While Tony Levin may be best known to Peter Gabriel fans as Peter's long time
bass player having appeared on almost every one of his albums and tours,
Tony Levin's pedigree as one of the premier bass players in the business
goes well beyond working with Peter Gabriel. Aside from being a
card-carrying member of the legendary (and now unfortunately dormant)
Progressive rock band King Crimson, Levin has and continues to play with
some of the most noted musicians in the industry. From John Lennon, Buddy
Rich, Lou Reed, Paul Simon, Ringo Starr, Carly Simon, Yes, and Alice Cooper
to David Bowie, Sara McLachlan, James Talyor, Mark Knopfler, Steve Hackett,
and Warren Zevon to name but a few, Levin's credits read like a who's who of
modern music... not to mention all of the new artists that seek out Levin
for his unique sound and playing capabilities.
Being in that much demand by both musical legends and contemporary up and
coming artists alike would certainly be enough to solidify Levin as one of
the truly great session players, but that's only one aspect of the artistic
versatility of Tony Levin. In addition, he has also recorded his own solo
projects and participated in some acclaimed group projects like the Liquid
Tension Experiment (featuring members of Dream Theater); the one-off covers
project Spin 1ne 2wo (with Steve Ferrone, Paul Carrack, and Rupert Hine);
and he co-founded the Bruford Levin Upper Extremities (B.L.U.E.) project
with ex-Crimson drummer Bill Bruford.
Most recently, Tony Levin released
Levin Torn White, a new
collaboration with guitarist David Torn and Yes drummer Alan White. The
project took nearly a year to complete and is sure to please Prog rock
enthusiasts. Tony sat down with World of Genesis.com to talk about this new
project, his recent Two of a Perfect Pair Tour, his work with Peter Gabriel,
his thoughts on the future of King Crimson, and more.
What lead you to create Funk Fingers?
On Peter's So
album, on one song... "Big Time," I asked Jerry Marotta to drum on the bass
strings while I fingered the notes. That went fine, but much later, when
we were on tour, I was trying to play that part with a drumstick in my
hand. One day at soundcheck, while I was practicing that as usual, Peter
looked at me practicing with the one drum stick and said, "Why don't you
put two drum sticks on your fingers?" So, really the idea was his.
Later in the tour, after much experimenting, helped by Andy Moore, my bass
tech, we arrived at the right length, weight and fastening method, and
named them Funk Fingers. I made about a thousand pairs and later sold them
cheaply on my website, hoping other bass players would use them and they'd
catch on. They didn't, and I got tired of trying to be a manufacturer, so
I settled for the few pairs I have, and I play them a lot.
Levin Performing Live
of Genesis: How
Torn White initially come
Scott's idea. Scott Schorr is the producer and [behind the] record label ...and played
some darn good keyboard parts on the album, too!
I know you’ve worked with David Torn previously in your career on
projects like B.L.U.E. What specifically about his playing style appealed to
you for collaboration on this particular album? Also, how did Alan White get
It came about opposite from that. The
music began with Scott recording Alan White alone... in Alan's studio. He got
Alan really stretching out, playing some wild stuff, and setting the tone
for where the music would go. Then, Scott took those tapes to his home studio
and 'compiled' them ... going through, probably hours of material, finding
the best parts. Next came me, for the better part of a week at Scott's
studio - jamming to Alan's playing... First jamming, then sometimes working
out parts. Sometimes, playing many instruments on one track, and often
without hearing the previous ones... kind of a 'jamming in the dark'
Again, I knew it'd be wild, but I knew it was safe, because Scott
would use his ears and good taste to choose which of my tracks were to make
the cut. Then, it seemed to me, David was close to the only guitarist wild
enough and open enough to keep this going in the direction it started. So,
another week of David Torn jamming to bass and drums.
How did the Stick Men project initially develop? Was that your first
project with Scott Schorr?
My first album with Scott was called Stick Man and featured a lot of
music with multiple Stick parts. That gave me the idea that it'd be nice
to tour with material like that, but I couldn't play it with my current
band. So, along with Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto, who had played on
that album, I formed a trio, with the other player a Stick player. Two
years later, Michael Bernier, [the other Stick player], found he was
unable to go out on the road. So, we had to replace him. Luckily, found
Markus Reuter, who plays a touch guitar he designed and built himself.
having Pat Mastelotto for many years as part of the rhythm section for
Crimson what made him your first choice for the project? What was it about
his playing that made him the right choice?
