Ben Levin, 19, is promoted as “keeping the blues alive.” That’s a mantra construed as controversial by many blues music fans.
“Opinions vary from, ‘Blues will never die!’ at one extreme, to ‘Dying Blues needs loads of help!’ at the other extreme,” writes James Walker of the Kankakee area Friends of the Blues club. “But, no matter where a fan is on that spectrum, the one thing everyone agrees on is this: An infusion of talented young blood is always welcome and needed.”
The Friends of the Blues are pumped to introduce Levin, a piano-playing vocalist, to area blues fans at a 7 p.m. show Tuesday at the Kankakee Valley Boat Club, 1600 Cobb Blvd. in Kankakee.
The phrase “old soul” applies to Levin, according to his website, benlevinpiano.com.
“It is remarkable that he has managed to learn much of the essence of the Blues piano traditions at such a young age,” wrote Blues Blast Magazine’s Mark Thompson.
Originally from Cincinnati, Levin started playing piano and singing professionally at age 11 with his father’s band, the Heaters, according to a Friends of the Blues news release. He now plays 100-plus gigs per year while attending the University of Cincinnati, where he just finished his freshman year.
In 2018, Levin was nominated for two awards from Blues Blast Magazine: Debut CD of the year for “Ben’s Blues” and the Sean Costello Rising Star award. His “Ben’s Blues” album is a mix of originals and thoughtfully chosen cover songs by legendary keyboard standouts such as Floyd Dixon and Professor Longhair, according to the release
“Piano-led ensemble fans will take special interest in this show,” writes Walker. “Most blues bands are fronted by a guitar hero, and not since the Marty Sammon show, Buddy Guy’s keys man, have the Friends hosted a keyboard band leader.”
Levin will be accompanied by his dad, Aron Levin, on guitar, the Chicago legend Marty Binder on drums and upright bassist Chris Bernhardt.
“My dad/guitar player and I are so excited to be playing a show south of Chicago with a great Chicago-based band for the Friends of the Blues concert series!” says Levin on his website.
Levin will be playing in Kankakee the day after performing in the St. Louis Piano Festival on Monday. He’s already played blues piano shows and Boogie Woogie festivals in the U.S. and Europe. In 2018, the Ben Levin Duo reached the semifinals in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.
In a Blues Blast Magazine review of “Ben’s Blues,” in January 2018, Rainey Wetnight wrote “Cincinnati, Ohio’s Ben Levin, a piano prodigy ... possesses a spirit for cultivating. Unlike other youngsters who take a louder, glitzier route to musical stardom (I’m talking to you, ‘American Idol’ winners), Ben digs in and delves deep into his soul and ours. With every note he plays, he evokes an era far removed from today’s digital distractions: that of postwar blues, where wry ballads such as Jimmy Reed’s ‘Take Out Some Insurance’ and John Lee Hooker’s ‘I Love You Honey’ were the edgiest of cutting-edge.”
On Levin’s website, benlevinpiano.com, he wrote about his own development as a blues artist.
“People often ask me, ‘How did you get into this old music?’ I tell them I had no choice: My dad was playing Muddy Waters on the guitar to me when I was in my mom’s belly. My love for blues piano hit me when I saw the movie ‘Ray’ at the age of 5. I soon was introduced to more Chicago Blues and New Orleans R&B.
“... I started playing piano when I was 8 years old and have been taking lessons with my mentor, legendary Cincinnati-based and world-renowned boogie-blues player Ricky Nye ever since. In addition to Ricky, my biggest influences are Pinetop Perkins, Big Joe Duskin and Professor Longhair. I’ve also learned a lot from listening to the greats such as Otis Spann, Sunnyland Slim and, of course, Ray Charles.”
Admission to Levin’s Tuesday show in Kankakee is $10, and food and beverages will be available for purchase. The general public is invited.