That’s Some Bossa Country!

July 7, 2011 |
Louie Levinson photo: Jamie Manser

Louie Levinson
photo: Jamie Manser

Louie Levinson, the guitar and pedal steel player in Tucson country band Cochise County All-Stars, “grew up behind my dad’s bar in Tombstone. And all the music I love the most came from the jukebox at that bar, the Corral,” he says. That jukebox was stocked with straight old country and western tunes and, of course, popular Latin sounds and Mexican dance music.

“I remember secretly listening to the record ‘Jazz Samba Encore’ by Stan Getz when I was like nine. My dad would play it all the time, but I listened to it when I was at home alone – I guess I was embarrassed to like ‘old people’ music,” he laughs. Eventually, the kid who grew up running around in a Tombstone saloon brought the influence of that jukebox with him to Chicago, and finally back to his southwestern Arizona stomping grounds.

Levinson picked up the guitar while he was a student at Cochise College. “My roommate had one and taught me a few chords,” he recalls. “But it was all about messing around, having fun.” He adds, self-deprecatingly, “I didn’t play my first professional gig ‘til I was in my 30s!” By that time, Levinson had moved to Chicago to work in the steel business.

“Little known fact: I was actually a weekend sportscaster on Channel 13 (in Tucson) when I was fresh out of college,” he smiles. “But when they weren’t giving me a full-time anchor position there, I decided to leave.” He’d met a Chicago girl whose father was in the steel business and promised him a job. For the next 24 years, Levinson lived in Chicago, sold steel, and played steel – guitar, that is, as well as “regular” guitar. His specialties, of course, are his favorite types of music – “honky-tonk country and Latin jazz-influenced stuff.”

The spirit of that old barroom jukebox in Tombstone fueled Louie’s playing all the way to Chicago. There he started Mestizo, a Brazilian jazz-oriented band. (It was with Mestizo that he had his first professional shows.) Meantime, Levinson worked his pedal steel chops in a handful of Chicago country outfits, including local favorites the Peterbilts and Whisky Tit.

As happens to natives from this area, Levinson felt the pull and returned to Tucson ten years ago. “I love Tucson. There are so many great musicians here that I’ve gotten to play with regularly,” he says. Among them was author, music writer, editor, and bass player extraordinaire Ed Friedland, who played with Levinson in Big in Vegas. In Friedland’s website bio, he recalls his days in Tucson, playing with Big in Vegas: “I enjoyed that more than all the ultra-hip jazz I used to think was the shit.”

Cochise County All-Stars feature two Tombstoners (Levinson on pedal steel and vocals, and drummer Pete Torberg) and Willcox native Sabra Faulk, a double-threat on vocals and bass. Rounding out the group is Mississippi bluesman Gene Holmes on guitar. Louie’s other musical mistress is the Latin-rooted Bossa Rhythm Project, with Levinson bringing the guitars, “Uncle” Dave Jeffrey on drums, Jack Wood on bass and Robert Moreno on a myriad of percussion instruments. “We play some songs from Jazz Samba Encore. After all, it’s my desert island record.”

You can catch Louie playing around town all summer with either of his bands, or keep your eyes peeled for his duo with Gene Holmes. Some dates for your calendar: Bossa Rhythm Project, Tue, July 5 at the SkyBar and Sun, July 17 at 17th Street Market; Cochise County All-Stars, Sun, July 24, at Music on the Mountain (Summerhaven) and Sat, Aug 13, at 2nd Saturdays Downtown.

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Category: MUSIC