with his friends, for being involved in a party that just never stops and isn't supposed to until ...more
Spiros
May 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Rock and Roll hearts
A great, dizzying account of The Band's scaling of the heights, and their rather abrupt descent. Levon delivers a suspenseful introduction for all of the pivotal figures (Ronnie Hawkins, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, Bob Dylan) to walk onto the stage, and the excitement of The Band's development is palpable.
Inevitably, the drugs, booze, and years spent on the road cause fractures to manifest themselves, even in this tightest knit group. Even from Levon's perspective
...more
Rohit Sudarshan
Nov 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: music
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dawn Lennon
Dec 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autobiography, music
When a group of musicians stay together as a band for some 16 years, that's saying something about the members as people, as committed artists, as friends, and as owners of the standards that they set. That's a rarity and this book reveals how The Band did it. Told through the lens of Levon Helm, there is, of course, his leaning but there is also plenty of input from the other band members and those affiliated with it, including significant others, intimate or not.

It is a book about the evolutio
...more
Graham Tennyson
Jun 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
As Bob Dylan said, 'You've got to read this'. This is a great book. If you are at all interested in American music this book tells a tale that draws much of it together. Interestingly, The Band (like The Beatles) started out playing a different type of music to the music that made them famous. However, the roots were the same. Helm takes us through his early years and through his time as the 'root' in the band up to his later years. He tells it like it is, with an honesty that is sometimes bruta ...more
Bill Donhiser
Aug 10, 2014 rated it liked it
Just like Michelle this has been on my to read list for quite a while. Unlike her, I started this before making a trip to Woodstock to see a Midnight Ramble. For whatever reason I did not get around to finishing it before the trip but attending a Midnight Ramble was a highlight of my concert experiences. I am really sorry he is not around to experience it again. I enjoyed this book as a longtime Levon fan but have to say it is difficult to read and requires quite a bit of determination to slog t ...more
Robin
Dec 18, 2016 rated it liked it
I bought this book when it came out, out of my great and enduring love for The Band, but didn't get around to reading it till now. I decided I'd read it before I read Robbie Robertson's book, as they seem to have varying memories of a lot of things. Based on this book, Levon was a charmer -- and I know he was talented and shares responsibility for a lot of music that I love -- but this book is rather less than satisfying. He skimps on the reflection and seems to pick heroes and villains out of t ...more
Martin
Jan 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have mixed feelings about this book. I loved the story of a poor kid who makes it big through a love of music. Loved it. He does a great job painting a picture of being a poor or maybe lower-lower middle class Arkansas farmer.

I felt that Levon is not a fully honest writer, because he did not answer:
-How did years of hard drug abuse affect him and his bandmates? Is that why Danko died so young?
-Levon and Robbie were best friends who fell out. Levon does not write enough about his 1:1 relationsh
...more
Ken
Oct 22, 2011 rated it liked it
Levon Helm documents the stellar career of the musical group which truly exemplifies and celebrates the quintessential American musical experience, yet they just happened to erupt out of Canada. And, after more than a decade of playing the circuit both in the US and Canada, they became, "overnight sensations", as Dylan's sidemen. This rock biography is much more than an expanded Wikipedia entry, and after you finish the book you really gain an insight into the band.

I was amazed to find that Roy
...more
Eileen
Before I read this book I had heard of "The Band" and the movie "The Last Waltz", but didn't know much about them. When I heard that a film will be made about "The Band" and Robert Pattinson, who I adore, will play a role (don't know which one) in it, I decided to gather some information and stumbled on this book.

It's an insightful and sometimes funny biography written by one of the members of "The Band", Levon Helm. The book was about everything I expected it to be; sex, drugs and country-rock
...more
Beatles24
Dec 16, 2009 rated it liked it
When you start thinking like I do that Bob Dylan is about as close to God as anyone can get you read any book that has one of his songs for a title. Levon Helm, the much acclaimed drummer for The Band and uber story teller, is part of the Bob is God club and writes one of the most rip roaring memoirs of life in the Rock N’Roll world. The book is a veritable tour de force into the rich history of early blues and folk music (Did you know Sonny Boy Williamson played with his harmonica fully in his ...more
Bill S.
Jul 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music-musicians
I have always loved the music of The Band so it was a bitter sweet trip down memory lane reading Helm's book. His early years growing up in Arkansas and some of the people he knew at that point in his life make for entertaining reading.

