Drake Levin on Drake Levin
John Lennon and his friend David Bowie said more regarding the power of imagination and the vagaries of Fame in a couple of short pop songs than my friend Phil and I could say if we had the space of a book. So, I’ll be relatively brief, use your imagination and my buddy “Fang” and I will take you way back to the day.
It was a fun time when five young guys from nowhere in the Northwest and took a wild ride from regional success, as a kick-ass fraternity band to National domination, number one in touring as a regular house band on the number one daytime television show, “Where the Action Is” and all in a very short time.
It was a great time to be a young rock star in America. We were having a ball; we felt like young princes and that it would last forever.
Luck might seem to have been an important factor, but looking back with the benefit of time and life experience, I’d have to say that without a lot of hard work and a lot of talented people helping us, we never would had our overnight success and fifteen minutes of fame.
Those fifteen minutes has reverberated through my life, sometimes feeling like a blessing or a curse. I’ve met the most interesting people and had so many great experiences. I feel lucky to still be alive and have such great friends and memories on which to reflect. It’s made me the well-rounded person I am today.
For me the lucky day might have been when I walked into Mr. Rice’s journalism class, my first day as a new kid in school at Nampa Jr. High, Nampa Idaho, after my Mom grabbed the kids and fled our hometown of Chicago where I’d been developing quite a little talent for shoplifting. My father’s lecture when I was busted impressed me so much I vowed to tread the straight and narrow from that day forward.
Anyway back in journalism class, Phil Volk was the first kid I met. He walked up to me, stuck out his hand in a very adult way and said, “Welcome to Idaho, my name is Phil”. I think he thought that his being a recent California transplant and me just arriving from the big city that we might be a little hipper than the other kids around us.
An hour or two later, he further impressed me by singing at a lunch-time lyceum, playing a 45 and singing along with Richie Valens “Oh Donna” kind of early Karaoke.
After lunch, Phil asked me if I’d like to go duck hunting after school.
I thought I’d found my best friend.
We met after school and when he told me he had to steal shotgun shells, I told him I couldn’t go. I was Crestfallen.
We had a fateful meeting, a few months later, during summer vacation, when we found ourselves both staring up at the same white guitar in a pawn shop window downtown Nampa.
He told me that he’d gotten caught, had the big Father and Son talk and gone straight too.
We walked in together and checked out the guitar, Later we went duck hunting. Afterwards, we showed up at his folk’s farm and Phil and his brother George played guitar and sang. Almost from the first time, they started teaching me basic chords and how to play a few simple songs.
His folks weren’t rich. They rented their small farm and depended on the milk and eggs and vegetables they produced themselves. They kept a couple horses, so we’d go horseback riding, swim in irrigation ditches and go duck hunting. What a great summer.
For summer jobs, we hitch hiked to a nearby fruit ranch and picked cherries or thin peaches. By the end of the summer, I’d saved enough for a down payment on my first guitar.
We’d always end up a Phil’s place for a great country supper and a little picking and singing. They were my second family. I was lucky indeed.
My dad had re-joined us and we moved to Boise, where I started High School. Phil’s family moved closer to Boise, attending Borah High, which was closer to town.
We used to hitchhike to the local T.V. Station and became regulars on the local “Teen Telehop” show, once a week.
Phil joined a local high school band, with a popular D.J. helping them and played teen dances every weekend. I was playing five nights a week at a pizza beer joint with a piano, guitar and bass trio I started shortly before.
Without dragging this out too much longer, it was just dumb luck that Paul Revere saw my little trio on an afternoon T.V. show, at the same time as the liquor commissioner. Paul called the station and hired my band to play every Monday night in the new teenage nightclub he’s just opened in Boise. The liquor commissioner called the beer bar and got us fired for being underage. At this point I was fifteen years old.
Paul loaned us his drummer Smitty for the first few weeks, until we found a drummer. Phil joined the band for a short time that summer when his band fired him for missing a gig to participate in a track meet.
Paul had just moved back to Idaho after a two year absence, working as an orderly at the Oregon State Mental Hospital to fulfill his military obligation as a conscientious objector, because his family being Mennonites, all his brothers had been C.O. Status. He wanted to join the National Guard. Do six months and be back in business. He fought for 1-A Status and was denied.
