Thank You Lou Levy

‘WOODY, you just topped off six vodka on the rocks, at our VIP table, with water!” These were the first words uttered to me by my snarling, coked-up manager.

It was the summer of 1990 and I had landed a job as a busboy at a supper club in New York City! I was young, wide-eyed and innocent.  My only restaurant experience had been working the salad bar at Bonanza back home in Texas, and a famous restaurateur had taken me under his wing.

This supper club had marvelous jazz bands and served dinner into the wee hours. It played host to the likes of Frank Sinatra, too many famous actors to mention, and many wise guys including, every Thursday, John Gotti himself.

I was a complete failure as a busboy and the manager feared what my next blunder might be, so the owner promoted me to service bartender and hid me in the kitchen.

It wasn’t long before I was moved to the front bar when it got very busy. I would take over for the head bartender when he went home at 2 a.m.

This was a crazy shift! One evening I would find myself playing liars poker with Leslie Nielsen, the next I would be decanting ’77 Wares Port while Mr Gotti’s boys watched me VERY CLOSELY.

The owner would introduce me to every celebrity he could. I think he got a kick out of watching them squirm while I chatted them up with naive exuberance.

I would often come to work toting my guitar. I had only been playing for about a month and a music career had not ever crossed my mind.

One evening I was called away from the service bar. The owner wanted me to meet his good friend, a music publisher by the name of Lou Levy! I was introduced as an aspiring musician. Mr. Levy shook my hand and said; “Kid, if you write a song with the lyrics, ‘Tell me the truth and I’ll help you lie,’ you’ll have a million dollar tune on your hands.” I thanked him for the sage advice and went back to serving drinks.

When I would arrive home after work, usually when the sun was coming up, I would often find that my neighbor Dave Thomas was still awake watching The Prisoner or some old B-Western. He would hit the pause button on the VCR and I would regale him with the night’s adventures at the supper club. The night I told him I met Lou Levy his jaw dropped. He told me that Lou Levy was a music publisher during the Tin Pan Alley era of American popular music. That he was credited with the discoveries of Bob Dylan, Charles Strouse, Richard Adler, and Henry Mancini. How he had discovered, managed or developed the careers of numerous artists including Buddy Rich, The Andrews Sisters, Connie Francis, Steve Lawrence, The Ames Brothers and Les Paul. He had supplied numerous other singers with hit material: Frank Sinatra with “Strangers in the Night”; Petula Clark with “Downtown” and “Call Me”; Tom Jones with “It’s Not Unusual.” And he published the Beatles’ first American hit “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”

Dave’s history lesson made me appreciate the gravity of having received advice from such a legend and although I was only dabbling in writing music at the time, I vowed to myself that I would, one day, write this tune.

Years later, during a rehearsal break I started humming a melody to an inspiring bass line Matt Lyons was working on. The feel of the thing just screamed espionage, and those lyrics Lou had suggested to me, so many years before, came flooding back. Tell Me the Truth was born. I love the melody interplay with that bass line. It’s plain to see how that song just wrote itself.

Lou Levy passed away in 2001. I wish he could have heard the song. I would love to think he would have liked it. I didn’t make a million dollars but the memories are worth more than a million to me. Thank you Lou.

Tell Me the Truth

Cornbread Wednesday

The Woodman Cometh

Woody and Matt Lyons
Cornbread WednesdayAnthony’s last gig with Native was at Nightingale Bar on December 10, 1992, which means it was Mat Hutt’s first gig in the role of front man. But, it’s also the night of another seismic occurrence in the band’s timeline — John Wood sat in on percussion & vocals — and although he would be there for every gig from then on, there was no official moment where he was made a full member, nor did there need be such a moment. He simply was in the band, no question’s asked.

I remember smiling through the whole gig. Not only was Mat going to work out fine, but I was loving the cross-rhythms Woody & I were hitting from note one. The listener might be excused for wondering why I wanted another drummer in the band when I was doing such a splendid job by myself! But, the fact was that I was doing some deep listening to The Meters, and I yearned for the interplay, the syncopation, the luxury of laying back into a fat groove and letting the percussion fill in the cracks like grout around large slabs of tile.

Now, to be sure – Woody was already hanging with us, either at The Radon Room, or he’d be there when we returned to the flat Mat & I shared upstairs from him on 16th Street. Woody had been working on his own recordings in his Hellbent Studio, and that is where today’s first track originates. The first part is a story as only Woody can tell it, where he mentions the band. He also name-checks a song he & I wrote – Mad About You.

This was way before the hit TV show of the same name, and I’ve always thought we missed a trick by not finishing it. The licensing money would have been substantial if they’d used this very catchy tune!

Woody’s Story Hour/Mad About You

Next, we have one of our best early songs, recorded by Rob Smith to two track cassette, which shows precisely everything Woody brought to the band, and how quickly our sound changed. It was in this fertile period that we really became the band that people came to know over the next decade.

Water

So, Woody was in, our sound was forever changed, and 1993 would be a very big year, indeed.

Next time: Native’s most awesome rehearsal (probably) February 22, 1993.

Nativology: Pt 2 – The Origin Continues

Cornbread WednesdayIn our last installment we saw Mike Jaimes and myself collaborating on Something Worth Remembering, a song that gave us the good idea to get a band together that could play it.

Meanwhile, I was playing in a band called Gods & Goddesses with Mat Hutt.

Mathew Hutt

photo by Dean Thomas

Mat was living downstairs from me at the Clinton Arms (or, ‘The Hippie Hotel, as we called it) on 99th Street. We had lots of mutual friends and musical influences, and I was chuffed when he got me into the band. But, before long, tensions formed within the group. Mat had lots of good musical ideas that were passed over, and quite unfairly, I thought. To my surprise, I got fired, despite Mat’s strong support, and then a couple of weeks later – he got fired. As we commiserated, I thought of Something Worth Remembering, then I thought of Mat’s demos. He had made a slew of recordings on his Tascam 8-track which were very good.

Here’s one — I Am v.1

Mat, Mike, & I took the decision to talk to Matt Lyons, a bassist who played in yet another band I was in — the ever-fabulous Big Whiskey (featuring Pete Russell and Joel Buckley). Mike was the keyboardist in this group and we knew if Matt was our bassist, no matter what we did – it would have balls, big hairy balls.

Mike Jaimes and Matt Lyons

photo by Dean Thomas

Meanwhile, John Wood lived across the hall from me at the Hippie Hotel, and was endeavoring to write & record songs on the most primitive set-up this side of Barney Rubble. It would be awhile before he became a factor in the band, but he was there at the inception, and stuck around for a very long time. From the beginning I loved his completely original compositions.

Here’s a really great Woody tune  — Change Storm

Next week, and every Wednesday till December (Cornbread Wednesdays – Yay!) I’ll be continuing the excavation of Native’s tape vault whereupon one Anthony Balsley enters the picture, and makes a lasting impact on the band.

Till then — Drinky Drinky, Smokey Smokey!