Levin is best-known for his work with progressive rock pioneers King Crimson and Peter Gabriel. Has also been a member of Bruford Levin Upper Extremities, Liquid Tension Experiment and leads his own Tony Levin Band.
A prolific session musician since the 1970s, Levin has played on five hundred albums, including those of Cher, Alice Cooper, John Lennon, Sarah McLachlan, Stevie Nicks, Pink Floyd, Lou Reed, Buddy Rich, The Roches, Todd Rundgren, Seal, and Yes. Additionally, he has toured with artists including Paul Simon (with whom Tony appeared in Simon's 1980 film One Trick Pony), Gary Burton, James Taylor, Herbie Mann, Judy Collins, Carly Simon, Peter Frampton, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, Tim Finn, Richie Sambora, and Claudio Baglioni.
Levin helped to popularize the Chapman Stick and the NS upright bass. He has also created "funk fingers", a device for mimicking the sound of hitting the strings with drumsticks (which sounds similar to slap style bass).
Levin is also one of the first bloggers, as he began sharing his tour experiences in a diary way as early as in 1996, one year before the terms "weblog" and "blog" were coined.
Levin was born in Boston, Massachusetts and grew up in the suburb of Brookline. He began playing double bass at 10 years old, primarily studying classical music. In high school, he learned tuba, soloing with the concert band, and also started a barbershop quartet.
After high school, he attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY and played in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Also at Eastman, he studied with drummer Steve Gadd.
Tony's brother, Pete Levin, is a New York keyboardist and writer who is best known for his work with Gil Evans. In the 1970s, Tony and Pete collaborated with Steve Gadd in the comedy band The Clams. Levin has stated that some of the Clams's material may eventually be released.
In 1970, Levin moved to New York City, joined a band called Aha, the Attack of the Green Slime Beast, with Don Preston of The Mothers of Invention. Soon after, he began working as a session musician, and through the 1970s he played bass on many albums, including Buddy Rich's big band jazz album, The Roar of '74. In 1976, Levin joined with Steve Gadd on drums to create the lush textures the two created on Andy Pratt's critically-acclaimed "Resolution" album that included other A-list studio musicians like Arif Mardin, Andy Newmark, Hugh McDonald, Luther Vandross and others. Allmusic.com and Rolling Stone Magazine rated this album as one of the best singer/songwriter albums of the 1970s. In the late '70s, Tony joined Peter Gabriel's band. He had met Gabriel through producer Bob Ezrin (with whom Tony had recorded Alice Cooper's Welcome to My Nightmare, and Lou Reed's Berlin). Levin has played with Gabriel, both on the road and in the studio, since then. On Gabriel's first solo album, Levin played tuba as well as bass, and directed a short barbershop quartet version of a song.
In these early years with Gabriel, Levin developed his playing of the Chapman Stick. The song "Big Time", from Gabriel's So album, inspired the development of funk fingers, which are chopped off drumsticks used to hammer on the bass strings. Levin credits Gabriel with the idea, and Andy Moore, his tech at the time, with actually making them workable. In 1978, Levin moved to Woodstock, New York, to join the band L'Image, which included his old friend Steve Gadd, as well as Mike Mainieri and Warren Bernhardt. The band broke up after a year, and Tony stayed in Woodstock, where he still lives. On Peter Gabriel's first album, Levin met Robert Fripp and, in 1980, after having played on Fripp's solo album Exposure, he became a member of the 1980s incarnation of King Crimson.
In 1989 Bruford asked Levin to play in Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, a splinter group of the band Yes. Because of the obvious emphasis on this being a band of former Yes members, Levin was never invited to become an official member, but played on ABWH's eponymous album, and also on Yes' 1991 album Union.
