STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
You might not be familiar with blues/roots vocalist, mandolin player and songwriter Amy Helm. But you’ve probably heard of her late father Levon, the legendary singer, songwriter and drummer from The Band, and originator of the Midnight Ramble.
Amy performed with her father and helped develop the Midnight Ramble. She even co-produced his album “Dirt Farmer” (Vanguard, 2007), which won a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album. Amy was also a member of the roots-rock band Ollabelle for 10 years, and she has performed live with other artists including Warren Haynes, The Wood Brothers and Donald Fagen.
Amy is finally stepping out on her own. She brings her band The Handsome Strangers to Sellersville Theater in advance of releasing her debut album. The album, which is completed but still unnamed, will be released in mid-June.
In a telephone interview from her home in Woodstock, N.Y., Amy discussed the process of growing up around music and becoming a professional musician.
“I think that people know at a very young age if they’re going to play (music) or not,” said Amy. “You get to the point where it’s one of the only things you can do and you do it well and you start to get hired for gigs and then you start working and then you kind of get swept into it.”
One could say she was born into it.
“I think because my dad did the same thing it ended up helping me quite a bit in many, many ways. He was a fantastic teacher and that certainly shaped and directed my path.”
Amy said it was a “wonderful experience” working with him. And she is still discovering the important things that she learned from him.
“As time goes by after you lose a parent it seems that you remember different things about them and you bring out different things about them in yourself.”
A highlight was co-producing “Dirt Farmer” with Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan, Lyle Lovett, Solomon Burke).
“It (is) an album that he made that (is) a collection of songs that he had learned from his parents mainly, and some other songs that rounded out a real experience of his musical journey coming from Arkansas and growing up in that area and that time. It was a fantastic experience to see that come alive and to be part of bringing it into the world with him.”
Amy says that working with Ollabelle was also gratifying and a great learning experience.
“That was a wonderful band. We created that band all together and worked hard on it. I was in that band for over 10 years and it was a fantastic experience. Some of the best musicians I’ve ever worked with (are) in that band and (they) taught me a lot. I carry that experience very close to my heart. It informed a lot of what I do now in terms of harmony singing and arrangements. My ability to collaborate and be part of a band — I learned a lot of those skills in that group.”
Amy’s talked excitedly about her new album, which has been 4 years in the making.
“About half of it is original songs and (there are) a couple of covers. I recorded the album over a 4-year period… so it reflects a lot of different times and different events. A lot of different players are on it. My dad plays on a number of the songs. And my band that I have now plays on a number of the songs. So it really tells a story of different musical points for me over the last 4 years, which has been exciting and another strong learning curve.
“I guess that (the album is) a bit eclectic. There (are) a lot of different musicians on it. So it tells a few different stories. But I guess it’s got some rock ‘n’ roll in it and some blues. It’s got some stuff that you might expect if you’ve listened to Ollabelle and other bands, and some stuff that might feel really different.”
Amy will bring her band The Handsome Strangers to Sellersville and she will showcase many songs from the album as well as some covers.
“We’ve got a good set worked up. People should come ready to dance.”
IF YOU GO
What: Amy Helm & The Handsome Strangers with Elijah Wolf
When: Saturday, April 11. 8 p.m. show; doors open at 7:30.
Where: Sellersville Theater 1894, 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville.
Tickets: $25 and $39.50 at www.st94.com
Artist’s website: www.amyhelm.com