Unreleased Levon Helm Song to Benefit Amnesty International

Parts of 'Toast to Freedom' were recorded in Helm's home studio

Levon Helm performs at The Beacon Theatre in New York.
Matthew Eisman/Getty Images
May 2, 2012 5:55 PM ET

One of Levon Helm's last studio recordings will be available for sale this Thursday to benefit Amnesty International, reports the Associated Press. Helm recorded the instrumental tracks and some vocals for "Toast to Freedom" last summer in his Woodstock home studio with friend and producer Larry Campbell. The track also features stars Ewan McGregor, Kris Kristofferson, Carly Simon, Taj Mahal and Rosanne Cash.

"When we recorded the original rhythm track for this, it was such a great day. Everybody was just completely in the spirit of the cause, the spirit of the song and the spirit of the music," said Campbell of the track, which celebrates Amnesty International's 50th anniversary. "One of the great things about working with Levon was he always made playing music a joyful event, and I know he wanted to see this thing through as far as he could."

Campbell also revealed that Helm had hoped to perform the song in concert before his passing. "I just feel like his spirit was so much in line with the spirit of this song that he’ll be missed when we do it," he said.

Despite Helm's involvement, the idea for "Freedom" began with producer Carl Carlton and former music exec Jochen Wilms. After Carlton approached Amnesty International for their support, he linked up with Campbell, who then brought in Helm. After that, Carlton set out to recruit more collaborators and ended up with around 50 musicians.

Levon Helm, best known as the singer and drummer of the Band, passed away on April 19th. He was 71.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“American Girl”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | 1976

It turns out that a single with "American" in its title--recorded on the Fourth of July during the nation's Bicentennial, no less--can actually sell better in Britain. Coupled with the Heartbreakers' flair for Byrds jangle and Animals hooks, though, is Tom Petty's native-Florida drawl that keeps this classic grounded at home. Petty dispelled rumors that the song was about a suicidal student, explaining that the inspiration came from when he was 25 and used to salute the highway traffic outside his apartment window. "It sounded like the ocean to me," he recalled. "That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by."

More Song Stories entries »