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Drake Levin 7/2009

drake-levinJuly 4, 2009 – Drake Levin was born Drake Maxwell Levinchefski on August 17th 1946 in Chicago, Illinois. Many sources cite his birth name as Levinshefski, but his brother Jeff said the family’s version, Levinchevski, was shortened to Levin many years before his birth. When he was 13, his family moved to Boise, Idaho. As a young man he played in a band called the Surfers, along with a bassist, Phil Volk, who would later join the Raiders.

Levin joined the Raiders when he was 16 years old, which earned him the nickname “The Kid” from Paul Revere. His addition helped establish Paul Revere and the Raiders as a premier showband in the Northwest United States. Levin’s performances included synchronized dance steps, playing on his knees, standing on his amplifier and playing his guitar behind his head. After a performance at Seattle’s Spanish Castle Ballroom, a young man who had watched from the front of the stage all evening approached Drake. He said that Drake’s playing had inspired him and said he was a really good showman. As Drake thanked him and they shook hands, Drake asked the young man his name and he replied, “Jimi Hendrix.”

The Raiders became a national teen sensation from their daily television exposure on the ABC television show Where The Action Is. It was during that time that Levin and the Raiders produced many hit records. Levin’s blues-based guitar style helped drive the band’s raw, edgy sound. Levin’s synchronized dance steps and stage antics with fellow Raider bassist Phil “Fang” Volk earned the pair the nickname “The Twins”.

In 1966, Levin left the performing version of the band to fulfill his military service obligation by joining the National Guard. This enabled him to continue recording in the studio with the group during his time off. Levin’s guitar work and background vocals can be heard on Raiders albums through The Spirit of ’67, although his name and photo do not appear on the album cover with the band. Jim “Harpo” Valley had stepped into Levin’s place on the Raiders’ television and concert performances, thus Valley’s photo appears with the band on that particular album. They had hits such as “Louie Louie”, “Steppin’ Out”, “Just Like Me”, “Kicks” which ranked No. 400 on the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 1966, “Hungry” “The Great Airplane Strike”, “Good Thing” and “Him or Me – What’s It Gonna Be?”.

When Volk became ill and could not tour, Levin stepped in to cover for his friend on a few dates, filling in for Volk on bass. When Levin’s performing replacement, Valley, decided to leave the band after a little over a year with the group, Levin again rejoined the Raiders to help them finish their spring 1967 tour. Levin was to perform with the Raiders on the Ed Sullivan Show on April 30, 1967, but band leader Paul Revere was upset at the pending departure of Volk and drummer Mike “Smitty” Smith and believed Levin to be partially responsible. Unknown to the group, Revere, (in reality manager Terry Melcher) had hired a replacement guitarist, Freddy Weller, to perform with the group on the Sullivan show, leaving Levin to watch the Raiders only Ed Sullivan Show performance as a spectator.

Drake, Phil Volk and Mike “Smitty” Smith left the Raiders in 1967 to form the trio, The Brotherhood. The band was signed to RCA, but were hindered by the members’ lingering contractual obligations to Columbia Records from their Raiders work. The power trio released three albums, two under the Brotherhood name in 1968 and 1969 and a third album in 1969 called Joyride under the name Friendsound. Joyride was an experimental album that is listed on the “Nurse with Wound” list.

The cover art for this album was illustrated by Edna Marie O’Dowd. Ms. O’Dowd was an emerging artist and a friend of Drake Levin during the recording of the album.

Levin subsequently performed with artists such as Ananda Shankar, Emitt Rhodes, and Lee Michaels (on the album Barrel). He also participated in reunions of various ex-members of the Raiders, and worked with his friend Phil Volk on several occasions. He played in he Curtis Lawson Band featuring Drake Levin – Live At The Saloon and the Sinners Band – which one of the last bands Drake was involved with.

Drake Levin died of cancer July 4, 2009 at his home in San Francisco at age 62, with his wife Sandra at his side.

When Drake Levin played lead guitar with Paul and the Raiders, he and bass guitarman Phil Volk would pull-off a showstopper: “Drake on top of the left speaker and Phil on right speaker … dancing!” Those guys could and would dance plus play their instruments with superb results. Drake and Phil would dance on the speakers and play guitars behind their heads at the same time!

Many guitarists can’t play at that level without even playing behind their heads! Once when they were performing at the Spanish Castle, a then- unknown Jimi Hendrix was in the audience, watching and learning from Drake. This was in 1963 or 1964 before Jimi made it big. Drake was obviously an influence to the guitar playing and showmanship of many musicians. Paul Schaefer of “The Late Show with David Letterman” was a fan.

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