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Tony Levin

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Tony Levin

Discusses his

waters of eden tour

IN THE BEGINNING                       

 In the beginning there was a bass.

 It was a Fender probably a Precision, but it could have been a Jazz-----nobody knows.

Anyway, it was very old…definitely pre-CBS.

And God looked down upon it and saw that it was good. He saw that it was very good, in fact, and couldn’t be improved upon at all (although men would later try). And so He let it be and He created a man to play the bass.

And lo, the man look upon the bass, which was a beautiful sunburst red, and he loved it. He played upon the open E string and the note rang through the earth and reverberated throughout the firmaments. Thus reverb come to be. And it was good. And God heard that it was good and He smiled at His handiwork.

In the course of time, the man came to slap upon the bass. And lo, it was funky.

And God heard this funkiness and He said, “Go, man, go.” And it was good.

And more time passed, and, having little else to do, the man came to practice upon the bass. And lo, the man came to have upon him a great set of chops.

And he did play faster and faster until the notes rippled like a breeze through the heavens.

And God heard this sound that sounded something like the wind, which He had created earlier. It also sounded something like the moving of furniture, which He hadn’t even created yet, and He was not so pleased. And He spoke to the man, saying, “Don’t do that!”

Now the man heard the voice of God, but he was so excited about his new ability that he slapped upon the bass a blizzard of funky notes. And the heavens shook with the sound, and the Angels ran about in confusion. (Some of the Angels started to dance, but that is another story).

And God heard this---how could He miss it---and lo, He became bugged.

And he spoke to the man, and He said, “Listen man, if I wanted Jimi Hendrix I would have created the guitar. Stick to the bass parts.”

And the man heard the voice of God, and he knew not to mess with it. But now he had upon him a passion for playing fast and high. The man took the frets off the bass that God had created. And the man did slide his fingers upon the fretless fingerboard and play melodies high upon the neck. And in his excitement, the man did forget the commandment of the Lord, and he played a frenzy of high melodies and blindingly fast licks. And the heavens rocked with the assault and the earth shook, rattled and rolled.

Now God’s wrath was great. And his was thunder as He spoke to the man. He said, “ OK for you, pal. You have not heeded My word. LO, I shall create a soprano saxophone and it shall higher than you can even think of.

“And from out of the chaos I shall bring forth the drums. And I shall make you to always stand by the drummer, and he shall play so many notes thine head shall ache. ”You think you’re loud? I shall create a stack of Marshall guitar amps to make thine ears bleed. And I shall send down upon the earth other instruments, and lo, they shall all be able to play higher and faster than the bass.

“And for all the days of man, your curse shall be this: that all the other instruments shall look to you, the bass player, for the low notes. And if you play too fast or too high all the other musicians shall say “wow”, but really they shall hate it.

And they shall tell you’re ready for your solo career, and they shall find other bass players for their bands. And for all your days if you want to play your fancy licks you shall have to sneak them in like a thief in the night.

And if you finally do get to play a solo, everyone shall leave the bandstand and go to the bar for a drink.”
And it was so.

Introduction from Tony Levin’s book

‘Beyond the Bass Clef-The Life and Art of Bass Playing

Taken with permission

Copyright 1998 by Tony Levin.

Available from Papa Bear Records

P.O. Box 498,
Woodstock, New York, U.S.A.


The End.

Actually, the introduction to his 1998 book shown above says it all. As bassists we can recognize so many of the situations in this humorous little intro based loosely upon Bible phrasing. Tony has seen it all, was probably there when a lot of it happened and has seemingly played bass on most of the records made in the free world.

When you check out his site, shown at the end of the interview, click on his discography and you will see what we mean. In all likelihood, those albums not played by Tony were probably played by Carol Kaye, also featured in our next issue!

