On December 15, 2001, 19-year-old Severin Hayward, son of Richie Hayward (renowned Little Feat drummer) was severely injured in an automobile accident. The kind hearts from the Little Feat Fans World got together to form a trust for Richie to help pay for medical and rehabilitation expenses. They set up an auction with the support of the Guacamole Fund and Simpatico Foundation (Studio City, CA). It has been the continuing mission of the Simpatico Foundation to “to provide support to needy musicians, and needy persons who have supported the musical creation process, who have made significant contributions to: (1) effect social change; (2) environmental, cultural or service organizations that work in the public interest and/or (3) education in arts and/or music.” To this end, they reached out to the music community for donations to be used for this auction to benefit Severin. The outpouring of generosity was incredible.
I became aware of the auction in 2002 through Usenet, rec.music.makers.percussion (RMMP). Yes, this was before the advent of Internet browsers, Facebook and the Internet, as we know it now. Times have certainly changed! Up for auction was a Ludwig 5 X14” black oyster pearl snare drum, which was donated and signed by the legendary Levon Helm of The Band. The drum itself seemed nothing special at first glance. It was certainly well worn, missing the tone control knob (although the inner muffler was intact), and had a small ½” tear in the wrap. The drum was listed as “complete with napkin damper”! However, the uniqueness of the drum was its history. You see, Ringo Starr gave this particular snare drum to Levon during one of the first All Starr Band tours (Levon played drums and sang along with Ringo and Jim Keltner). On the drum head was hand-written: “Seve** stay strong – Don’t ever give down! Yo Bro, Levon Helm, Woodstock, N.Y. /’02”. Helm's performances in the early 2000’s revolved mainly around his “Midnight Ramble” at his home and studio, "The Barn," in Woodstock, New York. I often wonder if this drum was played during one of those rambles… I did check with Jeff Chonis, Ringo’s drum tech (via Gary Astridge) and he stated that “Ludwig gave Levon a kit to use on the first All Starr tour and Jeff thinks that kit included the matching snare that you have.” I also sent pics of the snare drum to Todd Trent (Ludwig A&R rep. during that time period). Todd did indeed remember the drum and confirmed, “For that tour (first All Starr Band), Ringo’s people ordered three kits – one for Ringo, one for Levon, and one for Keltner. Ringo gave the drum set to Levon at the conclusion of the tour.”
So the drum was given to Levon by Ringo, clearly played and signed by Levon to the son of another tremendously influential drummer, Richie Hayward. Four degrees of separation, perhaps? I was happy to win the auction, securing both drum for its history and the ability to help Seve in my own small way.
I put the drum away in storage when I moved to Singapore (2008-2010) and actually forgot about it. I returned to the USA and found out that Richie Hayward died from complications of lung disease on August 12, 2010 (while waiting for a liver transplant). On April 9th, 2012, Levon Helm passed away from a long battle with cancer. I thought about Richie and Levon and looked for the drum. I found it in its original case and stared at it for a long time, thinking about the amazing careers of these two drummers and how one drum had crossed their paths.
Last year, a group of talented Indianapolis musicians put together a “Ramble” to recreate the music of the Last Waltz in its entirety. This was a charity event intended to honor Levon’s passing and help “save The Barn”. The show was performed by an amazing ensemble of musicians. The drummer, Wade Parish (The Easthills) asked me to borrow the drum to put on display at the venue. I brought the drum to the show and Wade placed it on stage over his kit. I’m not the superstitious type but it did feel like Levon was somehow there in spirit. The performance was truly phenomenal.
While I can’t say that Ringo ever physically handled this drum, he generously gave it (along with the kit) to Levon. Levon then continued the gesture many years later by donating the snare drum to help Richie Hayward’s son. So historically, it’s very clear that this was Levon’s snare drum, with his handwriting on the drum head, and his kind heart that allowed the drum to be donated for Seve Hayward’s medical bills. I hope some day to donate the drum in similar fashion to a good cause, “pay it forward”, and continue to spread the good vibe of Ringo, Levon and Richie. So to me, it’s not just a “collector drum’ in perfect condition; it’s a snapshot in the life of some of the most influential drummers of our time.