Name: Marc Levine
Position: Freelance musician
You’ve had a long and successful career as a bass player for all kinds of pop, jazz and R&B artists, from Bette Midler and Olivia Newton-John to Dionne Warwick to Johnny Rivers. But your nearly decadelong tenure in Barry Manilow’s band has to have been a highlight. What was that like?
Marc Levine: It was an incredible experience. I had been a player in Undisputed Truth [“Smiling Faces Sometimes”]. In 1984, Barry asked me to join his band, and it was phenomenal. The first time I went to Japan with him, we did seven nights in Tokyo. We did 11 nights at Radio City Music Hall. It was a fantastic part of my musical past. He’s a musician himself and was one of us.
You’re Jewish. Barry Manilow is Jewish. Did anything Jewish ever come up during your years with him?
Every once in a while he used Yiddish words. When he met my parents, he could relate to them because of the Jewish background.
How did a Jewish kid from Long Island, New York, get into playing bass?
I grew up in Massapequa in a Jewish neighborhood. Massapequa was called “Matzapizza” because it had a lot of Italians and Jews. Jerry Seinfeld also came from there. My parents had progressive leanings, so instead of sending me to traditional Hebrew school, on Saturday mornings I’d go to Jewish history classes and Yiddish classes. I also took piano lessons as a kid. My older brother was playing in a rock ’n’ roll band before the Beatles hit, and I used to go to band practice. I was struck mostly by the sound of the bass. I would pick up my brother’s guitar trying to figure out bass lines. Once I saw the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” I decided I was a bass player for sure.
How did you make the transition to professional musician?
When I was 16, a friend of mine joined a band of guys who were older than me, about 19 or 20. I started playing Long Island clubs underage. When I turned 17, the band [Stony Brook People] got signed, and management decided to relocate the band to L.A. We did a lot of recording and touring, but when I was about 19 we saw the handwriting on the wall. I went back to Long Island and went to college, majoring in music, and then I went back to L.A. I was in a band called Waves, which got signed in 1979. At that time labels were signing a lot of acts and picking just a few to develop. I realized I should be able to work as well as try to be a rock star. So I started teaching myself to play the upright bass, all the things you need to do to be a working musician. I got session work.
Did music lead you to some other interesting career twists and turns?
In 1981, I got a three-year gig on “The Young and the Restless.” One of the people I had done demos for was an aspiring songwriter and also the person who programmed music [on the soap opera]. A character on the show was a rock singer, and I was part of his onscreen backup band. We had lines, and we played live. I was also in the band that played at Luke and Laura’s wedding [on “General Hospital” in 1981]. It is to this day the highest-rated event in soap opera history.
How and why did you make the move to the Bay Area?
I had been on the road with a lot of guys who were dads. It seemed most of them were miserable, with young kids at home they weren’t spending too much time with. It seemed like a sad part of the road existence. So when my wife was on maternity leave, she had gotten a job offer up here in 1996, and I decided I could play music anywhere. I made a left turn and became Mr. Mom, staying home with the kids. I worked nights and weekends as a musician, and joined a band that does a lot of weddings and corporate party work.
Do you ever get to play Jewish music?
Yes! A friend of mine is a 92-year-old retired rabbi at Rossmoor named Sholom Groesberg. He started taking guitar lessons at 85. We get together and play music. When he turned 90, we had a party at Rossmoor. We backed him up, playing all Jewish music.
“Talking with …” focuses on local Jews who are doing things we find interesting. Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.