“Beyond the Bass Clef’ is a hilarious fly-on-the-wall telling of life on the road with Tony Levin. Presently on tour promoting his newest solo album entitled ‘WATERS OF EDEN’, on Narada Records, he has with him three other musicians, two of them from earlier incarnations of Peter Gabriels band. Jerry Marotta on drums and Larry Fast, synthesist for a long series of instrumental progressive music under the banner of Synergy. As well, with Jesse Gress on guitar, this group of four are travelling from city to city in a van. Tony assures me that that van is not going to be around forever. Next month they go back to a bus, which is a good thing if for no other reason than to give them room to move. An excellent way to avoid strangling each other due to traveling nausea. Travel Nausea is what you feel when you think you will soon be opting to strangle your fellow riding associate if they don’t stop playing with their nose.

On this newest release Tony has opted for a position in his music similar to that taken by another bass instrumentalist and composer: Patrick O’Hearn. Like O’Hearn, Tony chose to use the bass and cello on the album as lead melodic instruments. Using a very natural almost organic sound on both his basses, his cello and stand up bass as well, Tony achieves an accessibility on this album that perhaps even some radio stations might drum up the courage to play. Moments of deep poignancy give way to pulsing constructs filled with a sense of bravado and pure joy.

Tony is proud of this record and very pleased with the audience response with this tour. Sales of tickets and CD’s have been very good, and Tony fills his days on the road with acting both as publicity and salesman for the group, spending hours of each day either on the phone or in meetings, setting up rooms, practice spaces, meals, hotels, all in all tasks usually reserved for Tour Manager. Quite literally going directly from his tour as sideman with the California Guitar Trio, Tony now has to switch to the role of the Star of the Show, something he is not seemingly at total ease with. I asked Tony how he felt about stardom in the first place. Many of his peers and his musical friends are and have been living music legends. In spite of all this, Tony manages to retain that sense of the man just next door. He assures us that most, if not all, of the people the public tends to think of as legends are just regular folk like himself.

So Tony and a few other Legends like Larry Fast are all piled into a van heading down the highway from Baltimore towards home after a grueling multi-city tour. They are taking a few days off just to give the whole thing a bit of an apostrophe and then once again the month of June swallows them up with concerts almost every night. We begin the conversation by talking about Sherlock, his dog, who often followed him in younger days on the road. I ask if the dog is somehow crammed into the car with them all. He laughs and says that Sherlock will have nothing to do with road life anymore and hasn’t since he was one year old.

It appears that there is a bit of a rest schedule-wise for you over the next few days. When I look at your schedule, you seem to be taking a few days for yourself.

Tony Levin: Who thinks about rest? It’s just that around holiday weekends it’s hard to get bookings and very hard to travel. So we decided to spare ourselves the difficulties from having to drive around that weekend. Starting in June, we’re gone for that whole month.

On your website I came across a photo of you wearing what looks like a pink rubber or foam head of hair. Are you thinking of a new look?

TL: Actually we have that in the van. It’s actually Jerry Marotta’s wig. It’s actually made of Styrofoam and he’s been hoping that one night I will wear it on stage.

Some years ago on tour with Gabriel both you and David Rhodes the guitarist began the concert wearing long silver metallic wigs that disguised you both until the end of the song, at which point Peter pulled the wigs off both of you, and of course the crowd went wild!

TL: That was The Wig Tour. When I showed up at the first soundcheck with a wig Peter didn’t even recognized me. As a joke he asked me to wear it that night and he took it off my head later in the show. After a few nights David Rhodes wanted to get in the act so he started bringing in wigs.

You were saying in one of your e-mails that the response from the audiences has been really good.

TL: Oh yeah, On a tour like this we have a lot of contact with the audience because we go out after the show and sign autographs. Sometimes it lasts up to an hour afterwards! There’s a lot of talking to people and getting a sense of what they are thinking and how they like different things. It’s really been fun. It’s also probably the most contact I’ve ever had with audiences and it’s been good.

On this newest release, Waters of Eden, you cover a lot of ground. There’s a Jazz feel to parts of it with almost a melancholy air to some of the songs. Perhaps it is the use of a bowed acoustic and cello as well; both are capable of being somewhat ‘blue’ sounding instruments.

