RIP: Greg Ham, Levon Helm

Posted April 20, 2012 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Music community mourns the losses of Greg Ham and Levon Helm

One day after the unfortunate and untimely passing of Dick Clark, the music industry mourns the passing of two other important musical contributors.

Men at Work member Greg Ham, best known for playing the flute solo on the number one 1982 pop smash "Down Under," was found dead in his Melbourne home in Australia on Thursday, April 19 at the age of 58.

According to reports from the Associated Press, local customs are revealing very little details on the status of his death, but did speak to the matter:

"There are a number of unexplained aspects to it which as caused our attendance here today, and we’re assisting the local detectives to determine what has occured," says Detective Shane O’ Connell. His body was discovered by two of Ham’s close friends after noticing that Ham had not been missing in sight for a while.

"Down Under" spent nineteen weeks in the top 40 and sat at number one for four consecutive weeks, easily becoming the Australian band’s most popular song.

Despite the misconception that Men at Work were one-hit wonders because of the enormous success that sprung from "Down at Under," the band scored a handful of Top 40 hits in the U.S., including the No. 1 pop hit "Who Can It Be Now?" – which Ham played the sax solo -and "Overkill" (#3 pop).

A recent lawsuit in 2009 found that Men at Work was guilty in plagiarizing the flute solo heard in the children’s campfire song, "Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree" and ordered the band to pay five percent of past profits. Despite the ruling, the song has endured as the unofficial anthem of Australia and as one of the great iconic songs of the 1980’s.

In recent years, after Men at Work disbanded in 1985, Ham was working as a guitar teacher.

The Band vocalist and drummer Levon Helm, 71, also passed away at memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center after a long bout with throat cancer.

The Woodstock, New York-based band, which included guitarist Robbie Robertson and organist Garth Hudson, got their start in the Sixties and emerged to the open music scene with their authentic blend of old-time country, blues and folk. With their Americana roots, The Band recorded ten studio albums from 1968 to 1998. They are most famous for "Up On Cripple Creek" (#25 pop) and "Don’t Do It" (#34 pop). Their farewell concert was documented in the all-star farewell concert film, The Last Waltz, directed by Martin Scorsese, but regrouped without Robertson in 1983. The deaths of Manuel (ruled a suicide) and Danko disrupted the band’s future. The breakup was enough to push Helm into a fledging solo career, which led him to three Grammy-winning albums Dirt Farmer (2007), Electric Dirt (2009) and Ramble at the Ryman (2011).

Today, Warren Haynes, who performed in a superband showdown at the Mountain Jam festival during Helm’s 70th birthday celebration and who will substitute for Helm at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on May 5, wrote about his longtime friend’s impact and legacy on his Facebook page. "Our thoughts are with Levon and his family at this time," the statement said. Haynes also added that "every drummer who listened to that kind of music was borrowing something from Levon. When someone would say ‘play that Levon Helm feel,’ people would know exactly what that meant."

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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