TL: Yes, he was my
first choice for it. He had
played on the album, but also because Pat's approach is very "Crimson-like"
to our music - looking for new ways to react to music, and stretching our
boundaries. Also, he plays both an acoustic drum kit and electronic
percussion - the samples and loops give us a lot of needed options when,
with just three players, we're trying to perform complex music like
I understand this process took about a year
The whole project did take
about a year... and Scott was sweating over it all that time! We players had
it easy... we did our recording. Then, we handed it to Scott to perfect!
Although, sometimes there were second visits to the piece.
In your experience, does recording together with other musicians in a studio
have any benefit creatively (or otherwise) over recording your parts
individually and combining them later?
love doing the recording with other players. It's better in a number of ways
- you can be influenced in real time by their playing, you can discuss
little details, you get into a mood which can pervade the album and give it
more character, and most of all, you have a lot of fun together.
opportunities are not as frequent as they used to be - because of many
things, but mostly budget. It's simply much cheaper to hold down studio time
by having players play from their own studio.
I noticed in the liner notes that you co-produced and co-engineered this
album. Was your role a collaborative one with fellow co-producer Scott
Schorr or did you each work on specific musical pieces of Levin
WOG: How did
the Spin 1ne 2wo project with Paul Carrack, Steve Ferrone, and Rupert Hine?
It was a true session player 'super group!'
It was the record company's idea. We had a good friend at Sony Music in Italy, and the project
was his dream. Nice idea, and we had fun, but as usual with projects of this
kind, everyone's schedule didn't allow for much touring together. Projects
are always limited unless the whole band can make that ensemble it's main
priority - then you become a band.
you had an opportunity to see Peter Gabriel's New Blood Tour [the first
Gabriel tour without Tony Levin]? At least on
the first leg of the North American tour in 2010, there is a point on the jumbotron screen where a picture of you, Ged Lynch, and David Rhoades
current members of Peter Gabriel's normal touring rock band] popped up on the
screen and the crowd goes absolutely crazy! Did you have an opportunity to
experience that? If so, did that level of fan admiration surprise you?
Peter Gabriel (center)
performing "Sledgehammer" live in 2002
with Tony Levin (left) and David Rhoades
It was pretty collaborative. He did most of the producing. I had a big hand
in my parts, of course, and somewhat in David's. The engineering credit is
just because I did some recording in my home studio.
Having spent a great deal of time working as a session player, does the
ideal of producing other people’s projects appeal to you?
Actually, I rarely produce. I've been asked a few times through the years,
and occasionally say yes. I think it's partly because of the time commitment
to see an album through from beginning to end. I really love playing live,
and going a whole season without touring isn't usually something I'd choose.
To do my own recording, of course, takes plenty of time, but generally it
gets interrupted by live playing... and that's a good thing for my head.
Do you have any favorite
tracks on Levin Torn White?
No favorites, really. I like it all!
Especially the energy and freedom of the playing.
I did see
one show, in New York - enjoyed it a lot. It was the first time I'd seen
Peter from the front(!) after, what, 35 years of being behind him on stage?!
Most impressive was his vocal strength and accuracy! Of course, maybe
it's easier to sing when you're not hanging upside down (laughs)??!! And the orchestral
arrangements were great. Of course, I had mixed feelings, enjoying the music
but wanting to be part of it. The staging, including pictures of the band
guys, was something I had seen before, on our last South America tour - so I
wasn't surprised by it. Having the crowd acknowledge me and the guys in the
band is always a treat.
I seem to recall a while back
there was talk of new Peter Gabriel studio recordings being done before the
Blood / Scratch
My Back orchestral project
began. To your knowledge, had Peter done any demos prior to these orchestral
efforts with his full band?
Not that I know of.
Has there been any talk of plans to get back with Peter to work on a new
studio album with the full band following Peter's 2011 tour dates?
No talk of plans has come to me... I'm always hopeful that Peter will
do more. It's great music and great fun.
generally quite a few years in between Peter Gabriel projects. Do you think
the completion (or freedom as the case may be) of his contract with EMI will
give Peter the ability or desire to increase his artistic musical output? I
often hoped we’d see reissues of his studio and live catalog in a comparable
manner to what King Crimson, Genesis, and now Pink Floyd did with surround
mixes, b-sides, rare tracks/alternate takes/demos, etc.
I'm afraid I
don't follow those things, so I have nothing to tell you about what's
Years ago, I recall you mentioned how Peter would take the band on sort of
excursions on your days off while on tour. Were there any in particular that
were particularly memorable to you?
and all were memorable. White water rafting, sailing off New Zealand,
visiting islands with wild horses, boating the Amazon, visiting the West Bank of
Jerusalem, mountain pass ski resorts, deserted beach resorts, late night
flights to Sardinia, and many more.