TL: The one track with just piano and me, that was with Warren Bernhardt and is called ‘Boulevard of Dreams’. My original title for that was gonna be “Central Park In the Snow’. In fact that was a very wintry thing, but I thought that was too descriptive. That was probably my favorite track to record because I love Warren’s playing so much.

Does the cello trigger that melancholy feeling in you at all?

TL: Well, it depends on how it’s played. I think all string instruments can be played that way. Some instruments lend themselves to that. I think the upright bass, the contrabass is more that way than the cello, because the cello is part of the violin family and therefore ‘speaks out’ sonically. Whereas the bass is part of the Viol family, which is a different, more introverted kind of sound, a more closed in kind of sound.

In concert, which of the songs from the new album is getting the most reaction?

TL: I am finding a lot of the listeners say that their favorite track is UTOPIA. I never thought of it being one of the major tracks but after the show we have more comments about that song than some of the others.

How are comments regarding the track GECKO WALK, and the reason this is asked is that if there ever was a radio friendly song on this album, GECKO is that song. It has a strut to it.

TL: I agree, I had that in mind but I found out that Narada is not the kind of record company that submits those kinds of songs to radio stations. But that’s okay with me. It (GECKO WALK) is a radio friendly track that’s not getting submitted to radio but that’s okay! It is one of our favorites in the show. It’s one of the few up-tempo numbers I’ve written and the audience responds to it well.

Do you find working with a record label like Narada that you are given the freedom to choose which songs are marketed to the radio stations?

TL: No, I don’t. They’re the record company and they market a record they way they like to, and the way they know how to. They don’t really need my suggestions (Laughs) I can object if they do something I am uncomfortable with, but they haven’t. They are a good company and I don’t have to worry about them being unpleasant or marketing me in a way that embarrasses me.

I was surprised you aligned yourself with a large label, because in your book you mention repeatedly that you stay away from record labels and choose to do things yourself.

TL: The reason I signed with them for this album was not a musical one. In fact I started making the album for myself on Papa Bear Records. It was just kind of a logistics thing of putting the record out. For me to put a record out I usually have to have had just finished touring with someone to give me the money to record it, to manufacture it and to do a little advertising. The ones that I don’t advertise, well no one ever knows they’re out. So I was on the Seal tour at the beginning of last year but it was cancelled. I could have still come up with enough money to make this album but I thought ‘why not ask if they’re (NARADA) interested in this album?’. I recorded kinda the ‘scratch’ versions of all of the tracks and sent it to them, including a note that asked if they were happy with this album the way it was, because I really didn’t want them to ask me to change anything musically about it. But they were very happy with it. They only had one request. At that time my working title for the album was ‘The Passionate Bass’ and their only request was that they liked the track called ‘Waters of Eden’ so much that they asked if I wouldn’t mind changing the title of the album to ‘Waters of Eden’. So I did. That wasn’t much of a request.

You appear to be really prolific with names, band names (see Beyond the Bass Clef), names for songs and so forth, does that kind of stuff just roll effortlessly out of your consciousness or do you have to fight for it?

TL: Both really, sometimes it comes easy, sometimes I need to work at it. Sometimes when a band is joking around or suggesting titles I try to remember to write `em down so I have access to them later. But generally in the period in which I am writing the music, as my family will tell you, my wife and daughter are very aware of this…I begin my night time reading when I go to bed and this generates little phrases and little quotable bits. I’ll start reading poetry and the Bible and things like that in bed at night with a note pad next to me. So over the period of months when I am writing music, they come to me. Often I have a title in mind, but I do change them, and few of them actually make it to the end. So by the end of that period of taking notes, I would say I probably have about 50 titles.

It was ironic, when you told me that your title for this newest album was to be The Passionate Bass. I didn’t say anything at the time because I hadn’t get settled upon a name, but The Passionate Bass was going to be the name for this music magazine !

TL: Oh really, well it’s there, it’s free for you if you want it!

