By Popular Demand: Levitt & McClure

Originally posted August 8, 2008

In April, when I posted the Blue Rose album, I reviewed the path that brought me to the music: samplers. I related how I’d found one track by Blue Rose on a Columbia sampler called The Music People and I took a look at a few of the other samplers I have in my collection.

I mentioned as well that I’d found an ad for two Warner/Reprise samplers still tucked into the jacket of a 1969 album that I bought used for $1.99. That album? Living in the Country by a duo called Levitt & McClure.

I know next to nothing about Levitt & McClure. I bought the album on September 14, 2006. Three months earlier, in one of my first wanderings into the world of music blogging, I’d found a rip of the album offered at a blog that specialized in the folk rock and singer/songwriter genres of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I don’t think Living in the Country was the first album I downloaded from a blog, but it was certainly among the first fifty. (Readers may wonder how I can put even a vague date on the beginnings of my explorations of music blogs. It’s easy, actually: When I first found music blogs, many of them were mourning the death that week of Billy Preston, who crossed over on June 6, 2006.)

Anyway, I downloaded Living in the Country and enjoyed it. When I saw the vinyl at my local used record joint, I grabbed it. The rip I found online had some noise, not much, but I hoped – at that time – that if I ever got a USB turntable, I could create a better rip. Unhappily, when I played the record on my standard stereo, the vocals were buried deep in the mix. I played the mp3s and the vocals were fine. Shrugging my shoulders, I listened to the record once – straining to hear the vocals – and put it in the stack of records informally called “Stuff I’ve listened to and should do something about.”

Then came the day that the track “My Impersonal Life” by Blue Rose popped up in a Baker’s Dozen. I liked it and realized I knew little about it. It turns out that I got it when I found a rip of The Music People, the massive sampler Columbia put out in 1970. Folks commented on the single and the group, and that spurred me to go out and find the record online. It arrived in a few weeks, and I ripped it and posted it.

Along the way, as I shifted records around in search of my samplers, I moved some records in the stack of “Stuff I’ve listened to and should do something about.” And the ad for the Warner/Reprise samplers slid out of the jacket of Living in the Country. So as I wrote about samplers, I mentioned the album in passing.

And three of the five comments left on the post were about Living in the Country by Levitt & McClure.

Andy from San Rafael. California, posting as ashaw953, said, “Enjoyed the mention of the obscuro ‘Living in the Country’ album by Leavitt [sic] and McClure. I knew of them because they went to my high school. I bought the album because one of my friends took guitar lessons from Dan Leavitt [sic], and recommended the album. Great stuff! I found a vinyl RIP of it months ago, and would be happy to share it with you for the list if you want.”

A few weeks later, Arpod said, “Andy, Like you, Levitt & McClure’s album was a big fave among my small group of guitar pickin’ friends way back the. If you’d like to share that vinyl rip it would deeply resonate with this old hippy. Thanks in advance.”

And later yet, re:music said, “Andy, I’d also like to add my request for the Levitt & McClure LP rip. Been eager to hear it for ages now… Many thanks in advance.”

When I saw those notes, I thought: I should put that album up on the USB and see if the vocals are buried there. I did, and they were. (In my haste to try my copy of the LP, I utterly missed Andy’s offer. Sorry, Andy.) I shook my head, not wanting to share the LP in that state, forgetting entirely that I had the rip already in my files, downloaded from some superlative blog sometime during the summer of 2006.

Then a song from the album popped up the other evening when I was reading. I glanced at the screen idly, then did a double take that would have been good enough for a Warner Bros. cartoon. Levitt & McClure? Eh? How’d that get there? Did I get up one night and rip it in my sleep? (I use the sleep aid Ambien, and I’ve heard tales of people under its influence getting up and cooking full meals, or going out for walks or drives, all of which are hazardous, of course. Was I getting up in the middle of the night and ripping under the influence?)

No, there was no midnight rambling going on. I soon realized that I’d forgotten I had the rip of the album in my files. But with more than 28,000 mp3s, I think that’s understandable.

So, here is Living in the Country, recorded in 1969 by Levitt & McClure.

It’s a good album, very much of its time in its country rock, folk-rock and singer/songwriter sensibilities. Those happen to be attitudes I like very much, and it’s a good listen.

