April 22, 2012

What's it called?

But in a rare unguarded moment in a bar with Scorsese, the clack of pool cues audible in the background, Helm smokes a cigarette as he describes, in an unhurried Delta drawl that’s the precise opposite of Scorsese’s rapid-fire New York patter, the confluence of American music styles in the region of the country he hails from. He sounds shyly prideful as he enumerates the musical giants that have come from the Delta—Carl Perkins, Muddy Waters, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Bo Diddley—and remembers a local show from his childhood called the Midnight Ramble that would include traveling acts like “Walcott’s Rabbit’s-Foot Minstrels.” (Late in his life, the Midnight Ramble would be the name of the combination jam session and musical salon Helm hosted for many years in his Woodstock barn.) “Bluegrass or country music, if it comes down to that area and mixes with the rhythm, and if it dances, then you’ve got a combination of all those different kinds of music,” Helms explains in that soft, scratchy-briar voice that gave every song he sang the time-worn sound of an American traditional. Scorsese, off-screen, wonders: “What’s it called then?” With a surprised laugh and a look that says, ‘isn’t it obvious, man?,’ Helms answers, “Rock and roll.”



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