No, we’re very happy with the title Global Bass because we’re finding with the website and getting responses from all over the world, the name Global is exactly what we are. It’s been said before but that is one of the greatest strengths of the Internet, the reaching of almost everybody and anybody.

TL: I really think that it’s the beginning of the change of Humankind, a way to tie us all together, regardless of language and huge cultural differences. I think it is the beginning of the true coming together of the human races with communication amongst individuals, and the Internet has given us that. It’s marvelous!

As you’ve seen from my Road Diaries the hits I get are from all over the world. So because of these diaries these people from all over the world are seeing what it’s like for us to play on the road in various cities.

On your site you come across as just someone in a band going about their day. There is no Rock Star mentality shown at all. But the fact of the matter is, even if you don’t feel that way about yourself, you have to admit that the people you play for and with often are Rock Stars. You however, just come across like some guy you’d know from down the street.

TL: Most of those ‘stars’ are that way too, not all of them, but most of them are very much regular guys. So really, I am just reflecting what life is like working with them.

With the new BOZZIO, LEVINS & STEVENS album coming out July 25th, you are going to having 3 albums, four if you count BLUE NIGHTS as a double, up in the air all at the same time!

TL: Well BLUE NIGHTS doesn’t particularly count because nobody hears about that one, that’s one of those ones that I never publicized. My ‘Waters of Eden’ will still be under way and we’ll still be on tour when this newest one comes out. By the way, I just heard that the title for that album is gonna be ‘SITUATION DANGEROUS’.

Wasn’t it you that came up with that name?

TL: Actually, I heard it on one of the tracks. Somebody said that on a track. So I didn’t invent it, I just said ‘let’s make that the title of the album’. I don’t even know who said it, it was on the rough mix. They sent me the mixes and right before one of the pieces started, I hear the count off and someone in the background says “Situation dangerous”.

Unusual thing to say, isn’t it? Not a common part of speech.

TL: I agree. I have no idea why they said it. I think it will be on the album too, spoken, but there. It seemed like a good title.

You said to me last year that you just didn’t have the time to do the King Crimson album and tour. I can see just by looking at your tour itinerary, you were absolutely correct in saying that.

TL: Yeah and you are probably aware that they have their new record out, and I didn’t do it and I won’t be on their tour. It’s too bad.

Does it feel kinda like finding out something you are a part of is going on without you?

TL: It feels really odd. It will be even odder still when I hear the album. Although I am looking forward to hearing it, but it will be a funny feeling to be hearing it as a fan instead of as a band member. I feel pretty confident that I will be involved with them again next year in another project.

You were saying that Robert (Fripp) assured you that you would always have a position in the band. That’s a wonderful thing for him to say and I tend to believe it to be correct but it still would feel strange.

TL: My lengthy experience in the Rock business, and I’ve been in it for a long time, tells me, and I’ve learned from experience, when you don’t do a record and a tour, there’s a good chance that you’re not gonna be involved in the future of whoever it is. Either someone better has come along or they just get very comfortable without you. It’s an inevitable thing, not a bad thing. I am hoping that this is an exception to that and I believe it is, but simultaneously I have knowledge from my experience in the business.

Have you heard at all from Adrian (Belew) or Robert?

TL: No, we are all really busy, and we’re not really guys that just chat with each other a lot.

So in effect, what you are is ‘work buddy’s’.

TL: We like each other a lot, but there is so much business to discuss when we do get together. I know they have been very busy putting together this tour and this album, and I’ve certainly been busy on my own. I suspect we hear a lot about each other through our mutual fans. God knows, after each show I hear from at least 20 of the 50 people out there what King Crimson is doing.

I am sure that, maybe not Robert, but Adrian will hear that I am singing Elephant Talk. I also did that song with the California Guitar Trio Tour in an unplugged acoustic version. I am singing Adrians part. I am doing it as a treat for the fans, and the Crimson fans sat through all of my music, so as it gets to the end of the show, in their hearts they’d love to hear some Crimson stuff. We also do a Gabriel piece for that same reason, an older song called ‘I Go Swimming’. Not every piece works out if you take away the vocals, but this one does work as an instrumental. We also do a Jimi Hendrix piece called ‘Jam Back At The House’ that we do some nights which we kinda morph at the end into King Crimson’s ‘Red’.

