Blues guitarist Levi Lloyd is a music magnet
Sonoma County is home to many talented musicians – Charlie Musselwhite, Nick Gravenites, David Grisman and Tom Waits, to name a few. Santa Rosa, in particular, has no shortage of talented musicians, some nationally known and others who are local legends. Moving to the head of the list of local legends, is blues guitarist and vocalist Levi Lloyd.
Lloyd is highly respected by both musicians and music lovers and draws other, high calibre musicians like a magnet. For more than a year, he has hosted a workshop in which select, local musicians have the opportunity to jam together on music they wouldn’t normally play with their own bands. It helps them stretch out of their comfort zone and try out new material or different styles with other, talented musicians, according to Lloyd. “The good thing about it is that it’s not a walk-on jam session.”
The workshop began at the Penngrove Pub, then moved to Aubergine’s in Sebastopol, until its cantina closed, then briefly moved to Quincy’s in Rohnert Park, before finding its current home at Twin Oaks in Penngrove. New owner, Sheila Groves-Tracey, former booking agent for Napa’s Uptown Theatre and Petaluma’s Mystic Theatre, will be helping Lloyd book some special guests. “I want this to be a place where talented musicians can hone their craft and feel like they can experiment before they go on to play bigger venues,” said Groves-Tracey.
Frank Hayhurst, 64, producer of the Real Music CDs, which benefit the Redwood Empire Food Bank, said, “Levi is such a brilliant guitar player that he can just sling his guitar on and people start dancing.” Once he starts playing, Hayhurst added, you hear amazing “shape, tone, classic sound and fresh chording – extraordinary, just amazing.”
When Hayhurst and Blair Hardman, owner of Zone Recording, were compiling original songs by local artists for Volume 2 of the Real Music CDs, Frank mentioned Lloyd, who didn’t have a recording. The two are such fans of Lloyd’s work that Blair offered to record one of his original songs himself at Zone.
Hayhurst said that when a recording is made, usually the foundation is laid by the other musicians with the lead guitar tracks laid down last. Lloyd recorded his first, which, according to Hayhurst, is another example of what a great musician Lloyd is. “He is a blues guitar player who thinks orchestrally,” he said. Not only is Levi a talented musician and a pleasure to work with, said Hayhurst, but “he’s a really nice guy.”
Musicians who participate in the Real Music CD project make no money from the venture, but gain valuable exposure. Also, Oliver’s Market will sell their CDs in its stores. Lloyd doesn’t have a CD to sell. “He just wanted to be a part of the fundraising effort for the food bank,” said Hayhurst. According to Hayhurst, the money raised from the CD sales doubles the annual support for the REFB.
Lloyd has entertained audiences with his voice since he was 12. As an army brat, Lloyd traveled through Germany, France, Bavaria and the lower alps performing at army bases, teen halls, officer clues, Non-commisioned Officers’ (NCO) halls and United Service Organization (USO) clubs. Lloyd was exposed to all kinds of music at home, from country and blues to big band. His sisters exposed him to jazz, and R & B.
After moving to the States, Lloyd taught himself guitar at 17 – even learning to play James Brown on his 12-string. He played James Brown, Marvin Gaye, blues and top 40 R & B in a three-piece, funk band called the “$20 friendship.”
The first time Lloyd found himself on a large stage was when he went to hear John Lee Hooker at a club in Berkeley. A friend, who was Hooker’s roadie, had told Lloyd he’d get him backstage to meet the musicians. Lloyd, who was 18 at the time, sat at a table waiting for the show to start. “This guy came off the stage and tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘I hear you can play.’” Lloyd said, “I get up to follow this guy and he’s going the opposite way of the dressing room and leads me onto the stage, puts on his hat, and says, ‘Give that man a guitar.’” That man, of course, was John Lee Hooker, with whom Lloyd maintained a lasting friendship.
Lloyd has toured as far as Hawaii, Canada and Europe, including a European tour with Joe Louis Walker and the Boss Talkers in 2000. His first introduction to Sonoma County was playing highland festivals. Diane Swan, who was singing for Johnny Otis, came down to Oakland and told Lloyd, “You’re coming with me.” Swan brought him into Otis’ gospel choir.
Lloyd plugged into the local music scene by running a jam session at a place called Bourbon Street in Coddington Mall in the mid 90s for a couple years. “I was lucky because I met some pretty big players and there was a lot of mutual respect.”
When asked who inspired him most with regard to his music, Lloyd said simply, “Me.” He added that his music was the one constant in a life of moving every four years. “I told my Mom at five that I was going to be on TV.” And he was, in the form of videos, in Hawaii and Canada.
Lloyd said making a living at music in Sonoma County is hard work. “A lot of people are spoiled with regard to music, because there is so much in the way of free music available.” Lloyd now has several bands: Levi Lloyd and the 501 Band, Levi Lloyd and Friends, Brother Cat, The Bruthas and The Moving Company. “I’m trying to do as mush as I can do to stay diverse,” he said.
The next opportunity to hear Levi Lloyd and the 501 Band is Sat., Mar. 8, at the Greenhouse Tavern in Sebastopol. He will also be one of the many musicians playing at a memorial for Ronnie Martin at The Tradewinds Bar in Cotati on Sun., Mar. 9. His next workshop at Twin Oaks is Tues., Mar. 18 at 8 p.m.
The workshop at Twin Oaks Tavern in Penngrove is every other Tuesday (except Fat Tuesday, Mar. 4). Music lovers and musicians are encouraged to attend these free events, but participation is by invitation only. Twin Oaks Tavern is at 5745 Old Redwood Highway in Penngrove. To find out more about Lloyd, his band and his upcoming gigs, visit reverberation.com.