How did the “2 of a Perfect Trio” Tour come about?
It was Adrian's idea... Adrian Belew, that is. We were planning on doing a
music camp together - Adrian, me, and Pat Mastelotto [the drummer from King
Crimson], and Adrian thought, "What if, right after the camp, we tour with
each of our trios, and then combine... the three of us for some Crimson
music, then all six of us... including the other players in the two trios,
for a 6 musician set of more Crimson music?"
It was a great idea, and it worked out even better than we thought... with a
lot of new music for the audiences, from Stick Men, and Adrian Belew Power
Trio, and then about 45 minutes of encores of King Crimson music.
Do you think the “2 of a Perfect Trio” project is the closest thing we’ll
ever see to a reunited King Crimson? What, if anything, has Robert Fripp
said about the “2 of a Perfect Trio” concept?
We get on well, so there's no personal
problems among us in the group. I have no idea if there will be more Crimson
recording or touring... That's up to Robert, and to me the heart of King
Crimson lies in his sensibility about where it should go. So, I happily
follow his instincts on that, and if there is to be no more touring, I'll be
sad, but will accept it.
He did know about this recent
tour, and in fact he relayed
a good natured message, though his sister, in front of the audience in
With the King Crimson catalog
starting to get the deluxe treatment with remastering, 5.1 mixes, bonus
tracks, rare video, etc. What if any involvement do you expect to have with
the albums you appeared on? Is there any rare material (audio or video) in
particular that you would like to see included when they get to essential
Crimson albums like Three
of a Perfect Pair or Beat?
I know nothing about the
Crimson catalog. It gets done really nicely without my input. One of these
days, I'll have time to sit down and give a good listen to all the re-mixes
There was a rumor that around the Pink Floyd Momentary
Lapse of Reason Tour in
1987 that you were asked to join the band permanently. Is there any truth to
that? If so, why did you decide to turn that offer down?
I was asked to play on the
tour... not the same as joining the band. Sadly for me, it conflicted with
the last few weeks of Peter Gabriel's So tour, which I was already in
the midst of.
I understand that you met Bob Ezrin through your work on Alice Cooper's
Welcome to My Nightmare and Lou Reed's Berlin. Was it through Bob that you
initially met Peter Gabriel? What are your recollections of your early
meetings with Peter?
Bob produced Peter's first album and brought me in to play bass.
Incidentally, I met Robert Fripp that same day... Peter was great - very
likeable, very talented. I didn't know Genesis' music at the time, so it was all new
to me. I was most impressed in how well Peter wrote, how distinctive his
musical style was, and how open he was to radical ideas of how to play it. I
suggested tuba... he said, "Sure!" I suggested barbershop quartet ... He said,
Through the Tony Levin Band, you've brought a new collaboration with Larry
Fast and Jerry Marotta. Had you remained in contact with Jerry and Larry
after they parted with Peter's band? How did they get involved with the Tony
Levin Band project?
Those guys are good friends of mine. We live not far apart. So, it was a
natural thing, after some years, to get together for touring. We had a lot
of fun as the Tony Levin Band, and it ended mostly because having five
players in a band at the club level just isn't practical anymore... bands
need to be more flexible, or popular... or both in order to keep touring.
Was it strange the first time you returned to the studio with Peter
[Gabriel] and Larry and Jerry weren't there?
back when Jerry first wasn't in Peter's band, and later Larry... Yes, it was
strange to me. Nothing we're not used to, of course, but it was very much
like a family, and though the new players were great, and nice people, it
did take some adjustment.
Did the Liquid Tension Experiment/Liquid Trio run its course, or do you
think you'll ever work with the guys from Dream Theater again on new studio
You never know what's going to happen in the future with groups. There are
no plans now for more LTE, but it could easily happen - depends mostly on
people's schedules, and those guys [Mike and the Dream Theater players] are
very busy most of the time. I get pretty booked up myself. The hope is that
someday we'll do more.
Tony Levin (center) and the
Liquid Tension Experiment
How did you get involved with Steve Hackett's Genesis Revisited
As often happens, I was simply asked to play on it. It only took an
afternoon, and was a very pleasant experience.
You obviously were one of the key musicians who made popular the use of
the Chapman Stick and the NS upright bass. In fact, many consider your
playing a big part of the "sound" of artists like Peter Gabriel, because
of your distinctive style. How did you first come to use the Chapman Stick
in your playing?
