Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Drake Levin, Lead Guitarist of Paul Revere & the Raiders, Passes On

Drake Leven, best known as the lead guitarist of Paul Revere and the Raiders in their peak, passed on July 4 at the age of 62 after a long fight with cancer.

Drake Levin was born Drake Maxwell Levinshefski on August 17, 1946 in Chicago. His family eventually moved to Idaho. It was there that he met Phil "Fang" Volk. The two became interested in music after Volk received a guitar from his parents at Christmas in 1959. The two would form their own band, The Surfers. It was in 1963 that Paul Revere invited The Surfers to open for Paul Revere and the Raiders in a show outside Boise, Idaho. Revere was so impressed with The Surfers that when his lead guitarist, Dick Walker, left the band, he invited Drake Levin to join The Raiders. After bassist Ross Allemang left Paul Revere and the Raiders, he invited Volk to join as well.

Paul Revere and the Raiders left Idaho for Portland, Oregon not long after Levin joined. The group recorded "Louie, Louie" a week before The Kingsmen did. Unfortunately for The Raiders, their version only peaked at #103 on the Billboard chart, while The Kingsmen's version went all the way to #2. In the end Paul Revere and the Raiders would have the last laugh. While The Kingsmen would have a few more, minor hits, Paul Revere and the Raiders would become one of the most popular bands of the mid-Sixties. Their producer Terry Melcher made the decision for Paul Revere and the Raiders to emulate such British Invasion bands as The Beatles, The Who, and The Kinks, although with a bit of American R&B thrown in for good measure.

Centred around the capable guitar work of Drake Levin, Paul Revere and the Raiders began producing a string of hits starting with "Just Like Me" in 1965. One of the earliest examples of American power pop, "Just Like Me" is historic in being one of the first records to feature a double tracked guitar solo (courtesy of Levin). "Just Like Me" went all the way to #11 on the Billboard chart, followed by such hits as "Kicks (#4 on the Billboard charts)," "Hungry (#6 on the Billboard charts)," "Good Thing (#4 on the Billboard charts), and others. Unfortunately, in 1966 Drake Levin would be called up for the draught. To avoid going into the United States Army, Levin joined the National Guard. This meant that Levin could still record with Paul Revere and the Raiders, although he could not tour with them. Filling in for Levin on lead guitar when he was not available was Jim "Harpo" Valley.

It was in 1967 that Drake Levin, Volk, and drummer Mike "Smitty" Smith left Paul Revere and the Raiders to form a trio called The Brotherhood. Signed to RCA Victor, the group released three albums. Unfortunately, The Brotherhood would see very little success. As a respected guitarist Drake Levin would go onto play with such names as Lee Michaels, Emitt Rhodes, and Ananda Shankar. Following his move to the San Francisco area, Drake Levin became a noted blues player and even formed his own blues bands, such as Billy Dunn and Bluesway. In 1997 he reunited for one last time in a stage performance with Paul Revere and the Raiders.

In the Sixties Paul Revere and the Raiders sometimes received little respect. The Revolutionary War garb in which they dressed and the comedic content of their shows made it difficult for many to take them seriously. What many missed in the Sixties was just how revolutionary Paul Revere and the Raiders were. The band played an amped up variation on the music produced by the British Invasion band that was essentially the first, successful American example of power pop. Paul Revere and the Raiders would have a lasting impact on the rock subgenres of power pop, punk, and New Wave, with everyone from The Sex Pistols to Sammy Hagar covering their songs.

Drake Levin's guitar was among the primary reasons for the success of Paul Revere and the Raiders in the Sixties. His virtuosity on the guitar was matched by only a few guitarists in the United States in the mid-Sixites. As a result it was Drake Levin who would be among the primary American influences on the genre of power pop.

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