Rick Levy memoir charts his career in rock ‘n’ roll
Like many teens in the 1960s, when Richard “Rick” Levy first saw the Beatles, he was inspired to start his own band.
But unlike most youths, Levy went on to not only play guitar in various rock ‘n’ roll bands, but also to manage some of the era’s biggest pop-rock artists, including Herman’s Hermits, Tommy Roe, Freddy Cannon, Jay & the Techniques, The Tokens and Bo Diddley. He is now the manager and a guitarist for Memphis legends The Box Tops.
The Allentown native’s unexpected journey in the world of popular music is documented in his recently-released book, “High in the Mid-60s: How to Have a Fabulous Life in Music without Being Famous.”
Says Larry Klein, executive producer of Dick Clark Productions’ “American Music Awards,” of Levy’s memoir, “Rick is one of those lucky people who has made his love his life … and his vocation … and it shows in the way he performs and respects the artists and music.”
Of Levy’s book, Dick Barley, nationally-syndicated radio personality, says, “There’s a wealth of wisdom, honesty, fun, sharp observations, great stories and good advice in these pages … A must read for Top 40 era music lovers …”
- Dick Barley, nationally syndicated radio personality.
“I’m kind of shockingly amazed at the life I’ve led,” Levy says in a phone interview from St. Augustine, Fla., where he resides. “This is what I always wanted to do. But how did I get here?”
He says the idea of writing a book had its beginnings 15 years ago when he was asked to put together a new band for Herman’s Hermits and tapped a bunch of musicians from Allentown. He also was playing with the group and decided to start writing a journal to learn why his life took the path it did. Levy realized he was a sort of “everyman.”
“Because I was never a star, yet continued to move forward, the reality set in that, indeed, the journey has been the goal,” he says.
Levy says he was first introduced to music as a child by his “Uncle” Elliot Wexler, who was head of Columbia Records Distribution.
“He gave me my first Elvis Presley album and that was like an epiphany for me,” he says. “I would go up and stay in New York on the weekend with him. I remember records all over the place and a piano and lots of stuff.”
Levy says the 1960s was a great time to be a teen who loved music in the Lehigh Valley.
“It was pretty rich history in the ‘60s here,” he says. “There was an incredible youth culture with under-21 clubs and live bands.”
The non-alcoholic “teen nightclubs,” as they were dubbed, included The Purple Owl, off Union Boulevard, and The Mad Hatter, Lehigh Street, both Allentown; The Mod Mill, Rt. 378 and Rt. 309, Center Valley, and King Arthur’s Court, Rt. 309, Quakertown. There were also regular teen dances at the Allentown Fairgrounds, run by WAEB DJ Gene Kaye, and “The Hub” at the Allentown YMCA, run by WHOL and WSAN deejay Jerry Deane, and live bands at Castle Garden, Dorney Park, and Illick’s Mill, Bethlehem.
Inspired by the Beatles, Levy first started a band called the Outcasts, and then later started the garage-rock band, The Limits.
“That [the Limits] became an important band for me,” he says. “We all wanted to be rock stars. I became the manager. I was already learning about management, booking, cutting records and royalties. It was a great training ground.”
The Limits released an album, “High in the Mid-60s,” in 1982.
Cleopatra Records released a compilation CD, “The Limits: Garage Nuggets ‘65-’68,” about 10 years ago, and “Songs About Girls,” also by The Limits.
The Limits plays at a multi-year William Allen High School reunion, 6-9 p.m. Oct. 26, MainGate, Allentown. The Limits perform 7-8 p.m. concert. The event is open to Allen grads. The lineup for the Limits includes original members Chris Jones, Rook Jones, Irwin Goldberg, Hub Willson, and Levy.
After graduating from Allen High School in 1967, Levy attended University of Pennsylvania, receiving a BA in Sociology in 1971.
In Philadelphia, he joined a rock band, Wax.
“Wax was very popular, and on my 21st birthday we signed a big deal with a $50,000 advance but we never saw a penny of it,” he says.
In addition to Levy, guitar, Beau Jones, bass, Wax included Rob Hyman (later of The Hooters), keyboards; Rick Chertoff, drums, and David Kagan, vocals.
“We were young, excited and headed to New York to record in the famed Record Plant. While we were in the small studio, John Lennon and The Who were in the big ones on either side.
“We thought we were going to be stars, but a few weeks later the Internal Revenue Service shut the label down for not paying taxes and our dream turned into a nightmare.”
Levy says the experience made him more determined than ever to control his own destiny.
“If you’re going to be in the business, you need to run the show,” he says.
In the mid-1980s, Levy got a call from Jay Proctor, lead vocalist and founder of Jay and the Techniques, who was looking for a guitar player.
In 1967, “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie,” the debut single by Jay and the Techniques, an Allentown-based interracial pop band (unusual at the time), reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Levy started managing the group and booking its concerts.
“We always did it with a handshake,” he says. “It was like a small fraternity. I knew all the [talent] buyers.”
Then Peter Noone asked him to put together a band.
Noone is lead singer of Herman’s Hermits, an “English Beat” rock band founded in Manchester, England, in 1964, with its hits including “I’m Into Something Good,” “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter,” “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am,” “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat,” “Silhouettes,” “Wonderful World” and “There’s A Kind Of Hush.”
“We did 100 dates a year,” says Levy. ”That was the busiest time of my life.”
Levy started to be more well-known as a manager.
“It has been a learning experience for me,” he says.
”The book is really about me reinventing myself for the last 50 years.”
Most recently, Levy has been performing with The Box Tops, with founders Bill Cunningham and Gary Talley.
The Box Tops, founded in Memphis, Tenn., in 1967, is best-known for the hits, “The Letter,” which reached No. 1, and “Cry Like A Baby,” which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
“In just three years since reforming, we’ve hit the top echelon of our genre,” says Levy. “The Box Tops are dream guys to play with.”
Last year, The Box Tops was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame.
“I was so honored and humbled to be part of this thing,” Levy says. “It was a transcendent moment.”
Levy was determined not to self-publish and found a publisher in Crossroad Press for which the book was the top-selling paperback in December 2018.
Although he now lives in Florida, Levy says, “Allentown took me to where I am.”
As for The Limits’ upcoming reunion gig, he says, “I need to bang out a few old tunes with the boys again.”
“High in the Mid-60s: How to Have a Fabulous Life in Music without Being Famous” is available at ricklevy.com or amazon.