Me­mo­rial to singer Helm in the works

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - BILL BOW­DEN

The cot­ton fields of Turkey Scratch are oc­ca­sion­ally in­vaded by for­eign tourists tak­ing pic­tures.

They’re fans of Levon Helm, look­ing for tan­gi­ble ev­i­dence of the mu­si­cian’s roots in the Arkansas Delta.

Af­ter tak­ing self­ies with the city lim­its sign, they need some­place to go — a shrine per­haps to the per­former they ad­mire.

Such a place is in the works.

An ef­fort is un­der­way to re­store Helm’s boy­hood home and in­stall a statue of the mu­si­cian in down­town Marvell, which is 7 miles south of Turkey Scratch.

Helm, who died of throat can­cer in 2012 at the age of 71, was a singer, drum­mer and man­dolin player for The Band, which backed Bob Dy­lan be­fore record­ing the crit­i­cally ac­claimed al­bum Mu­sic From Big Pink in 1968.

The Band went on to record a to­tal of 10 stu­dio al­bums, and Helm had a solo ca­reer af­ter that.

Helm is prob­a­bly best re­mem­bered as the singer of The Band songs “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Later, he ex­plored Arkansas roots mu­sic on his solo al­bum Dirt Farmer, win­ning a Grammy for that one and Elec­tric Dirt.

Helm also had an act­ing ca­reer, ap­pear­ing in the movies Coal Miner’s Daugh­ter and The Right Stuff.

Helm was born near Elaine, grew up near Turkey Scratch and at­tended school in Marvell — all of which are in Phillips County in east Arkansas. In the 1980s, he lived in Spring­dale in Wash­ing­ton County, but Helm spent most of his later years in Wood­stock, N.Y., where he held reg­u­lar “mid­night ram­ble” con­certs in his barn.

The Levon Helm Legacy Project is try­ing to raise money to re­store his child­hood home and com­mis­sion a bronze bust of Helm by artist Kevin Kresse of North Lit­tle Rock. Kresse has al­ready

made a clay sculp­ture, mea­sur­ing 26-by-20-by-12 inches, that is await­ing the funds for bronz­ing. Kresse said the sculp­ture will go on a pedestal in front of Helm’s child­hood home in Marvell, cre­at­ing a per­ma­nent me­mo­rial.

“Fans of Levon will be able to visit the place that shaped and formed this mu­si­cal icon who was at the fore­front of the Amer­i­cana mu­sic move­ment,” ac­cord­ing to the on­line fun­drasier at go­fundme.com/ lev­on­helm­memo­rial.

The fundrais­ing ef­fort for the bronz­ing be­gan July 8, and $4,120 of the $25,000 goal had been raised as of Wed­nes­day. Af­ter the $25,000 is raised to bronze the sculp­ture, any re­main­ing funds from the drive will go to­ward restora­tion of his child­hood home, ac­cord­ing to the web­site.

Joe Grif­fith of Mon­roe County said about $150,000 is needed for the bust and restora­tion to­gether.

Grif­fith said two Lit­tle Rock men — Richard But­ler and Jeremy Car­roll — bought Helm’s child­hood home and two other houses that were in a cot­ton field near Turkey Scratch from A.B. Thomp­son. They do­nated Helm’s house to the Marvell Civic Club, and it was moved to Marvell two years ago. The other two houses will be can­ni­bal­ized for parts to re­store Helm’s house.

Grif­fith said the houses date from the 1930s and are made of cy­press. The house won’t be painted. The rus­tic wood ex­te­rior will re­main af­ter the restora­tion, said Grif­fith. Sim­i­lar ef­forts were made to re­store Johnny Cash’s boy­hood home in Mis­sis­sippi County. It is now af­fil­i­ated with the Arkansas State Univer­sity.

Anna Lee Ams­den of Cabot, a long­time friend of Helm’s, has been in­stru­men­tal in the fundrais­ing ef­fort. She said the project will honor his con­tri­bu­tions to mu­sic and film. Ams­den was im­mor­tal­ized in “The Weight,” when Helm sang “‘Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee?’ He said, ‘Do me a fa­vor, son, won’t you stay and keep Anna Lee com­pany.’”

Ams­den said she doesn’t mind when peo­ple ask if they can keep her com­pany.

“My name will live on af­ter I’m gone,” she said. “If it brings a lit­tle joy to peo­ple, that’s fine with me.”

Marvell is 20 miles west of He­lena-West He­lena, which at­tracts blues fans year round and par­tic­u­larly in Oc­to­ber when the an­nual King Bis­cuit Blues Fes­ti­val is held.

Grif­fith said Helm’s fans are al­ready find­ing Turkey Scratch, so they’ll find Marvell too.

Bar­bie Wash­burn, pres­i­dent of the Marvell Civic Club, said Helm’s house now sits on the cor­ner of Elm and Car­ruth streets, across the street from the Marvell Po­lice De­part­ment.

About $15,000 raised pre­vi­ously was used to fix the roof and seal the house from the el­e­ments, Wash­burn said.

She said there will be a mu­seum in­side the house ded­i­cated to Helm. Some­one do­nated a set of his drums. Also col­lected are three sets of his drum­sticks, one of his har­mon­i­cas and old Marvell school year­books from when he was known as Lavon.

Last month, U.S. 49 from Marvell to He­lena-West He­lena was ded­i­cated as Levon Helm Me­mo­rial High­way through Act 810, which was spon­sored by state Rep. Chris Richey, D-He­lena-West He­lena.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/MITCHELL PE MASILUN

Kevin Kresse (cen­ter) and Anna Lee Ams­den pose with a bust of the late mu­si­cian Levon Helm on Wed­nes­day.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette

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AP File/RICHARD DREW

Mu­si­cian Levon Helm, a na­tive of Turkey Scratch in eastern Arkansas.

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