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Blues musician helps others hone skills: Levi Lloyd finds a home on stage, new purpose in workshops he holds

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Sonoma County is home to many talented musicians but moving to the head of the list of local legends is blues guitarist and vocalist Levi Lloyd.

In addition to touring with national musicians and playing with his own bands, he hosts a blues workshop that for more than a year has attracted other high caliber musicians like a magnet.

"The good thing about it is that it's not a walk-on jam session," Lloyd said. By selecting the participants, he helps them stretch and try new material with other talented musicians.

The workshop began at the Penngrove Pub, moved to Aubergine's in Sebastopol, then to Quincy's in Rohnert Park before finding a 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 help 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," she said.

Among those talented musicians is Lloyd, whose "classic sound and fresh chording (are) extraordinary, just amazing," said Frank Hayhurst, producer of the Real Music CDs that benefit the Redwood Empire Food Bank. "He is a glues guitar player who thinks orchestrally.

"Levi is such a brilliant guitar player that he can just sling his guitar on and people start dancing."

Lloyd has been singing since he was 12. As an Army brat, he traveled through Germany, France, Bavaria and the lower Alps, performing at Army bases, teen halls, officers' cluvs, NCO halls and USO clubs. At home, he was exposed to music from country to big band, jazz, the blues and rhythm and blues.

After moving to the States, Lloyd taught himself guitar at 17, even learning to play James Brown on his 12-string. In a threepiece funk band called $20 Friendship, he played James Brown, Marvin Gaye, blues and top 40 R&B.

The first time Lloyd found himself on a large stage he was 18 and had gone to hear John Lee Hooker at a club in Berkeley. A friend, who was Hooker's roadie, told Lloyd he would get him backstage to meet the musicians, and Lloyd waited at a table for the show to start.

"This guy came off the stage," Lloyd said, "and tapped me on the shoulder and said, ???I hear you can play.' 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.' " The man 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 in 2000 with Joe Louis Walker and the Boss Talkers.

His 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." She brought him into Otis' gospel choir.

Lloyd plugged into the local music scene in the mid-'90s by running a jam session at a place called Bourbon Street in Coddingtown Mall.

"I was lucky because I met some pretty big players, and there was a lot of mutual respect," he said.

Making a living at music in Sonoma County is hard work, Lloyd said. "A lot of people are spoiled 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 much as I can do to stay diverse," he said.

The next opportunity to hear Levi Lloyd play is tonight, when he joins other musicians at a memorial for Ronnie Martin at The Tradewinds Bar, 8210 Old Redwood Highway in Cotati. His next workshop at Twin Oaks is at 8 p.m.

March 18. Music lovers and musicians are encouraged to attend, but participation is by invitation only.

Twin Oaks Tavern is at 5745 Old Redwood Hwy., Penngrove. Read about Lloyd at reverberation.com.

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