by James Bridges
Let me admit something…I like to eat. I like to eat good greasy food that most, or many, would say will eventually kill me. So I called Levi to get a meeting place and asked if he liked hamburgers. He said of course. I was extremely happy. I invited him to meet at Nic’s in Midtown OKC. “They have a downstairs bar that is quiet with a little swanky feeling. It will be perfect,” I said. At the time, 65 percent of me was thinking of the burger rather than the conversation. That’s beside the point. I couldn’t wait.
A really good friend of mine told me about Levi and his music. Let me explain something first… that really good friend, let’s call him Beard for shits and giggles, tends to tell you about something or someone and, whether he means to or not, tends to leave out some of the “good” parts. I truly think he does this to experience my reaction once I discover those “good” parts.
So, Beard let’s me know of Levi, his ever rising popularity in the music scene, and his great musical talents. Then he trickles into the conversation how Levi is a huge cannabis supporter and believes heavily in its medicinal powers. At that point I was hooked. I had to meet this guy and find out his story.
When I arrived I told the hostess that I was meeting someone there. She asked me if it’s the really tall guy with long hair. I knew he had long hair so I said yes. She pointed toward downstairs. After tapping Levi on the shoulder he stood up. I seriously had no idea that this guy was so tall. He had a commanding presence. You know…one of those guys. Then he shook my hand and spoke. I immediately noticed his soft and welcoming voice. Wow! Coming out of this? I couldn’t wait to have the conversation now. I already felt more than intrigued.
We ordered some food, of course, then began conversing. I wanted to go right for it. So, I asked him about growing up in small town Oklahoma. He started telling me about McAlester and some of its history. I, in retrospect, was a little abrupt, telling him, “I don’t give much of a shit about McAlester. I mean it’s a great town and all. But I want to know about you.” I think he was a little set back but at least we got our intentions out there.
“Okay, we didn’t have much. I thought we had everything because we just felt like it, you know? But we didn’t have anything. My mom and dad lived right next door to my grandparents. My grandparents were kind of like my parents and really pretty much raised me. We had like this 300 acre compound which was really kind of cool to me.” He then let me know that his grandpa had a huge impact on his life. There it was. The connect. I almost immediately felt connected because we essentially came from the same place. The same place which, I think, many of us Oklahomans come from as well.
“Nobody was really musical. Everyone in the family was a music fan though. You know, my grandpa was a big music fan, always blaring Marty Robbins. My dad was a big music fan too. Our house was here (pointing at the table) my Grandparents were right next door, my uncle’s house is next door to that. I grew up with gardening and cows and stuff like that.”
I wanted to know when he first caught the music bug. “When I was around 5 years-old I started to fall in love with the piano. My sister took lessons but she hated it. Then I would get on and peck around a bit but I didn’t know what I was doing. I think to my mom it was just noise. I was very little you know. So they were always telling me to get off of it. But they could see that I was into it so finally I got piano lessons when I was around 10.”
“When I was a kid, my dad used to take me to the Dusk Till Dawn Blues Festival in Rentiesville, Oklahoma. It was a really rocking little deal. The stuff that I was probably exposed to at that time… I can’t even fathom, but is was great. It’s this guy named DC Manor. He was an old blues cat. He started this this blues club. It was in a the little trailer house kind of place and fenced off. There was this field next to this blues club and he created this festival called Dusk Till Dawn Blues Festival. I remember it was like 6 in the evening until 6 in the morning and it’s just blues music all night long. Looking back it’s probably like the coolest blues festival in America to me. You know what I mean? Just as down-home as it gets, you know. I was 7-years-old probably the first time I went.”
“Back then going to those Blues festivals we saw Pinetop Perkins and some of these old school Memphis Blues cats and Chicago Blues cats that aren’t around anymore and I was, you know, lucky enough to catch them. It was pretty cool. That was a big impression on me.”
“When I was like 14, I was listening to all the pop punk shit that was coming out at that time. Blink 182, stuff like that. I was a big fan of shit like that. That’s why I picked up the guitar. I was playing power chords and jamming out like, you know, that kind of stuff. I never looked back. I kind of lost my piano chops after that. Then I stuck with the guitar for awhile.”
I wanted to know more about Levi’s dad. At this point he seemed like an essential part of Levi’s musical awareness. He introduced him to blues. He brought him to festivals. But what about life? What about those lessons that many of us idealize and wish that our fathers would bestow upon us?
“You know, my dad went through like this churchy phase when we were kids. Then, I was probably 16, we were both smoking cannabis. We were both hiding it from each other. I ended up finding his stash and stealing some of it. Haha… You know, and then in one way or another we ended up coming out with it. We told each other, you know? I remember we smoked for the first time together. It was kind of a bonding thing for my dad and I, you know? Sit on the porch and talk and smoke. I’ll never forget that.”
“My dad was my first example of the non-stigma. It was totally opposite of what the world had tried to teach me at that time. You know, this was the 90’s when D.A.R.E. was big and just the topic of of cannabis was rolled in with all the other drugs out there, which I don’t even like calling it that. My dad was the first example that I saw of a dude that was kind of like a regular. I mean he ran his own business. He was an upstanding member of his community. It was satisfying to learn that you can be what some call “regular” and still enjoy a smoke. He was my first look at a middle-of-the-ground Okie country boy, every man kind of guy, but yet he smoked marijuana. He never drank really. My dad is about like I am now. I mean, take it or leave it. That’s the way I feel about alcohol. I have a beer, you know, I might have two beers. But it’s a “take it or leave it” kind of thing. He was a really big example of, you know, breaking that stigma.”
