Ron Levy's Interview with Graham Clarke
Ron Levy's Wild Kingdom. He was a fast study, moving into the 90's Levy co-founded Rounder Records' Bullseye Blues label and served as producer/A&R man. Bulleye Blues garnered several Grammy nominations, Handy Awards, and Living Blues Awards, and Levy was chosen as Producer of the Year by Living Blues magazine in 1994. Among the artists Levy produced for Bullseye Blues were Charles Brown, Otis Clay, Ann Peebles, Champion Jack Dupree, Little Jimmy King, Luther "Guitar Jr." Johnson, Larry Davis, Smokin' Joe Kubek, and Jimmy McCracklin.
Levy also co-founded the Cannonball Blues and Jazz label in the late 90's, producing recordings by artists like Melvin Sparks, Johnnie Bassett, Alberta Adams, and the acclaimed Blues Across America series. Since 2000, Levy has focused on touring and performing, having released several CDs on his Levtron label, including the recent Funky Fiesta!
Levy's most ambitious project to date is his ground-breaking new web-book, Tales of a Road Dog. In it, Levy regales his readers with great behind-the-scenes stories about his days of breaking into the blues business, performing with his idols, his development and adventures as a musician, producer, and A&R man. The anecdotes are endless and entertaining, and include numerous pictures and videos.
Mr. Levy was gracious enough to subject himself to FBF's Ten Questions with.....and got a bit more than he bargained for. Friday Blues Fix appreciates his time, patience, and participation.
1. What inspired you to write Tales of a Road Dog?
Mostly because of all the wonderful and fascinating people I've met in my life. Two friends, Fred Wesley and Frank Chimi especially, inspired me to write these tales down while I was telling them some, before I forgot them. I've told many of these stories through the years and always got laughs and great responses. I've been blessed with many interesting and sometimes crazy experiences, too. I wanted to share them with the public on a broader scale.
2. The book is really unique and interesting because you link to dozens of videos and pictures…..What made you decide to publish it in electronic format?
I greatly respect various old traditions from around the world. However, those traditions were new when they first began, using only what they had available. The technology of today afforded me a vehicle to educate and explain various traditions and "ways of life" in a three-dimensional format in a way that's never been done before, using what we have available today.
Also, once a old fashioned book is printed, that's pretty much it.... it's done. This pioneering format allows me to add on to it anytime I want! I'll be adding more songs (200), a few more of my albums, and more photos in the future. There are about 2, 000 photos in the gallery already. I don't know of any other book that includes that many photos, you? There's also a direct email line for the reader's questions and comments at the end of each chapter. It's much more than just a sit-down to be read quietly from cover to cover, then you're done book. It's like a living encyclopedia of cool stuff, where the reader can always go back to it. Hell, I read and re-read it at least 400 times while writing and putting it together. Tales... is and will be accessible on any device that connects to the internet, known now or in the future.
For the "less adventurous" there's an e-Book with all the text, 50+ photos and a download of my newest album, Funky Fiesta!, included. The real heart and soul of the book are the compelling, inspiring, and humorous stories. If folks want to later "upgrade" to the Deluxe Edition, they'll be able to. Both versions, along with my extensive music store are on my website: www.Levtron.com
3. In the book, you retrace the steps of your career and the musicians, management, family, and friends that you encountered along the way. One thing I like about your writing is that pretty much call things as you saw them and your honesty about some things and some people (including yourself) is refreshing, though sometimes there's a chance that it might hurt their feelings. Have you encountered any of the people you've written about since the book was published and how did some of them react to what was written about them?
No one has complained yet. I've shared 99% of the chapters with all the available people that were involved and there at the time, for fact checking purposes while writing it. They all loved it and were amazed at how much detail I could recall. These are all stories we've all laughed about together in the past, so I'm not worried. This is also a "tell some, not a tell all" book for the very (legal) reason you stated. Another reason is the fact that there were so many good stories to tell, I didn't want waste my time reliving and telling about things that may have brought me or others any bitterness. I want people to laugh, learn and enjoy my stories and, hopefully, be inspired by them.