I heard about the Chapman Stick when it first came out - maybe because I
was playing 'hammer-on' style in those days. I went right to Emmett to get
one, and I started playing it right away... in Peter's live show - first
only on the piece "Moribund the Burgermeister." Then, gradually, on other
pieces. When I joined King Crimson, the Stick seemed an ideal
instrument to play bass parts in a more individual way, and to help form a
new sound for the group.
When I interviewed Bill
Bruford a few years back, he mentioned that he thought the Anderson,
Bruford, Wakeman and Howe project was a decent record, but he wasn't
satisfied with the Yes Union album which, at least in part, was
derived from early sessions for a second ABW&H album.
How did that project transition into becoming a Yes album?
Were the initial ABW&H demos
you participated in for that second project that radically different from
what Union ultimately
became, or did it never get that far into the creative process before it
evolved into a Yes album with a new set of players?
I was pretty much in the background, not a band member, so I wasn't aware of
all the issues. But the music was cool, and it was obvious that the label
and producer wanted it to slot into the type of record the 'other' YES had
done -- something that's not going to happen easily with the ABW&H players.
My opinion was, and is, that they should have been allowed to make their own
kind of recording - it would have been great... But I'm just the bass player!
SELECTED TONY LEVIN
Levin Torn White (2011)
Levin Levin, David Torn and Alan White combine forces
for a fantastic project! Includes: "No Warning Lights", "Ultra Mullett",
"White Noise", "Monkey Mind", "Crunch Time", and much more.
I noticed you worked with Jack
McDuff and O’Donel Levy in the early 1970s. During this period, did you ever
cross paths with session drummer Chester Thompson? If so, on which projects?
I know you both share a credit on O’Donel Levy’s Hands
TL: No, I actually
met Chester much later than that, when he was touring with Genesis, and I
would go see them a lot.
You've worked with countless talented musicians, many of whom have been
considered true musical innovators. Looking back on your work with musicians
ranging from Lou Reed and Robert Fripp to John Lennon and Peter Gabriel to
Paul Simon and David Bowie... Not to mention the great Buddy Rich! The list
goes on and on...
Tony Levin -
Stick Man (2007)
Includes: "Gut String Theory", "Speedbump", "El Mercado", and "Metro."
Spin 1ne 2wo (1993)
2010 digital remaster of Tony Levin's project with Paul Carrack, Rupert Hine,
and Steve Ferrone! Includes covers of classic rock favorites like Cream's
"White Room", Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" and "Black Dog", Jimi Hendrix's "All
Along The Watchtower" and much more!
Are there any commonalities in
the style or approach in which these artists have worked in the studio? Does
any one session or artist stand out as particularly enjoyable to you as a
I can't think of any
commonalities among those artists. The fact is, I've been very fortunate to
have had the chance to rub musical shoulders with even a few of them, and
it's been a great pleasure for me to play bass on music that's special. I
don't really spend time looking back at music I've done or artists I've
worked with, but just the list you mention reminds me how lucky I've been.
Were you surprised to hear
about Bill Bruford's self-imposed retirement from public performance? Do you
envision a time when you'll make that announcement yourself?
I was very surprised. No, I won't be retiring from playing as long as my
fingers can still twitch!
King Crimson -
Tony's first album with Crimson! This amazing CD+DVD KC 40th Anniversary
Remaster includes a new stereo mix with bonus alternate mixes. The DVD-Audio
disc features a stunning 5.1 DTS mix, hi-res stereo mix, original album mix,
new album mix and even a rough mix from the original sessions. As if that's
not enough, you also get the 1981 12" dance mix of Elephant Talk and other
audio extras plus footage of The Old Grey Whistle Test performances, new
notes co-written by Robert Fripp and much more! Absolutely essential for
For more Tony Levin CDs and DVDs as well as tour information and news on
up-coming projects, please visit the
official Tony Levin site
(and be sure to check out the impressive Tour Diary while you are there!)
Bruford Levin Upper Extremities (1999)
Tony's project with Bill Bruford, David Torn and Chris Botti. Includes:
"Cerulean Sea", "Original Sin" and more!
Peter Gabriel -
Growing Up - Live (DVD) (2003)
NTSC/Region 1 video taken from Peter's Up tour!
thanks to Tony Levin and Scott Schorr from Lazy Bones
Records for this interview. For more on Levin Torn
White, please visit the official
Levin Torn White website. This interview
© 2011-2012 Dave Negrin and may not be reprinted in whole
or in part without permission.
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