Peter Levin Talks Peter Levin Band, Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks & More
Keyboardist Peter Levin has been a fixture of the jam scene for decades dating back to his time as a member of God Street Wine and Zen Tricksters. More recently he was recruited by Gregg Allman to play keys in the Gregg Allman Band and contributed to Gregg’s upcoming Southern Blood album. Levin also leads a band of his own and the Peter Levin Band will headline a triple bill at The Hall at MP in Brooklyn on Friday, February 17.
We spoke with Peter about many topics including his Friday night show, his thoughts on the passing of Butch Trucks and much more. Levin had the honor of being the last guest to sit-in with The Allman Brothers Band and he spoke at length about what that opportunity meant to him. Here’s our chat with Peter Levin:
JamBase: Can you tell us what’s in store at The Hall at MP on the 17th?
Peter Levin: My band, the Peter Levin Band, hits around 11 p.m.-ish. It’s going to be a funky, blues and soulful keys-based set, even though I’ll have two guitar players. I’ll be performing some original material, instrumentals and some tunes I sing. A few of these tunes like “Gotta Light” and “From Above” have been performed with some of the bands I’ve toured with over the years. In addition, I’ll be playing some covers as well, mostly groove-based stuff that’s heavy on the keys.
Some of the original material is from my Moon Palace Revival EP, which was recorded a few years ago, and some of the songs will come from my upcoming full-length record that I’m recording. I’ll also perform a few tunes with the Tangiers Blues Band, my old pals from New York City featuring my old pal and ace photographer Danny Clinch on harmonica. They hit at 10 p.m. after an opening set from the Matt Rae Trio.
JamBase: Who are the current members of the Peter Levin Band?
PL: I’ll be joined on the 17th by Paul Frazier (David Byrne) on bass and vocals, Joey Williams (Blind Boys Of Alabama/Robert Randolph Band) on guitar and vocals, Chris Scianni (Tangiers Blues Band) on guitar, Eric Kalb (Sharon Jones/Eric Krasno Band) on drums and Bobby Allende (Carlos Santana, Paul Simon) on percussion.
JamBase: Can you tell us about your contributions to the forthcoming Gregg Allman album, Southern Blood?
PL: Well, I contributed a bit I guess, as did everyone in the band. Gregg and [producer] Don [Was] were so cool about just letting the band play and not get too caught up in things, or overthinking the takes too much. As a result, we knocked down 13 or 14 tunes overall, within one or two takes, all live. Plus, we were able to have some time for some keys overdubs. So I played piano, Wurlitzer (THE WURLITZER, made most famous by Spooner Oldham), Clavinet and even some Hammond on one or two after Gregg okayed my settings. You know, he heard the sound of my Leslie from across the room while we were getting ready for a take. I was still searching for the right vibe on the bars. From across the room he heard it, told me which drawbars to adjust to round out the sound and right away the Hammond had the right vibe for the track. We’ll see if it makes the final cut!
JamBase: Can you tell us about recording Southern Blood in Muscle Shoals?
PL: It was very special recording in Muscle Shoals. First of all, just the music history associated with that place is phenomenal and unparalleled. Not only Duane [Allman], which obviously had special meaning, but Aretha [Franklin], Otis [Redding], Wilson [Pickett], and some of the baddest musicians around ala Spooner Oldham, who actually came by the studio while we were recording to say what’s up and hang.
It was incredible – the guy that wrote some of the most famous piano parts in pop music ever was right there, and I was using the keys that he (Spooner) played on all those great records – that was very special! And of course, just making the record itself was special too. Not everyone gets to make an album with Gregg Allman, and Don Was, for that matter. Recording in Muscle Shoals was definitely a bucket list experience for me.
One of the coolest things about it was the way the album was recorded. All live for the most part, in one or two takes. It was amazing. Both Gregg and Don were really cool about the band just doing their thing and not tying us down. I’ve done many recording sessions over the years, spanning all types – from unknown artists to some really big names. The results are always the best when you just trust the band to do their thing, and it totally showed in the tracks. The tracks sound great and the feel is there. I’m really proud of that record and it was a pleasure to be involved.
