All About “Banana” aka Lowell Levinger
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of The Youngbloods, at age 70, Lowell Levinger (aka Banana from the Youngbloods) is still rocking, playing and singing better than ever. Penning his own originals, Banana incorporates Youngbloods favorites as well as gems from his extensive musical roots into his performances with a gutsy, engaging style. Banana is also a well known vintage instrument collector and multi-instrumentalist. He delivers his repertoire while picking the heck out of his unique five-string tenor guitar, breaking out a banjo for occasional accompaniment or tickling the ivories for just the right mood.
Drawing on his five decade past, Banana has curated a collection, complete with his new arrangements of favorite Youngblood classics for a dynamic release in the fall of 2015. Guests on the album include Jesse Colin Young, Ry Cooder, Maria Muldaur, Dan Hicks, David Grisman, Darol Anger, Peter Stampfel, Duke Robillard, Nina Gerber and others. Many old posters and photos are reproduced for the graphically enticing “Collectors Edition” which includes a 20-page booklet.
Following The Youngbloods final gig in September 1973 after nine memorable years together, Lowell’s musical opportunities stretched his diversity. Not only did Banana tour and record as the sole accompanist to Mimi Fariña for over twenty years, but he worked in bands with Norton Buffalo, Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks, David Grisman, The Barry “The Fish” Melton Band, and Zero, where he played keyboard and sang lead for over ten years. He has performed duo gigs with David Nelson, Keith Little, Freebo, Peter Rowan and many other notable artists, as well as producing and lending his musical prowess on countless recording sessions.
Throughout the years to augment his musical career, Banana has utilized unique talents that are not just musical. A pioneer hang glider pilot, in 1973 he started “Hang Gliders West” in Marin County and for a decade taught over 5000 people to fly. He cobbled together a bootleg Apple II computer in 1982 and also bought a synthesizer, realized the two of them should be able to talk to each other and wound up managing the development team at Passport Designs that created Encore, a Mac/Windows software program that converts live Midi performances or Midi files to notation for sheet music as well as allowing complex editing and input by hand. Since his college days at Boston University circa 1962, he has been collecting, swapping, buying and selling old fretted instruments and maintains a web site called Players Vintage Instruments (www.vintageinstruments.com).
Banana’s infatuation with Americana music started in the early fifties growing up in Santa Rosa California when he discovered the ‘race station’ KWBR in Oakland and started hearing the likes of and buying the records of Lightning Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Big Bill Broonzy, Little Willie John, James Brown, and on and on. Then along came Chuck Berry and Ray Charles, and Little Richard and Fats Domino and Elvis and by that time he had learned enough piano to play with a group of local Philly style street corner singers called The Chandells. They got to go to LA to make a record but he was too young to go. He got hooked on guitar as a teen and then the banjo of Pete Seeger and The New Lost City Ramblers and then, just before heading off to Boston University, he heard Flatt and Scruggs for the first time. A life changing experience. One that added a permanent place in his heart and in his practice for bluegrass.
Banana began his career in bluegrass on the east coast in Boston with “Banana and the Bunch, Old Time Music with Appeal” playing bluegrass in the local coffee houses of the early 60’s being mentored by the likes of Bill Kieth and The Charles River Valley Boys. After several years in the east coast folk/bluegrass scene, he co-founded The Youngbloods with Joe Bauer, Jesse Colin Young, and Jerry Corbitt. The band moved from New York City to West Marin in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1967.
Along with co-producing The Youngbloods records with Joe Bauer and many others on his own, he produced the first two High Country albums for Butch Waller which were released by Warner Bros. Records in the early 1970’s. This introduced California bluegrass to a worldwide audience.
Banana maintains an active musical schedule through live gigs, recording, workshops and various appearances.
He has recently accepted the position of pianist for Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul led by Steven Van Zandt. Check the tour page here for the schedule of gigs.