We will be featuring a series of articles over the next few issue on TouchStyle playing, including The Stick. There are a lot of artists out there using this sort of instrument. Are you aware of any bands using The Chapman Stick?

TL: Way back when I used to get on the net I used to wander around, and look for things, but I got too busy very quickly and if I have any time up their it’s usually to work on my own site. That site is massive and I have so many pages that I’ve designed myself and I can’t even keep up with them! So I just don’t have the time to cruise around and have fun seeing other things. I’d like to do it, but I don’t.

For the ‘teckies’, you’re working with the 5 string Music Man Stingray Fretless Bass, is that almost exclusively?

TL: For this tour and this album most tracks are particularly on the fretless. Usually I use all my basses, because usually I am a sideman, a backup musician. This time I am the lead player. I chose the fretless and the NS Electric Upright this time. Here on tour, I started with the NS Upright and the NS Cello but there wasn’t room in the van, frankly for all the instruments. I had to dump something, so I am only playing the cello on both of the parts for upright and cello. I only use the fretted on one piece, called Bone and Flesh, where I play a tune using the FUNK FINGERS in a bass duet with Jerry. Pretty much what I am doing live is playing the high parts myself and leaving the really low parts from the album, to Larry Fast.

What kind of amplification system do you use for onstage monitoring?

TL: I have two amplifiers on stage, as I have often done in the past. That splits my signal in half, putting certain effects on one side and certain effects on the other. So I use two TRACE ELLIOT Combo’s. On a bigger tour, I would take the SM 1000 thousand-watt head and two large cabinets.

Your book, BEYOND THE BASS CLEF, was a thoroughly enjoyable look into life on the road with Tony Levin. Do you have plans for a follow-up book in the future?

TL: I have my next book almost prepared, the trouble is, and I said the same thing a year and a half ago, is I just haven’t got time to finish it up. My next book is not gonna be so much writing, it’s going to be photos and journals of my 20 years in King Crimson. It will called the Crimson Chronicles and realistically, I have to say, I am a year away from it because I can’t finish that until I have a month or two at home. The way it’s looking I don’t have any time at home! All the photo’s have been taken, all the journals have been in my computer for a long long time, but it’s just a matter of compiling it.

Speaking of not having enough time, did you ever get the time to go out and find more drumsticks to make more FUNK FINGERS? (Funk Fingers are a custom made attachment to the index and middle fingers on your plucking hand that in effect drum the strings. See previous interview in our archives for more details) The last I spoke to you, you had 30 pairs, and then that was it!

TL: No, those sold right away, and I’ve been getting e-mails ever since saying, “Hey, when are the Funk Fingers coming back?", and I’m way behind. I have not ordered them. Half of me wants to redesign `em and find a better way to mass-produce. So there are no more Funk Fingers for the immediate future. Of course, there will be some eventually. The world will just have to wait, till I get around to it.

In a world where people drive themselves right over the edge, trying to ‘keep up’, trying to keep in place in the Rat Race, it strikes me that Tony Levin is the sort of man that marches to his own unique step. Other people’s dramas do not become your emergencies.

TL: I just do my best. I know that I am very lucky to co-create with a lot of great musicians, especially out on the road, and that really feed my artistic machine, it’s kinda the energy or fuel for it. In the rare times that I am free at home, and this happens to any free lance player…there are times when you have no work. Instead of being despondent about having no work, that’s when I begin to create my own stuff, do these albums, or artwork or start books and things like that. I find that instead of dreading having no work, I kinda look forward to it in a way. That’s when I can look deep inside myself and come out with the things that I want to create.

You can reach Tony via his website at or

The site itself is a source of hours of reading, tons of photos and links to his friends and associates in the industry.

Waters of Eden is available from Narada Records and therefore can be found or ordered into any record store.



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