From California to Europe and back again, guitarist Levi Huffman exudes the irresistible polish of a globe-trotting gypsy musician. Levi’s enthusiasm for his music and his chosen life shows no signs of waning. He loves making people feel better through his music.
Huffman grew up in Stockton, California, and planned to pursue medicine as a career, like many others of his family. But, after completing pre-med studies in college, he realized music was his real love and he’s never looked back. He’d studied classical piano for years, played the oboe, and then, on a whim, he picked up a guitar. Self-taught in a matter of months, he quickly realized this was it, this is what he wanted to do.
He attended the Musicians’ Institute in Hollywood, earning their Most Improved Guitar Player Award with a prize of a new guitar. He learned to play the flute and with the help of a synthesizer, gradually created his own signature style.
Levi decided to embark on the adventure of his lifetime, almost on a whim. He stopped at a travel agency and bought a one-way ticket to Paris. He didn’t speak French, had no friends or contacts and $300 in his pocket. His plan, such as it was, involved staying for three months, earning his keep playing in clubs. He stayed for five years. The first few months were an adventure of the sort one either transcends or to which succumbs in defeat. He had no money. For on three day stretch he had no food, no place to stay and no job. Through a new friend he auditioned at a club, was paid with dinner and tips and from there began to build a life in a strange but fascinating new world. He was welcomed as a musician and, especially, as a Californian, an attribute which has much mystique in France. He found the Parisians more than generous, opening their homes and lives to him. “You get back what you put in,” he says, “and they were wonderful!” After a rough period with little food and no money, Huffman landed a gig playing in a bar and his luck began to turn. A friend suggested that he had a certain marketable ‘look’, so he began trying for, and getting, parts in commercials. One of his more successful roles was for Air France, which used him in 5 commercials. By this time, he was quite fluent in French and also did voice-overs for radio commercials. One of his favorites was for advertising the movie The Color Purple, in which he spoke French with an American Deep South accent. He was also able to successfully audition and gain a part in the French film, “Le Grand Carnaval”, which was filmed on location in Tunsia, Africa – 2 months of extreme adventure! He got a gig working at a ski resort in the French Alps, 4 seasons of skiing all day and entertaining at night. The same company hired him to work at their resort in the summer, a windsurfing resort in the south of France – windsurfing during the day, and entertaining at night. Not Bad, the balance of time was spent in Paris. He made those wild rounds for 5 years.
He likens himself to Hemingway’s young man who, if he has had the fortune to experience Paris in his youth, carries with him, always, a “moveable feast.” There is a book about his adventures in the works. But, L.A. beckoned with its possibility of a move up the career ladder.
On to L.A.
“I thought I had enough experience to make it in L.A.,” he says; but, he entered a huge, competitive world saturated with bright young musicians eager to make their mark. He got good gigs, opening for Jay Leno and Gary Sandling, and playing in the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach. He auditioned for TV roles, befriending actors along the way.
But, emotionally, it was tough and he came north to regroup and rethink his career. Living in the wine country, Sonoma County, he was the “House Band” for a live radio talk show- “The Entertainment Zone” with Steve Jaxon. There he performed live with the likes of Norton Buffalo, various musicians from Huey Lewis and the News, for a national audience when the show was syndicated. Writing is secondary love and he landed a job as a freelance journalist assigned by USA Today to cover the O.J. Simpson trial in L.A..
He came home again to regroup, making a name for himself in local clubs and becoming a vocal advocate for live music in town. He comments, “I hear all the time that there’s nothing to in Stockton, but, then when things are offered, no one comes. It’s a strange situation. So come on out!”
This type of life has had its price. “I shed the cloak of security'” he says, “to follow my heart and soul.” And that heart-felt journey has had its rough patches, for, as he admits, it’s a lifestyle that requires a lot of energy to sustain – constant travel, booking gigs, selling one’s self. Playing solo takes its toll but it’s a Labor of Love.
Perseverance is his heart Beat
Huffman says he has no alternative to playing music as career. “If I were to give up at some point on this challenging goal, I’d be frustrated, so I’m obliged to follow through.” He never loses his love of playing and he can’t picture himself doing anything else.
Huffman’s style is eclectic. “I call my music heavy wooden, as opposed to heavy metal.” He does blues, contemporary pop-rock and Adult Alternative as well as his own work and has “at least two CDs worth of original songs”.
Before setting off to L.A. for another try he says, “I’d like to be known as a doctor of music. Most of my family are healers but I heal with my music. That’s really my main goal. People will tell me they came into the club feeling really bad and they close their eyes and listen and they feel much better. That’s it. That’s what it’s all about.”
Played with/opened for
- Sammy Hagar
- Steven Stills
- Norton Buffalo
- Johnny Cola (Huey Lewis)
- Jack Jacobsen (Huey Lewis)
- Howard Leese (Heart)
- Michael Anthony (Van Halen)
- PBS – California Heartland (archive shows: 701, 707, 722)
- PBS – Trees
- Univision w/Ivan Najera
- Culture Connection