4. As a youngster, you worked with Albert King and B.B. King for an extended period…..what lessons did you learn from them or any other musicians you worked with during that period that you were able to use effectively in your own career as a front man?
Wish I'd learned a lot more better but, I still learned so many things from so many people, it'd be difficult to boil it down as asked here. This web-book is an intricately detailed mosaic of all those numerous learning experiences I want to pass on to people to enrich their lives as well, and answers your question much better.
5. When did you start listening to the blues?
This may sound crazy, but the very first "blues" I heard and felt was in my grandfather's synagogue, while listening to him and the other older men praying. Those ancient minor infused melodies deeply hit my soul as a young child. I still pray using those very same melodies today. In Chapter One, I talk about two fine people who worked for my family and partly raised me and my younger brother. They always tuned to Boston's "Soul Station - WILD" on the radio. I always enjoyed R&B, Jazz, and Gospel music too. Both Cora and Willie would seem so happy listening to "their" music. They'd exclaim unbridled joy whenever the singer would hit one of those "notes" that made your spine tingle and your neck hairs stand. I wanted to make people feel that way too!
6. Who were your influences on the keyboards?
Too many to list here or anywhere, although I did try to, in writing Tales.... After I first saw Ray Charles in concert at fourteen, I took our radio from the kitchen and perched it on our parlor piano, tuned in to WILD and began pecking away one finger at a time the very next day. Otis Spann was the first real professional that took me aside and showed me how and what to play. He'd have me place my hands on his while he made his moves, then have me do it without him. He was a sweet and wonderful soul. I often think of him and miss him. Horace Silver, Jimmy Smith and Ramsey Lewis were also very inspiring. I had all their records. There were and still are so many that inspire me. I learn from everyone, even my beginner students. Mostly, I study music theory, harmony and rhythm from my library of music books. I seldom tried to copy anybody note for note, but rather tried to learn what they were doing in an effort to forge it into my own personal trademark style. They played their life and told their stories, I seek to play and tell mine.
7. Did any other musicians inspire you?
Again, many. They're all in the book!
8. How would you describe your own playing style?
Brilliant, dark, elegant, funky, rhythmic, melodic, harmonic, teardrops and laughter, pretty, funky, stinky, sweet & sour, smooth, rough, humorous, serious, fast, slow, colorful, black, white, gray, full, spacial, upbeat, downbeat, syncopated beats, happy, sad, hot, cool, warm, melancholy, emotional, carefree, angelic, devilish, complicated and simple........and that's just the anticipation for my first note!
I guess, it all winds up, coming out as Funky Blues and Soul Jazz with a dash of Latin and Yiddish.
9. You’ve worked as a producer for many years….do you remember a particular session where you really sensed that you had caught lightning in a bottle….where everyone was firing on all cylinders and you knew that you had captured something special?
So many, many times, I had the honor and privilege to work with Hall of Fame legends, in Blues, Soul and Jazz. It'd be impossible to single any one out over another. They were all special at the time. That's another reason why I wrote Tales.... Unlike any other music book, when I discuss every one of those magical times, there are photos and videos right there, in context, for the reader to fully appreciate them. There are over 300 of these videos included!
10. Can you tell us a bit about how you work as a producer?
For money, I don't work on the cheap! That's why I make the mid-line bucks. LOL
How involved are you in the process? Are you really “hands-on, ” do you just sit back and let things happen, or are you somewhere in between?
100% from soup to nuts, as they say in the restaurant trade. I always saw my role likened to a movie producer and director, as well as script writer, grip, and camera man. I also found myself acting as rabbi, psychiatrist, pimp, loan shark, and janitor on many occasions. That said; one needs to know when to be "hands on" as well as "hands off". That's a learned and acquired skill in itself.
I was once told that I'm not a "cookie cutter" Producer. I took that as the highest compliment. I always respected each artist as an individual and worked with them accordingly, showcasing their strengths and camouflaging any possible weaknesses or mistakes.
11. If you had to put together a “Dream Team” session ba
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