Guitarist stays sharp playing in multiple bands

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Sonoma County has always attracted and produced musicians. Some of them are well known internationally. Others have more limited fan bases existing mainly within the Bay Area, throughout the West Coast or in a geographic range.

As with many working in the creative arts, those who haven’t made it to household-name fame often have to work especially hard to make a living doing what they love. For many local musicians that means working in and juggling commitments with multiple bands.

They share a passion for what they do that was instilled at a young age and have an appreciation for the many live music venues in the area that afford so many opportunities to play. They also share a commitment to continuous learning, and very busy schedules.

Before the season gets fully underway, they took a few minutes out of those busy schedules to tell us what keeps them going, and where you might be able to catch their acts this summer.

Levi Lloyd

Bands he plays with: Levi Lloyd and the 501 Band, Levi Lloyd and Friends, The Bruthas, The MBAs, Brooks and Llloyd, Taylor P. Collins Band and other Levi Lloyd Trios

Instrument he plays: Guitar

What inspired you to learn music, and where did you learn to play?

I had been around music for a long time. I always enjoyed entertainment. There was always music in my house when I was growing up. My dad, a sergeant major in the Army, introduced me to blues, country and big band. My sisters gave me jazz and R&B. And my mom gave me gospel.

I was an Army brat in Stuttgart, Germany. When I was walking around one day, a friend yelled out his window at me, “Hey man! Come over here and sing this song.” Next thing I knew, I was playing at USO (United Service Organization) shows, officers clubs, NCO (non-commissioned officers) clubs, teen clubs and pubs off base throughout Germany, France and Bavaria. I was a singer for four years starting when I was 12 years old.

Then my voice changed, so I taught myself guitar. I got my first guitar when I was 17. It was the most convenient thing to do at that point. I wanted to continue performing. I was blessed with a good ear. I have been learning ever since from musicians I played with, like John Lee Hooker, Joe Louis Walker and Johnny Otis.

What’s the best thing about playing in multiple bands at the same time?

It keeps you busy. It keeps you thinking and constantly learning. Hopefully you don’t get stagnant. You play more places. Meet more people. I am a people person. I love what I am doing. It was my childhood dream to make my living at it. If it wasn’t any fun, I might as well go back to working for the county.

What’s the hardest thing about it?

Keeping the dates straight. Being your own manager is kind of tough. It’s not always that easy dealing with a lot of different personalities. It can be a challenge sometimes. It’s not quite as diverse musically and in the business here. I miss the diversity of the East Bay. Everyone expects it to be free here. It’s hard to make a living when everyone expects the music to be free. People should get out and support their local musicians whether it’s free or not.

What’s your favorite venue to play in Sonoma County, and why?

The Blue Heron. I’ve been playing there since 1997 or 1998. It’s always been one of my favorite places. It’s a beautiful place to play. It’s always been a special place since I’ve been in Sonoma County. My daughter was baptized out there. The Main Street Bistro in Guerneville is my other favorite venue. The owner and I are really good friends. Suzie Feehery is one of my favorite people. She is one of the major reasons I came up here in 1994. She gave me my first gigs.

What musician, living or dead, has most inspired you in your life as a musician?

There is more than one. Since I was self-taught, I have been influenced by so many musicians. I listened to a lot of people. Everyone from B.B. King to Jimi Hendrix. The late Eric Gale is probably one of my all-time favorites. His expression. His touch. I always thought his music was lyrical.

What’s a favorite band/musician coming to Sonoma County (not one of yours) that you’ll want to see this summer?

If I had a break in my schedule, there’s a lot of people I’d like to see. But I am so busy, I don’t even know who is coming unless they call me to open up their show. In other words, I am blessed to be working so hard.

Where can people see you play this summer?

I am playing all over the place. People can see me at the Twin Oaks the second and fourth Thursday of the month. I am at the Bullpen in Guerneville the first Saturday of the month. I am at the Main Street at least once a month. People can check out the Facebook pages for Levi Llloyd and Friends and Levi Lloyd and the 501 Band. In summer, I usually play at the outdoor summer events. I am going to be at the Wednesday market with Mandy Brooks.

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