In 1984 Tony released Road Photos, a collection of black & white photos taken during his travels with Crimson, Gabriel, Simon and others. Another book of photos focusing on King Crimson's travels in the 1980s, The Crimson Chronicles volume 1, was released in 2004. There has been no word yet on the release of volume 2, which will cover the 1990s and possibly 2000s versions of the band. Levin has also written a book of career anecdotes and road stories called Beyond the Bass Clef.
Tony was part of King Crimson up until the mid-1990s breakup of the "Double Trio" line-up of the band which consisted of Tony Levin, Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Trey Gunn, Pat Mastelotto and Bill Bruford. Fripp then reformed King Crimson as a quartet, without Levin and Bruford. Levin also took part in two of the post-breakup experimental sub-groups, ProjeKct One (1997) and ProjeKct Four (1998).
In 1998, Levin and Bruford formed Bruford Levin Upper Extremities with trumpeter Chris Botti and guitarist David Torn; the group released albums in 1998 and 2000. Levin also continued producing albums with his own band, the Tony Levin Band. This bands consists of Jerry Marotta, Jesse Gress, Larry Fast and his brother, Pete Levin.
In 1997, Levin teamed up with Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci, members of Dream Theater, as well as future Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess, for a project called Liquid Tension Experiment. The combo released two albums, Liquid Tension Experiment and Liquid Tension Experiment 2 in 1998 and 1999 respectively, as well as playing short tours in 1998 and 2008. There have also been two CDs of material released under the name Liquid Trio Experiment; the first composed of studio jams from the LTE2 sessions sans Petrucci (Spontaneous Combustion), released for the band's tenth anniversary, and a live recording from a 2008 Chicago gig where Rudess's rig crashed and the other three covered for it with a nearly hour-long improvisation (When the Keyboard Breaks).
He also regularly plays live and occasionally records with the California Guitar Trio when schedules permit.
In 2004 Trey Gunn left King Crimson, and Fripp reinstated Levin as the bassist, although the band remained inactive until 2008. In 2006, Levin released Resonator an album which features long time band mates Jerry Marotta, Jesse Gress, Larry Fast, with the addition of his brother Pete Levin. The album is the first to feature Levin's singing.
2007 saw the release of Stick Man, an album of pieces recorded on the Chapman Stick, which was followed up in the winter of 08-09 with a tour also including King Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto and fellow Stick player Michael Bernier. This group, under the name Stick Men, toured Europe in late 2009 and plan a new album release in early 2010. Meanwhile, they have released a limited edition CD billed as a preview of the upcoming album, which was sold only during their autumn 2009 tour with Porcupine Tree.
A re-formed King Crimson played eleven live dates in August 2008, but no further plans have been announced.
Levin has played on about five hundred records as session musician or guest artist. The following records are those on which he is credited as a fully-contributing band member or composer.
- Discipline (1981) — King Crimson
- Beat (1982) — King Crimson
- Three of a Perfect Pair (1984) — King Crimson
- Cloud About Mercury (1986) — David Torn
- Spin 1ne 2wo (1993) — Spin 1ne 2wo
- THRAK (1995) — King Crimson
- World Diary (1995) — solo
- Black Light Syndrome (1997) — Bozzio Levin Stevens
- From the Caves of the Iron Mountain (1997) — Gorn, Levin, Marotta
- Liquid Tension Experiment (1998) — Liquid Tension Experiment
- Bruford Levin Upper Extremities (1998) — Bruford Levin Upper Extremities
- Liquid Tension Experiment 2 (1999) — Liquid Tension Experiment
- Waters of Eden (2000) — solo
- Situation Dangerous (2000) — Bozzio Levin Stevens
- B.L.U.E. Nights (2000) — Bruford Levin Upper Extremities
- Pieces of the Sun (2002) — solo
- Double Espresso (2002) — solo
- Resonator (2006) — solo
- Stick Man (2007) — solo
- Spontaneous Combustion (2007) - Liquid Trio Experiment
- When the Keyboard Breaks: Live in Chicago (2009) - Liquid Trio Experiment 2
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