My cousins, the Smiths
Ronnie Earl & Lev at the Knick

Being home back in Boston was kind of a culture shock, but a very welcome one, a lot more wholesome and less stressful than my New York experience. I started to take a few courses at the New England Conservatory. Trombonist Phil Wilson was one of my professors. I took some one-on-one piano lessons with Saul Skersey, an amazing pianist, teacher and old friend. He could play just like the greatest pianist ever, Art Tatum. He was the piano teacher to my beloved cousin-in-law, Margie Smith. She married my favorite cousin Neal, who lived with us while attending Brandeis University. Man, she was a cutie pie. They used to come see me play all the time, until they moved to Atlanta with their darling girls, Michelle and Sharon. I also began giving piano lessons to a few young aspiring pianists at Steinert Hall across from Boston Commons, not far from my ancient escapades at the various records stores I used to pillage in Boston's Combat Zone.

To my pleasant surprise, there was a pretty viable scene right there within the Boston/Rhode Island area. I began gigging with Johnny Nicholas and the Rhythm Rockers and Nonie's Blues Band. Johnny's band was full of some really good talent. Johnny, a great singer, writer and very good guitarist, later was the featured singer with Asleep at the Wheel, a Western Swing band of national renown. Mark 'Kaz' Kazanoff, on harmonica and sax, later became a session horn player and arranger for Blacktop and Antone's Records. Sarah Brown played bass, wrote many songs and has played with everybody. Don't ever tell her that she plays good for a girl, or open a door for her. Back then, she'd knock your head off or cuss you out. All three eventually moved to Texas. Terry Bingham and Jack Moore played drums at various times and both were steady and rockin'. When I left this band after a few years, I was replaced by Ronnie Earl, a guitar hero of many today. We were best buddies in Roomful and, later, during the Blacktop years. Nonie's husband Johnny Amplifier was also a very talented guitarist. These guys and gals, along with the original Roomful of Blues and upstarts Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, respected and cherished all the old Blues records and performers and recreated much of that material as sincere, heartfelt tributes. They were true connoisseurs of authenticity and had some great taste in music. I learned a lot from all of them.

"TALES of a ROAD DOG" - 'The Lowdown Along the Blues Highway' by Ron Levy
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