At the time, he was a local entrepreneur who’d sold his two barbershops, bought the Reed and Bell drive-in restaurant and played local dances.
Mark used to deliver bread to the drive-in and sit in one or two songs. He’s get five bucks a night. The bandleader (not Paul) told Mark he was going to have to let him go, because he could not afford two singers (there was a girl that sang a few numbers too) but if he could play sax he might be able to stay.
Mark traded a family heirloom Martin guitar for a brand new Selmer Sax, went out to the lake, learned to blow three notes and became a Rock and Roll Saxophone player.
Eventually Paul became the bandleader and Mark and Paul went to Los Angeles, where Paul paid to record an instrumental album called “Like Longhair” and pressed it up with a beautifully tacky purple album cover.
The owner at the pressing plant asked the name of the group, which had been called the Downbeats and recommended using Paul Revere’s real name except for the last name and calling the band Paul Revere and the Night Riders. They thought that sound too country.
So they decided on Paul Revere and the Raiders. That was around 1960.
So Paul was already a local legend in my mind when he called me to have my band play at his club, that summer of 1962. Phil joined my little band almost from the beginning of the summer, as his band had fired him for missing a gig in favor of a track meet.
One Monday night, Revere asked me to stick around after the gig. Him and an old upright piano. Me and my guitar. It was like getting to jam with Little Richard or Jerry Lee.
Musically we clicked, because we were both strong rhythm players.
I realized it was an audition when he said that he’d be calling me in a week or two, and when they got back from a mini-road trip to the Oregon coast, playing Portland, Seaside, Newport and similar towns. He wasn’t happy with his guitar player he’s been using for the last 4 or 5 months and would I be interested? Would I ever? Imagine that.
I went home and played guitar all night long, until Revere shook me awake, just after dawn, my guitar still on, amp buzzing and jangling, and said “Wake up Kid, I fired Charlie this morning. You’re the new guitar player. Let’s get your stuff loaded up. We’re leaving now”.
The rest is history, with a ton of fun and a lot of wild and crazy experiences in between.
Mark was a gifted singer, with his own sound and a hell of an entertainer. Paul was a genius at business and drilled us to be tight and professional. Smitty, Paul and Phil were great physical comedians.
We were the Marx Brothers of Rock and Roll.
We were really having a lot of fun and people couldn’t help but have fun too.
Dick Clark discovered us through word of mouth, competition (his “Caravan” tours of stars couldn’t compete with us in the Northwest) and Roger Hart our manager camped out on his door step. “Where the Action Is” catapulted us into record charts and magazines covers almost immediately, proving the power of television to promote rock bands and eventually leading to MTV.
Phil’s description of the break up is about as accurate as any I’ve seen. There was an earlier mutiny when we first met Terry and he used studio guys on a track and played “our” new song for us. We told Paul and Terry if we were good enough to play our stuff on “Action” and live we were good enough to play our own records.
Lucky for us the studio guys track was a bomb and the next thing we recorded became a hit, with more to follow. Terry was an awesome producer, ahead of his time in many ways and I’ll always be grateful for the things I learned watching him work.
In a way this “Midnight Ride” Album was contributed to the break up. It was a first for us. Our biggest hit at that point, “Kicks” and a bunch of originals.
I went in the National Guard in April 1966. “Hungry” was in the cans, released while I was in basic and Midnight Ride was released just before that. You can hear Terry’s country and surf influences creeping into the sound. I hear this Sandy Bull raga guitar influence coming out of me that I’d totally forgotten. I was a big Steve Cropper and Howard Roberts fan and just wanted to play funky. I might have thought “Melody for an Unknown Girl” was a little too sweet, but you have to admire Marks’ beautiful tone alto sax. He was also a killer tenor sax man with a tone like Plaz Johnson.
It seemed like one year I was running home after school to watch American bandstand like every other kid in America and the next minute I was on a ski lift, meeting Dick Clark for the first time as we ride to the top together to tape a song for the pilot to “Where the Action Is”.
Can you imagine? What a wild ride it all was!
San Francisco, 1999
All rights reserved, copyright Drake Levin estate
Drake was born on August 17, 1946 in Chicago, Illinois.
Drake died on July 4, 2009 in San Francisco, California.