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A bass legend! He's played with bands/artists ranging from Alice Cooper to Kate Bush, King Crimson to John Lennon, Asia to Peter Gabriel, plus his solo work. Recently recieved a Grammy nomination as well.

1. What are you currently up to?

Just finished a short (two week) tour with my band, in the NorthEast. (Called it the "Snowtires Tour" because we expected, and got, lots of snow and cold. But it was lots of fun.) Before that I was touring with Peter Gabriel from August until Dec. 18. Another great tour, with great stage production as well as Peter's music.

2. What has been the highlight(s) and lowpint(s) of your career?

Hard to pick low points - I try to put them behind me quickly (a good talent for musicians.) I'll get back to that one. Lots and lots of high points. Really, to be playing good music, be alongside great musicians, and making a living at it, is in itself a success story for all of us musicians who are lucky enough to connect with that. Some special moments that come to mind for me are; the first Peter Gabriel solo album sessions (1976) where I met Peter, Robert Fripp, Larry Fast ... all in one day. I'm still working with them all - Peter in his band, Robert in King Crimson, and Larry in, among other projects, my own solo cd's and the touring Tony Levin Band.

John Lennon sessions in 1980, from which came Double Fantasy and Milk & Honey albums. Chance to record with Pink Floyd - on Momentary Lapse of Reason. Playing at Jimmy Carter's inaugoration ball, (I admire him a lot) with Paul Simon.

Playing at Nelson Mandela's freedom ceremony, in Wembley Arena London, with Peter Gabriel.

Playing in Dakar Senegal, at the first big rock concert there. Woodstock Festival 1994, closing it with Peter singing Biko at midnight the last night.

White House lawn, with a youth orchestra in about 1962, for John and Jackie Kennedy - and JFK gave a speech about the promise of our youth in music. (I've got that clip up on my website!!!)

Now, as for the low points - any musician knows there are discouraging times when you're rejected by people you want to play with. It's happened to me as much as anyone else. Some might be surprised that, whatever your history or level of success, there are still times when you can be replaced on a project. And it still hurts when it happens - but I guess we learn to not take it personally and to try to move on to playing with people who do want us.

3. Who have been your main influeneces on your career?

My older brother Pete was a jazz player when I grew up, and I heard a lot of his records. Otherwise, I was obsessed with Classical music (still listen to it a lot) and have been influenced by much of that. Also, all the great players I've spent time with, even if playing a different instrument. I.e. Steve Gadd's drumming, Chuck Mangione's sense of melody on trumpet, Robert Fripp's unique approach to his sound and notes chosen, Andrian Belew's wild approach to the guitar, Bill Bruford's approach to rhythm.

4. Great news on you Grammy nomination for 'Apollo'. In your solo work what style of music do you like to create? How does the writing process go - is it structured or born out of jamming sessions?

I have done lots of 'collaborative' cd's, in which the writing was done quickly or based on jams (Bruford Levin Upper Extremities (2) Bozzio Levin Stevens (2) Liquid Tension Experiment(2) But for my own cd's I spend a lot of time on the writing, and pretty much complete it before bringing in the musicians. It's a 3 or 4 month process for me - when I'm in that mode I carry music paper with me and often stop the car to jot things down. Once I've got my brain in that mode, ideas keep coming. the job of compiling them and making sense out of them comes later and is pretty hard work.

5. You have worked for many years with Peter Gabriel. How did you first meet up with him? On stage, is it a structured set or can the band improvise each night?

As I said, I first met Peter on his first solo cd. The producer, Bob Ezrin had brought me in, as a bassist who'd worked with him on Alice Cooper and Lou Reed recordings.

Now Peter's show is pretty structured, due to loops and protools aspects of the tracks. Within that framework we can stretch out quite a bit. And some of the older songs like Sledgehammer and Solisbury Hill are looser.

6. You were part of the Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe tour/album. What was the atmosphere like and how were you received by the Yes fans considering that you were replacing Chris Squire?

Tough shoes to fill, indeed. The fans were quite nice to me - I understood that they'd have preferred Chris in the band, and so would I, for that matter. Eventually they re-grouped and Chris was back. I found his parts a great challenge for me.

To give them my own flavor, so to speak, I practiced a lot with Funk Fingers (drumsticks attached to my fingers - an idea I'd come up with years before) for a percussive and trebly bass sound. I had a lot of fun on the tours - largely because my rhythm buddy Bill Bruford was being his usual joyous musical presence next to me every night!

7. You have toured and worked on many albums. What have been personal highlights for you and is there anyone else you would like to work with in the future?

ll the good music is a great memory, whether it's someone famous or unknown.

A recent pleasure was playing one track on David Bowie's album - I'd always dreamed of playing with him.

8. King Crimson - with a new album out in February are there any plans to tour? How do the band manage to remain fresh and inventive when so many other bands are content to play in the same style?

Crimson will tour in the Spring, but without me. (I'll be touring Europe with Peter Gabriel.) I love the new Crimson music and I do hope to re-join them sometime in the future. It's a band that always challenges itself, both as a band and as individual musicians. Very inspiring to be part of.

9. Last book that you read...

The Terra Cotta Dog, by Andrea Camillieri - a translation of a Sicilian detective book, recommended to me by my Sicilian bass tech, Michele Russotto.

10. Message for your fans...

I've come to realize, after all these years making music, that the real joy of it for me is not only playing the music and being with other players, but the magic that happens when it's done live with an appreciative audience. I show lots of audience photos on my web site, specifically to give fans a chance to see how they look to us on stage and to sense how much they're a part of the music that happened only on that night. On a special night, both audience and musicians will have an experience that won't translate onto mere tapes and cd's, and they'll treasure for a lifetime.

p.s. my site, which also had road diaries.


Interview © 2003 Jason Ritchie/
Format and edit: The Music Index.

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