Levon Helm, key member of The Band, dies at 71

(Source: Center Square Journal)
(Source: Center Square Journal)

Levon Helm, a key member of the seminal rock group The Band who lent his distinctively Southern voice to classics like "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," has died at age 71.

Helm's website says he died peacefully Thursday afternoon.

Helm and his band mates were musical virtuosos who mined the roots of American music in the late 1960s as other rockers veered into psychedelia, heavy metal and jams. The group's 1968 debut, "Music From the Big Pink," remains a landmark album of the era.

Helm's vocals on the 1969 hit "Up on Cripple Creek" immortalized Lake Charles, Louisiana in pop culture.

The Band bid farewell to live performances with a bang with its famous "Last Waltz" concert in 1976.

Some fans considered Richard Manuel The Band's lead singer. But for many admirers, that honor belonged to the short, feisty Helm.

(Copyright 2012 KPLC. The Associated Press contributed to this report All rights reserved.)