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Levon Helm Loses Lawsuit Over Commercial Use Of ‘The Weight’

Levon Helm
Rob Loud, Getty Images

Levon Helm, the drummer-singer-mandolinist for the Band, is crying tears of rage today, as a Manhattan court ruled on Thursday (March 1) against him in a lawsuit he filed concerning the use of the Band’s song, ‘The Weight’ in an advertisement.

The suit, filed against BBDO Worldwide, Inc. in 2004, claimed that the ad agency used the classic in a commercial for Cingular Wireless (now AT&T) without proper consent. However, an appellate court said the group’s 1968 contract with Capitol Records gave the label permission to use it.

Helm’s lawyer, John O’Neill, claims that the contract only allowed Capitol to promote the music itself, not as a tie-in to a product.

Or, as Helm bluntly put it in 2006, “We didn’t make that song to be a f—— jingle.”

Although ‘The Weight’ was written by Robbie Robertson, Helm sings lead on four of its five verses. The commercial used the first verse and chorus. Rick Danko, who died in 1999, takes the lead on the fourth verse.

The 71-year old Helm remains active in the wake of his Grammy Award for Best Americana Album last month. On March 13 he begins a spring tour, bringing his acclaimed Midnight Ramble, to select cities in the Midwest, Northeast and South, including the New Orleans Jazzfest on May 5. Opening acts and special guests on various dates include Warren Haynes, Donald Fagen, Los Lobos and Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett of Little Feat.

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