The Man Behind the Drums

Man Behind the Drums – Robert Earl Keen


We left New York City, with nuthin’ but a song,

she’ll be coming’ ’round the mountain when she comes.

We wound up in Woodstock, at an old time jamboree,

came to see the man behind the drums.


Levon digs the doghouse, playing in The Band,

when he locks in to that backbeat it ain’t hard to understand.

Get your body movin’, celebrate your soul,

Levon digs the doghouse, that’s sho-nuff rock and roll.


Son of a plain dirt farmer, from southeast Arkansas,

he was born in a bare ramblin’ shoe.

Up and down the highway, and all around the world,

laying down the rhythm and the blues.


We were hangin’ from the rafters, singing every song,

that big barn band was hot as it could be.

Up there in the spotlight, the man behind the drums,

was takin’ all the load off for you and me.


Yea, Levon digs the doghouse, that’s sho-nuff rock and roll.



This song was written after we had the privilege of playing with Levon and his band at one of his “Rambles”. It was an amazing, memorable night.

After our set Levon took the stage and KILLED it. I was sitting less than 3 feet behind him the entire show. He was singing and playing like someone 1/2 his age. Though his voice was not what it used to be, he still had SO much soul. I was sitting next to Sara Watkins (fiddle player from nickel creek) and she kept nudging me saying “can you believe we are here watching this?”. You could literally hear his life history and every gutbucket place he ever played, not only in his singing, but in every backbeat he smacked. His pocket and groove was gritty, huge, smooth and levitating, all at the same time.

Then, for the encore, he invited us up to sing and play “The Weight” with him and his band. I still get chills to this day just thinking about this moment in my life. My eyes never left him the whole time we were playing, drinking in the joy with which he played and sung every note only stopping to look back at me and crack a big smile. After the show, we were invite to hang with him in his apartment at the studio. Though frail and fighting a cold, he was full of life, laughter and stories.

When we recorded this song, I did my best to channel Levon while recording. I put towels on my drums and even taped my cymbals, futilely trying to get “that sound”. Trying to emulate Levon’s feel, I even switched to traditional grip using the butt end of the stick on the left hand. I tried to use a lot of Levon type fills in the song and even raised my shoulders the way he would while playing and singing. All for naught, for no one can or ever will have that soulful sound, pocket and groove that was just Levon.

Levon… thank you for a once in a lifetime memory for me and sharing your music and your soul with us for so many years.