[Slowhand] Marcy Levy - Telephone Inteview
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Sun Sep 9 12:10:18 EDT 2007
Out of the shadows
Former backing singer has spotlight with Siegel
ANDREW S. HUGHES
Tribune Staff Writer
If you know Marcy Levy's name, you read liner notes.
In a 35-year-career that has been both frustrating and rewarding, Levy has
been at both the front and the back of the stage.
As Marcella Detroit with the duo Shakespear's Sister, she wrote and sang
"Stay," a song that spent eight weeks at No. 1 in England in 1992, but her
solo career has faltered repeatedly in the U.S., and she's best known as the
backing singer on tour and records for Bob Seger, Leon Russell, Aretha
Franklin and Stevie Wonder. Oh, and Eric Clapton.
>From 1974 to '78 and 1984 to '85, Levy sang backup for Clapton in his band
and co-wrote several songs with him, including "Innocent Times, on which she
sang lead vocals, "Rollit," "The Core" and, of course, "Lay Down Sally," the
1978 No. 3 hit from the "Slowhand" album.
"Eric was very generous," she says of working with Clapton by telephone from
her home in Los Angeles. "It wasn't like we'd rent a rehearsal studio. We
didn't go to somebody's house to write the songs. They just put us in the
studio and by the end of the day, we had the song, and after a few weeks,
Before her time with Clapton, Levy and her first band opened for David Bowie
in 1972 in Detroit and then toured with Seger in 1973, while she was still a
Clapton hired Levy's band for his "461 Ocean Boulevard" sessions after his
bass player from Derek & the Dominoes, Carl Radle, introduced the guitarist
to them in Tulsa, Okla., where they had moved after the Seger tour.
Levy, however, had committed to a tour with Russell -- "I had his picture on
my walls when I was younger and told my mom, 'I'm going to sing with him one
day,' " she says. "She was like, 'Yeah, right.' " -- and missed the "461"
She rejoined the band in time for its final performances in England in
December 1974 (included on the expanded version of "461") and remained until
"Everybody was free creatively," she says. "Maybe because it was Eric,
(label owner) Robert Stigwood didn't stick his nose in too much. He had
faith in Eric. Luckily it worked. These days, I think things are a little
more calculating and calculated."
One day, Levy says, Clapton said he wanted to write a song called "Lay Down
"I went up on the drum riser and came up with the melody" and words for the
chorus," she says. "It was kind of a Bo Diddley rhythm. We worked on it all
day and it wasn't working. After a few hours, Eric started playing it with a
different groove, and (producer) Glyn Johns said, 'Let's record that.' We
did that, and Eric said, 'Go to your hotel room and write the lyrics.' "
Born in 1957 in Detroit, as "an underage youth" Levy would take her mother's
car at night to go sneak into Detroit's clubs to hear Janis Joplin, Cream
and the Siegel-Schwall Band.
"Riveting. I personally couldn't take my eyes off them," she says of seeing
Siegel-Schwall at the time. "It was almost too much. The interaction between
them was incredible."
Now, Levy knows what that interaction is like from the stage: On Friday, she
will be Corky Siegel's guest artist with his Chamber Blues ensemble at the
Acorn Theater in Three Oaks.
"There's encouragement," she says of playing with the pianist and harmonica
player, whose classical arrangements of her songs she calls "amazing."
"There's a love for what you do, and it just rubs off on you."
The respect and admiration are mutual.
"I've been performing for 45 years and I've been driving around in my
Chevy," Siegel says by telephone from his home in Chicago. "When I got to
work with Marcy, it all of a sudden was like driving in a Rolls Royce. When
a group has a guest artist, sometimes the fans aren't all that enamored
about it. ... With Marcy, I get people, including my own family, saying,
'When are you going to play with Marcy again?' "
The two met at the 2003 Chicago Blues Festival, where they performed with
the Chicago Blues Reunion, a band that makes occasional appearances and also
includes Barry Goldberg, Tracy Nelson, Harvey Mandel, Nick Gravenites and
"It's more like Chamber R&B than Chamber Blues, but we will do a few Chamber
Blues things," Siegel says of Friday's concert. "The purpose of Chamber
Blues is not to bury the classical flavors; it's to bring them out. The
string quartet, and the percussion, is really the band. ... It also gives
her room to wail, and boy, can she do that in an extremely musical way."
The concert will include material from Siegel's Chamber Blues albums and his
arrangements -- "amazing," Levy says -- of several of her songs, including
"Lay Down Sally," Solomon Burke's "Cry to Me" and two or three of her
A few years ago, Levy signed with the British publishing company A7 and
continues to write songs for other singers and for herself. In 2006, she
released her latest album, "The Upside of Being Down," a return to her blues
and R&B roots.
She recorded "The Upside of Being Down" in two days and wanted it to sound
like "an old Chess record." Twelve of the songs are originals, and two are
covers of Howlin' Wolf songs.
"It was just what inspired me to be a musician in the first place," she
says. "I wanted to pay tribute to that. I did it just for my soul. ... It
really did inspire me, something raw and pure and that you didn't have to
think about too much. It really freed me up and let me get in touch with the
things that are important to me as far as music goes. It kind of rekindled
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