Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bob Levis Interview by Dave Stine

I sat down with Bob Levis at Big Cities during the belated Crossroads Blues Society Christmas Party/meeting and Reverend Raven gig to talk with him about his upcoming CD, Barstool Blues.

At first Bob was a little hesitant to talk to me, since I’d recently become somewhat of the Simon Cowell of blues reviewing for newsletter. He said I was pretty “brutal” to Grady Champion, Charles Burton, and even Howlin’ Wolf. I told him, I just call ‘em as I see ‘em, but that he didn’t need to pre-worry. (NOTE: Wolf did call me from beyond the grave to ask “how many more years” was I gonna wreck his life!)

Anyway, about the CD. First, for those of you who don’t know--and I can’t imagine who you’d be--Bob was guitarist for both Lonnie Brooks and Otis Rush back in the day. You’ll see his name pop up on Cold Day in Hell, Live at Kingston Mines, and other albums that may be floating around library. He moved to Rockford a few years ago, and he hosts a Wednesday night blues jam at Big Cities as well as adding guitar to Ernie and The Po’Boys.

I asked Bob how the CD came about and he said some things happen; some things you make happen; and some things just seem to happen on their own. He is very thankful that all the various things DID come together at one time: a financial backer (Mark Thompson), some great players (see below), a studio (see below), and the opportunity to combine all these things. Locals should recognize all the players on the CD. Bob had been in Chicago when Steve Ditzell was with Koko Taylor and Junior Wells. They knew of each other but had never played together. Steve also transplanted to Rockford over 10 years ago. Hanging out at Big Cities allowed Bob to hook up with Steve and Dave Kaye and some of the other players on the CD. Bob doesn’t sing so put out the call to people like Steve, who he knew could help him with the project. His old friend Lonnie Brooks contributes a song, as does Larry Pendleton from Ernie and the Po’Boys. Big Jim Johnson, another local icon, sings and plays harp on the disc as well. The rhythm section is Dave Kaye and Marty Binder (mostly). I can’t even begin to mention with whom both of these men have played--the list is too long. Other players on the CD include Westside Andy and Jimmy Voegeli from the Westside Andy/Mel Ford Band, Teddy Lawrence from Johnny and the Boomers and Cross Eyed Cat, and Dave Wood from????

Bob warned me that the CD breaks no new ground: it’s just a blues album. He wanted a CD of blues played “the way it should be played” and nothing more. He picked people to play whose style he knew would fit with what he and Mark wanted to do. There were no band rehearsals, just various players in the studio, live, who he told to “play what you know.”

Bob and Mark used Miles Nieslen’s The Fuse studio and appreciated to care that Miles, and Chris French took with the project. (NOTE to Tricksters--dad Rick dropped by during the Lonnie Brooks recording.)

Mark Thompson acted as executive producer and Bob as producer. I don’t know what these titles mean, but I think that means Mark had the final say. Arrangements were simply talked out. Most songs were complete in 1 or 2 takes.

The gear head in me wanted to know what guitar(s) Bob used, but I already knew the answer. Although this isn’t an Otis Rush tribute, Bob relies heavily on his mentor’s tone, so he used his red Epiphone Riviera.

I told Bob that I am a HUGE Otis Rush fan, that I was familiar with most of the players, and really look forward to hearing the CD (I got a pre-release copy that night).

So, with no further adieu . . . see the review on http://crossroadsreviews.blogspot.com/2008/02/barstool-blues-reviewed-by-david-stine.html

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