February 16, 2015

THE LEVIS (Milton, MA)

The denim demons: Barry Dores, Eddie Diamond, Glenn "Mac" McElwain, Chuck Cramer.

Things happened just right for The Levis. Their existence as a group dates only from 1965, which makes them one of the "newer" groups in the mad, hectic world of music. But the breaks have come early. Seasoned to large, boisterous audiences, they spent the summer of 1965 at the Rexicana in Marshfield, Mass., favorite ballroom of a summer resort area. In the fall The Levis graduated to the college scene, playing mixers and other gigs at New England colleges. Early in 1966 club dates began coming in, and an exciting recording session yielded proof that an interesting and vital new group was maturing.
— Levis press kit, 1966

"Interesting" and "vital" sure are two terms that come to mind when referring to the Levis' twin spin of "Hear What I Say" b/w "That's Not The Way." I'd also add "arghhh!" and "yeeoooww!" to the mix. Teenage anthem "Hear What I Say" (warning fellow guys of the cheating, lying and "hidden danger" of the fairer sex) was covered by then-Boston-based band the Cheater Slicks back on their 1991 "Destination Lonely" LP, and that's where I first heard the tune. Needless to say, the original version did not disappoint upon hearing a few years later.

The Levis' home base was Milton, Mass., though members hailed from North Quincy and West Roxbury as well. The original lineup included songwriter Ed Diamond on bass and lead vocals, Chuck Cramer on lead guitar, Al Cohen on rhythm guitar and Gary Levine on drums. A personnel change brought in Barry Dores on rhythm guitar and keyboards, and Glenn "Mac" McElwain on drums — and this quartet recorded the 45 penned by singer/bassist Ed Diamond. A recollection from Mac:
"I certainly remember that recording session well. As a matter of fact, I was sick as a dog that day! I had an upper respiratory infection and a fever and really felt out of sorts. Apparently the engineer [at Fleetwood Studios in Revere] felt sorry for me. He could see plainly that I was not in great shape. As a nice gesture to lift my spirits, he gave me a couple of LPs before I left the studio. I don't know how he knew I was a car crazy teenager, but the records were audio recordings of races at a drag strip!"
The crew naturally took to sporting an all-jeans get-up — though retaining their ties. And with the help of Barry's dad, they even reached out to Levi Strauss & Co. to try and land a corporate sponsorship! (Little did the management suits know the extra hip cred they could have amassed with the chorus of "Hear What I Say" as their jingle.)

They gigged extensively at ballrooms, frat parties and youth centers in Massachusetts, with a couple of New Hampshire and Rhode Island appearances. In the summer of 1966 the Levis landed a summer gig in Falmouth (Cape Cod), where they performed every Friday, Saturday and Sunday while staying at Barry's parents' place in Pembroke. The band stayed together until 1967.

From the liner notes of the Teenage Shutdown Volume 8 compilation LP (Crypt Records, 1998), on which "That's Not The Way" appeared:
"The Levis were a popular South Shore (the southern part of the Boston suburbs) combo, and saved the day when kids booed the national hitmaker group, the Marketts, offa the stage. Members recall their wildest gig as a frat party where drunken co-eds demanded the group play nothing but "Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)" for the last set of the night."
As foretold in the brochure, Chuck Cramer pursued his dream of becoming an architect. Mac works as a professional musician in no less than five bands in Vermont. Ed Diamond still writes and records music for his own enjoyment.

Pre-jeans – the Levis in their first incarnation. From left: Eddie Diamond, Gary Levine, Chuck Cramer, Al Cohen.

All Levis memorabilia courtesy of Chuck Cramer. (Click to enlarge.)

Hear What I Say / That's Not The Way
(FL 4563) April 1966

1 comment:

  1. Wow, thanks for writing this! My dad is Gary Levine. He sadly passed away at the age of 36 in 1983. This a true gift to my family! My brother is a music fanatic and often reads your blog....today he got the quite the surprise. Thank you again!