Levon Helm's Studio: A Tale From Keith Langford

© Joe Ryan

Davis McLarty Agency: Gourds new album out soon! Here is a tale from Keith Langford- about recording in Levon Helm's studio...

Keith Langford here from the Gourds in Austin, TX. I'm writing to tell about my recent experience recording at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, NY. AKA "the Barn."

The Gourds have been churning through the Americana music world since the early 90's with ten records under our belt. It's impossible to play in our genre and not have great appreciation for the Band and of course Levon Helm’s drumming and singing. We were extremely fortunate to have been able to record at Levon's studio, and to have his guitarist Larry Campbell as producer.

I grew up listening to the Band and Levon’s drumming. My father blasted that music throughout our maroon station wagon, where my sister and I giggled at Rick Danko's voice while rolling around in the back. My style has changed over the years, but it always kinda comes back to that Levon-like traditional zone: having a rhythm/beat with a purpose, listening for the song first, and dynamics that don't seem to end up on the overly loud side too often.

Levon and I both play a Gretch USA custom. For years I used my father’s 50's Gretch, but recently I bought a new one with an 18" kick. Levon uses the same kit but has a 20" and also a 22" option. When we recorded, I used both of his kicks and snare. Levon also has a pair of Ludwig toms (a gift from Ringo Starr) that Justin Guip (our brilliant engineer) suggested I set-up. It was a bit of a risk musically, employing those big fat-sounding toms within our musical scene, but they ended up working beautifully within the songs. These drums, coupled with coveted cymbals from my crazy Austin friend Travis [Garaffa], made for an interesting sounding kit.

The experience of recording in Woodstock and meeting one my drum heroes was beyond wonderful. I think Levon wanted to create a relaxed environment for studio creativity, taking the "phoniness" out of it as he's said. This is exactly what I experienced, and everyone in our band will remember that session for the rest of our lives.

Note: This piece was later published by Modern Drummer magazine. You can read that version by clicking here.

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