Deeper Digs in Rock: Tony Levin
Join us for our discussion with Tony Levin. Famed for his work with Peter Gabriel and King Crimson, bass virtuoso Tony Levin was born in Boston on June 6, 1946. At age ten, he began studying upright bass, also playing tuba in his high-school marching band and even forming his own barbershop quartet; as a member of a local youth orchestra, Levin additionally performed at the White House for President John F. Kennedy. After attending the Eastman School of Music, he appeared with the Rochester Philharmonic, but over time turned away from classical music to play rock and jazz, relocating to New York City in 1970 to join Aha!, ex-Mothers of Invention keyboardist Don Preston's band.
A busy session career followed, with fluid, expressive work on classic LPs, including Lou Reed's Berlin, Kate & Anna McGarrigle's self-titled debut, and Paul Simon's Still Crazy After All These Years. After collaborating with Peter Gabriel on his eponymous 1977 debut, Levin joined the ex-Genesis frontman's touring unit, during which time he honed his skills on the Chapman Stick, a unique 10-stringed instrument in which the strings are not plucked but tapped, a process allowing the individual to play notes with both hands and create complete multi-part arrangements.
In 1978, Levin settled in Woodstock, NY, serving in the short-lived L'Image; a year later, he played on Robert Fripp's solo effort Exposure, soon thereafter agreeing to join the guitarist in new a incarnation of his groundbreaking progressive unit King Crimson, and remaining a member of the group for over three decades. (His tour experiences subsequently yielded a 1984 book of photographs, Road Photos.) While working on Gabriel's 1986 smash So, Levin developed Funk Fingers, essentially chopped-off drumsticks designed to hammer on the bass strings; he later sold Funk Fingers through his own Papa Bear Records label as well. Sessions with everyone from Robbie Robertson (his 1987 self-titled solo debut) to Laurie Anderson (1989's Strange Angels) to Yes (1991's Union) followed, and in 1996, Levin finally made his solo debut with World Diary.
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