“What I thought was supposed to make you a bad guy wasn’t true. Actually I could see how it helped my dad. He was kind of an uptight guy but when he smoked he was fun and laid back and easygoing and joyful. He was very smart and wasn’t faded at all. It was so eye-opening for me.”
“It’s so funny that this “loser/faded” stigma became a thing because the smartest people I’ve ever known in my life were cannabis users. All throughout college and my life all of my smart buddies and the smartest people I know were the ones that, you know, smoked.”
Back to the music. I really didn’t hear Blink 182 in Levi’s latest music. Not at all really. I was however, very impressed and intrigued about the hooks and almost pop music sounds I heard. Hooks and pop that made me think of early 90’s rock, older classic rock, and a big bluesy influence that was obvious. I mean it’s rare that you hear guitar solos matched with a sax and a piano riff nowadays right? At least ones that work. Believe me, these work.
“It wasn’t until around my 20’s that I sort of took a look back at my roots that my dad had exposed me to. I kind of ran away from.”
“A girlfriend of mine turned me on to The Black Keys. The very first album. This was maybe 2004 or something. It had been out for a little while and I was blown away by how bluesy it was. I loved how cool it was and how it filled everything my little mind wanted to hear. So I just went diving straight back into all that shit that my dad had tried to get me to listen to, you know. That was kind of where I developed my style. I mean, I play with my hands. I play with my thumb, you know. It’s how I keep the rhythm. It was all from Dan Auerbach. Just listening to Dan Auerbach play the way he plays and then going back and listening to those guys. He was kind of the connection to a sound. I was like, oh I get it now. I see what he’s doing, right? They were a big influence on me when I was in my early 20’s.”
So there has to be more of a cannabis influence here right? Surely it was a part of Levi’s song writing.
“I prefer like an indica or something like that. One that’s a little bit heavier than I think most would think. Most might reserve an indica for sleep or something like that. But for me, it kind of soothes me, you know. It kind of takes me out of the noise. So many times there is a little bit too much circuitry and wheels turning a little too fast to write music. So a good indica gets me centered and “in the now.” I’m not thinking about the next 5 seconds and, really, it’s been essential to not be worried about time. I need to be “in the now.”
“So…it’s kind of funny. I kind of need to do something with this time that I’ve created for myself. So I write.”
It makes total sense to me. Most of us get into this little time-lapse. I do it all the time.
What next? We are led, or conditioned, to believe that we must pursue something. What’s next? Some of us turn on a movie. Some of us find a golf course. Some of us take advantage and nap. But for Levi, he grabs an instrument and starts to think and write. I asked Levi if he meditates. He said he wished he could have that sort of routine. I thought to myself…you are meditating in your own way. What you are doing with cannabis and the time-lapse. It is essentially your form of meditation.
It’s a beautiful thing once we accept that our own human responses to what our bodies and minds need is actually what society classifies as some major or popular form of restoration of the soul. Sometimes we need a video game, book, movie, writing music, or even just a nap. It’s okay to classify it as meditation.
“I’m a dad. I pay my taxes. I vote. I’m a good person. I want to be an upstanding citizen. You know? I want to be part of the community. I don’t want to be doing things that are considered under-handed or shady or seemingly so. I’ve been self-medicating for what seems like forever. I had no idea until someone explained this. Until I was a little more learned about how medicinal it is, or even calling it that, you know? I just don’t want to be involved, hate to be involved, in that ‘other side of things’ and I shouldn’t have to.”
“I think it’s going to be a lot different for younger generations. I think you’ll see them embrace cannabis in a lot different way then, maybe, when our generation did or even can because I don’t know if you can really erase some of that stigma. It may not be possible. When a person thinks that they are a bad person or when a person thinks that they’re, you know, on the undercurrent of society, it stears their life in a certain way and I think creates more problems.”
“I mean I see that with my own daughter. I mean, you know, telling a kid that they’re bad…what they do is bad…then they start thinking…well… I’m bad. I’m a bad person. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.”
“It’s taken a lot for me. Luckily being a musician… I am thankful for that sort of a ticket that you get being a musician. I mean, I had teachers a couple years ago from elementary school wanting me to to speak at the 8th grade graduation (haha) because I was a musician. You get this pass. Like, your cool and you’re doing something that’s worth something. But if I weren’t a musician, would I be labeled a pothead?”
“That’s me kind of living up that stigma of thinking I’m bad because I smoke cannabis or something. There’s nothing wrong with it I think. We are told we are bad so therefore it sticks with you.”
“For me…I was always kind of the defiant type. You’re not going to tell me who I am. I’m going to tell you who I am. Something about that sort of, maybe, even put some wind in my sails. Problem is, there are kids out there that have lived throughout their childhood with that stigma and aren’t out from under it. It deflates their motivation. It’s what makes them feel like they’re a bad person and I can see where that can steer them into doing other things that may include being around the wrong crowd of people. For me it’s sad to see.”
Levi Parham was definitely someone that I knew of. I had heard some of his music. I had seen him on stage. By the way, you would be hard pressed to find anyone that seemed as passionate and animated while performing on stage than Levi. I even watched a music documentary segment that highlighted Levi not that long ago on a docu-series called “Play it Loud”. Let’s just say that I was a little interested.
Before the interview I decided to listen to his latest album from beginning to end. The music itself tended to grab me and force me to listen. At times I heard a hint of jazz. There were some real funk tones coming through my earbuds. Is that a piano? Wait…there’s a, hold on, a freaking saxophone? I seriously questioned what I was hearing. Is this country? No it was definitely americana folk with a twist right? On paper I was a little confused. In reality it all worked for me and made complete sense. It was really something special. Then the title of Parham’s new album set in, “It’s All Good.” “It’s All Good” really was all good and it made me feel all good as well.