Leon “Butch” Dener grew up in White Plains, New York, in a house filled with music. He learned to play the trumpet in grade school and continued playing through high school at Eastern Military Academy on Long Island. In 1968 he enrolled in State University of New York in New Paltz. Dener and two friends brought popular bands, such as Jefferson Airplane, B.B. King, and The Band, to perform on the campus. In the late 1980s after a show at the Lone Star Cafe in New York City, Dener met Levon Helm, and the two became friends. Dener was hired as security for The Band when the members reunited in 1990. Four years later he became road manager for The Band and went on to work as road manager for Levon Helm and the Barnburners.