Lowell Levinger thinks of himself less as a songwriter and more as a “singer of songs.”
In his lifetime, the guitarist and vocalist has amassed a varied repertoire of folk and bluegrass tunes and has toured the globe. Around the North Bay, though, Levinger will always be known as “Banana,” the nickname he adopted when he co-founded 1960s folk outfit the Youngbloods, best known for their hit single “Get Together.”
On the 50th anniversary of the Youngbloods’ formation, Levinger looks back with a retrospective album of re-recordings, Get Together: Banana Recalls Youngbloods Classics, released last week and featuring many guest musicians and friends. Though the arrangements of some of the songs may have changed, Levinger’s passion and activist spirit have not.
“I’ve written a letter to Congress and asked them to try to work together,” says Levinger, in a phone interview from his longtime home in Inverness. “We did this with ‘Get Together’ 50 years ago. I sent a copy to every member of Congress 50 years ago, and I’m going to do it again.”
Since many of the Youngbloods songs are lyrically relevant today, Levinger decided to incorporate his favorites into his live repertoire. Pretty soon he had enough for a full album, and the idea to record the old songs anew crept into his head.
“I started dreaming this miracle dream of getting all these people together on the same day, at the same time, in the same place, to be a grand chorus,” says Levinger. “And damned if I didn’t pull it off.”
The chorus he refers to is a who’s-who of North Bay vocalists, including Maria Muldaur, Dan Hicks, Peter Rowan and others, all of whom contributed their voices to the new version of “Get Together.”
Many songs underwent extensive rearrangements, notably tracks like “Darkness, Darkness,” which features guests Ry Cooder and Darol Anger dueling it out on guitar and violin, respectively, in a very moving, though quite different rendition of the song.
Other notable guests on the album include Youngbloods singer Jesse Colin Young, guitarist Nina Gerber, drummer and co-producer Ethan Turner and mandolin master David Grisman. With these friends by his side, Levinger hopes the message of the songs will resonate with a new generation.
“We’ve got to find some way to have a little compassion, understanding, cooperation and maybe even a little love for our fellow man,” says Levinger. “The same old stuff, I know, but you’ve got to keep trying.”
Lowell Levinger performs solo on Saturday, Sept. 26, at the Capp Heritage Tasting Room (1245 First St., Napa; 707.254.1922). Levinger then joins the Barry Melton Band on Sunday, Sept. 27, at Rancho Nicasio
(1 Old Rancheria Road, Nicasio; 415.662.2219).