JamBase: Have you kept in touch with Gregg and the other members of the band since he fell ill?
PL: I have kept up with Gregg and a few of the cats. Gregg and I speak occasionally. He’s doing well, resting up and getting ready to hit the road in the next couple months. I know he is fired up for the release of the new record. As for the guys in the band, I’ve been collaborating with the horn players (Jay Collins, Marc Franklin and Art Edmaiston) on and off, as they are helping me get some horn arrangements together for my new full-length record. Plus, the Peter Levin Band is doing the Ramas Festival in Puerto Rico on March 17th. Scott Sharrard, Gregg’s guitarist and Musical Director, and Brett Bass, Gregg’s bassist, will be on the gig. We are doing the Allman’s Live At Fillmore East album. I’ve known these two guys from NYC for years so we keep in fairly regular contact anyway and often perform together around the Tri-State area. I talk to [percussionist Marc] Q[uinones] every so often too. He may come sit-in on Friday!
JamBase: The Allman Brothers Band welcomed hundreds of guests to share the stage between 1969 and 2014, and you were the last. Can you tell us about what it meant to sit-in with the group at the Beacon and Peach/Mountain Jam festivals?
PL: Well, it was definitely a dream come true to sit in with the Allmans. The Allman Brothers Band was a huge musical influence on me, especially Gregg, because I was coming up playing keys/Hammond and singing. And as a songwriter, Gregg has written some really, really beautiful songs, some killer ballads, and at heart, I am a ballads guy. I knew their albums back and forth, and have been playing a lot of their material my whole life. I knew Gregg’s solos, Duane and Dickey’s solos, Chuck’s (Leavell’s) solos, even Butch and Jaimoe’s solos (laughs). Ironically too, one of my favorite Allman shows was from September 23, 1970, the day I was born. Maybe it was in the cards from the start?I grew up just up the street from the Beacon Theater and had been seeing the band there for as long as I can remember. I caught so many incredible shows and it was truly a big part of my earlier days. So when they asked me to sit-in, it was incredible! Warren asked me first, actually right backstage. The Blind Boys were in town for a tribute to Prince at Carnegie Hall in March of 2013. So they came to the Beacon after their rehearsal, and the Blind Boys and myself joined the Allmans at the start of the second set. We did three tunes, including “The Weight,” where we were also joined by Joan Osborne, John Popper and the Juke Horns. It was awesome. Everybody was grooving and really enjoying the moment. I had always dreamed of jamming with the Allmans as a kid coming up for the longest time, and there it was going down right in my backyard, right down the street from where I grew up. I guess if you put things out in the universe, they can come back to you.
As for sitting in at Peach Fest, that was also totally amazing. I had just joined the Gregg Allman Band, and I ran into Gregg backstage. First of all, he started out talking about how happy he was with my piano playing, and how it was really working for the band. So that in itself was really an inspiration to hear and really meant a lot. He asked if I’d sit-in with them and play piano on one. So hell yeah I did, and after the first tune, I heard Derek and Warren teasing “Liz Reed.” Gregg leaned back and asked if I knew the tune, which I had been playing my whole life, asked me to stay on up there, and we were off! Gregg even gave me his solo on the tune. It was absolutely unreal. So I took the solo, and knowing Gregg’s solo cues from the Fillmore East version, it all went smooth. It was an incredible musical moment for me, like riding a 30 foot wave rushing towards the shore and rolling on in without a scratch. I will never forget either of those times. Getting to be a part of the Allman Brothers Band history, especially in 2014 towards the end of their run, was an especially amazing experience, something I will never ever forget.
JamBase: Can you share any thoughts about the passing of Butch? Either what his playing meant to you or what it was like to play with him or any stories of personal interactions?
PL: I was so sorry to hear about the passing of Butch. He was an amazing drummer, a huge part of the sound and feel of the band – a real driving force. I always enjoyed talking music with Butch. He was very knowledgeable about music, and always had a great rock ‘n’ roll story to tell. And the few times I jammed with the band, looking back, watching him and listening to him “drive” were really, really special.