The stories Helm tells about his time making music with local musicians down south and then hooking up with the legendary Ronnie Hawkins contain some laugh out loud moments. But, obviously, the book becomes most interesting for me when Helm details the trials and
...more
Job van der Kooij
Apr 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Having just finished This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band, words cannot express how much I enjoyed reading this superb document of musical wisdom and personal narrative. Compared to Across the Great Divide: The Band and America, Levon Helm's book stands as the more emotional and straighforward approach to The Band's history.

Barney Hoskyns probably tried to create a biography as balanced as possible (with this I mean not siding to either Robbie Robertson's version of The Ba
...more
Larry
May 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
From dive bars and frat house parties to backing Bob Dylan and headlining at Woodstock and playing massive outdoor arenas, Levon Helm as a member of the legendary Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks and eventually The Band was at the birth of rock and roll in the 1950s and then the glory days of the late 1960s and early '70s. Levon came out of rural Arkansas and took a long, strange trip to musical stardom as Rolling Stone magazine wrote "the best drummer in rock and roll." When I first heard The Band' ...more
Bob
Feb 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
I'm up to 1960 and Robbie Robertson has just joined the Hawks - history is forming. As rock band histories go, it favors the details of every fist-fight with a crooked promoter over sexual profligacy - too much of any such detail wears thin.

Finished this - Levon is rather bitter about Robbie Robertson (you probably won't be surprised to hear). It has always been clear that regardless of the songwriting credits, the Band's group synergy has been amply demonstrated by the failure of any of their s
...more
Brian
Jun 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Brian by: Steve Turcott
"This Wheel's on Fire" presents an alternate version of the history of The Band from what many be familiar with through Martin Scorsese's film, "The Last Waltz." While it is certainly true that there is more than one side to every story, Helm's voice sounds authentic, and his version of events is convincing.

Even though the group's history, especially their early history as the Hawks, indicates a fairly central role for Helm, the book is never self-aggrandizing. He is loathe to present the group
...more
Lori
Feb 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013february
I loved the opening and the beginning chapters of Helm's story. His descriptions of his childhood, that community and the shared life those farmers led, was gorgeous and real. I could see it. And I was learning, after a lifetime of being half in love with Helm's voice and his band, who he was.

The story of him discovering music worked for me, too. The anecdotes felt like stories you'd share with friends in the middle of the night, while the world slept around you. His steps into the world that wo
...more
Stephen Schumacher
Mar 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Levon Helm's southern roots pave the way to a unique inside look into the start of rock and roll. Hearing the back story behind The Band alongside many prominent blues, jazz and rock musicians opened my eyes to the history of American music and how The Band changed its course. I knew Eric Clapton quit Cream when he heard this group's album and that The Band backed up Dylan when he went electric, but learning the details into these historic periods of time was incredible. This book blew me away.
Tony Sannicandro
Apr 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
They say you should never know too much about your heroes. I saw the Band back in early 1970 and I put them up with anybody else I've seen even Jimi Hendrix. This is the story of 1 American and 4 Canadians who created the music we know know as Americana today. As in any group there a good guys and bad, ups and downs. This is a very enjoyable read and if you're a fan of the Band I will let you draw your own conclusions about whole Last Waltz.
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“Maybe the greatness we heard in [Richard Manuel]'s voice, that catch in it, came from all that pain. To this day, we don't really know.” 3 likes
“The sound of the blues, rhythm and blues, country music, is what we lived for, black and white alike. It gave you strength to sit on one of those throbbing Allis-Chalmers tractors all day if you knew you were gonna hear something on the radio or maybe see a show that evening.” 2 likes
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