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Even Old Englishmen Still Get Wood (Aug, 20, 1999)
by Buddy Seigal
Until recently, LEVI DEXTER would have been a prime candidate for the Where Are They Now? files on VH1. Inactive for the past few years due to the typical business problems that plague musicians, Dexter is back in time to harvest the fruit of the rockabilly revival. Among the first generation of pre-Stray Cats neo-rockabillies, Dexter was a contemporary of such í70s revivalists as Robert Gordon, Billy Zoom, Johnny Legend and Shakiní Stevens. And although Dexter could never stake any claim to the testosterone-wonder vocal chords of a Gordon, or the razzle-dazzle guitar work of a Zoom, he remains a rockabilly pioneeróone of the guys who made the current revival enjoyed by acts like Big Sandy, Kim Lenz and Ray Condo possible.
Dexter comes from a time when being a rockabilly performer meant risking being labeled a novelty act or a nostalgia geek, and credit must be given to anyone who stuck by the music all these years. Dexterís vocals are competent enough:his timbre is thin and eternally teenaged, but he can go apeshit on the hiccupy histrionics like no oneís business.
But what always set the 42-year-old London-born-and-raised singer/ songwriter apart was his wild sweat fest of a show. That boy gots happy feet. Never concerned with the more-traditional-than-thou pieties that mark the exclusionist retro scene, Dexter captured the essence of rock & roll pleasure by letting himself go, flopping about onstage in a state of rockabilly rapture, a joy that is timeless.
Over the course of more than 20 years, with bands like Levi & the Rockats, Levi Dexter & the Ripchords, and Levi Dexter & Magic, he cut some marvelously manic sides, like "All Thru the Night," "Iím Gone," "21 Days in Jail" and a white-hot take on Marvin Rainwaterís "Hot íNí Cold," maybe the first example of the Speedy West/Jimmy Bryant influence so prevalent in íbilly today.
"Itís good. I think itís a lot healthier than itís been for a long time," Dexter says of the current scene. "I think with that swing thing, a lot of the kids grew out of the Lindy Hop scene and converted over to rockabilly, so thatís helped.
"Normally I play outside the rockabilly circuit," he adds. "Now that Iím doing gigs in the purist rockabilly circuit, itís been going great. The bills we play now normally have other rockabilly bands on them. Thatís not where I came from. I came from mixing with punks and new wave, fitting it in odd places. My first gigs were with Adam & the Ants and Siouxsie & the Banshees, bands like that."
Who are some of Dexterís favorite bands in todayís rockabilly crop? "I like Rip Carson. Thereís a new band called the Hyperions that are sort of a mutated neo-rockabilly. They have a vibraphone, which is interesting. I like 13 Cats. As far as the authentic, pure bands, I like Ray Condo, obviously Big Sandy. . . . It depends. Thereís sort of neo-rockabilly and pure rockabilly. I like them both. Iíll play wherever I can fit in."