Favorite tracks? I like the darker, slightly more full sound of “Wilderness of You,” and “Spiteful Love” is a keeper, though not as dark. “Reflections” is a good instrumental, and I like “Empty Boxes” and “Farewell to Sally Brown.” To my ears, the only misstep on the recored is the duo’s perfunctory take on Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.”

The duo wrote about two-thirds of the material on the record, one in collaboration with a writer identified only as “Karp.” Besides the Dylan cover, the duo covered a song by Pete Seeger. Producer Ron Elliott, who’d been a member of the Beau Brummels, wrote some songs for the album. One of those was evidently a collaboration with Gary Downey, who would co-produce Elliott’s album The Candlestickmaker in – I think – 1970. Elliott also co-wrote “Paradise” with a writer credited only as “Engle.” I know nothing more about either Karp or Engle.

Here are the notes from the back of the record jacket, written by Pete Johnson:

If you had four hands and twenty fingers and were hooked on people like Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and Mississippi John Hurt and the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield, especially Flatt and Scruggs and the Springfield, and if you were born and raised in Encino, a sector of the wasteland which sprawls west of Los Angeles, and had nothing much better to do with your life than to spend it learning how to play guitar and banjo perfectly with your four hands and twenty fingers and if you could sing, too, from both of your mouths and write excellent songs, then you might record an album something like this one. But it probably wouldn’t be as good.

Tracks and writers:
With You (Levitt-McClure-Karp)
Wilderness of You (Levitt)
Spiteful Love (McClure)
Paradise (Engle-Elliott)
Reflections (Levitt)
Tomorrow Is A Long Time (Dylan)
Living in the Country (Seeger)
Ginny Black (Levitt-McClure)
Cripple Creek (Levitt-McClure)
Empty Boxes (Elliott)
Farewell to Sally Brown (Elliott-Downey)

Levitt & McClure – Living in the Country [1969]

Celebrating Vinyl Once More
Everybody put your records on! Vinyl Record Day 2008 is almost here!

Next Tuesday, August 12, is the 131st anniversary of the invention of the phonograph, and just like last year, a group of music bloggers will be marking the event with a blogswarm organized by JB the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’.

As were last year’s posts, this year’s offerings are shaping up to be quite a wide-spread selection with the only commonality being music on vinyl (or in at least once case, according to the previews listed so far at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, vinyl’s predecessor).

Along with The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ and Echoes In The Wind, blogs taking part in the event are:

The “A” Side
AM, then FM
Any Major Dude With Half A Heart
Barely Awake in Frog Pajamas
Bloggerhythms
Blues for the RedBoy
Davewillieradio
Derek’s Daily 45
The Devil’s Music
Fufu Stew
Funky 16 Corners
Got the Fever
The Great Vinyl Meltdown
It’s Great Shakes
My Hmphs
Popdose
Retro Remixes
The Stepfather of Soul
The Vinyl District
WNEW.com
You Must Be From Away

I’m sure that all my fellow bloggers will share fascinating tales of vinyl escapades on Tuesday next. As for me, well, I’ve been digging into two carrying cases of 45s that I’ve not looked at much over the years, seeing what’s really in there.

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7 Responses to “By Popular Demand: Levitt & McClure”

  1. Denise Says:

    I pull out the vinyl and listen to this once in a while and it still makes me feel good. A dorm neighbor at UCLA knew these guys, which is where I heard it in 1970, and subsequently bought the album. Encino boys. Still too obscure for Youtube. I share your favorites on this one; also like Paradise and Pete Seeger’s title track.

  2. Xavier Says:

    Love the blog! A bit late for this post, lol. Was wondering if you still had this record. It’s nearly impossible to find anywhere. Thanks!

  3. Xavier Says:

    Apologies for the late reply. I was hoping if you could possibly upload it onto the blog so that I and others could download it. It’s difficult to find online, even on YouTube. I’m sure others would enjoy hearing it. A great, late 60’s country/folk record. But if not, that’s fine. I appreciate you responding. Keep up the good work!

  4. David Levitt Says:

    I read your blog about Levitt and McClure with great joy. Danny Levitt is my brother and is alive and well living in Los Angeles. He still plays guitar. In fact he still gets together with Marc McClure who lives in Encinitas, Ca. Marc still plays as well and still has that beautiful voice. I will pass the blog on to both of them.

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