Peter Levin Brings the ‘Vintage Vibe’ to Muscle Shoals

"With the reliability and tone, Vintage Vibe is a great choice.”

Keyboardist Peter Levin made the trip back to Muscle Shoals and FAME Studios to record his solo album—and he brought along his own Vintage Vibe, a Vintage Vibe Piano and Vibanet. Levin is no stranger to FAME Studios having recorded keyboards on the recent Grammy-nominated album, Southern Blood, Gregg Allman’s musical farewell. Levin has also recorded keys at FAME with alternative country/southern rockers Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit and the gospel-flavored Blind Boys of Alabama.

FAME Studios, the birthplace of the Muscle Shoals Sound of the early 1960s, is where Aretha Franklin recorded I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You and Wilson Pickett cut Mustang Sally. “I tracked about 17 songs at FAME Studios using both of my Vintage Vibe keyboards,” Levin said, adding his own take to the musical cannon of the Muscle Shoals sound. He plans to release his new album by May, 2018.

Although Levin has been playing vintage instruments in the studio and live on stage for years, when he started using Vintage Vibe keyboards he found that, “The Vintage Vibe instruments are so consistent. They sound great and always have great tone. And I love the built in tremolo! You get a lush sound, right off the bat. That’s a great feature, because most of the time to get that sound you gotta carry a Fender ‘suitcase’ Rhodes around! To have the tremolo right out of the keyboard makes it great for playing live and in the studio. And again, it’s about consistency. The problem with a lot of old keyboards is that when you rent them for ‘backline’ dates their quality is hit or miss.”

How do Vintage Vibe instruments feel under the fingers? “The action is a little faster, which I like,” Levin said. “The mechanics of the action are great, it’s very easy up and down the keyboard, very smooth. I’ve played some Rhodes that have a fast action too, but again it’s all about consistency.”

At the end of his sessions, Levin left his Vintage Vibe keyboards at FAME for a few days, giving visitors and studio staff alike the opportunity to check out the instruments. “We love the Vintage Vibe keyboards,” FAME General Manager, Rodney Hall, exclaimed. “They are amazing!”

Hall wasn’t the only one at FAME who felt that way. Spooner Oldham—a linchpin of the Southern soul and R&B sound and a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee—is one of the original Muscle Shoals keyboard players, songwriters, and producers. “Spooner came by when we recorded Gregg Allman’s Southern Blood album,” Levin told us. “Spooner and I kind of hit it off on those sessions and so John Gifford, the assistant manager at FAME, called and asked if he’d play on one of the songs I wrote.” Oldham tried the Vintage Vibe electric piano and according to Levin, “He liked it! He didn't get to play for an extended amount of time—he was there to do the track and keep it moving. I had already put the Vintage Vibe electric piano part on the song, so Spooner played Hammond B3. That was a heavy moment for me.”

For his FAME studio sessions, Levin brought together friends as well as current and past band mates. “For the group of songs with a more gospel, groovy feel going on, I used the Blind Boys of Alabama band—Austin Moore on drums, Stevie Ray Ladson and Tracy Pierce on bass, Joey Williams on guitar, and me playing keyboards. The Blind Boys singers were on backup vocals and some lead vocals too. Then for the other songs, I had my buddies from New York come down—Paul Frazer on bass, Dave Diamond on drums, Joey Williams stayed on. I also had Marc Quinones from the Allman Brothers—and Gregg’s band—on drums and percussion and my good friend Chris Scianni on guitar. I’ve been playing with Chris since we were kids. And Lamar Williams Jr. on some vocals.” John Gifford engineered the recording sessions with Spencer Coats assisting, all under the watchful eyes and ears of Rodney Hall.

During the four years leading up to Gregg Allman’s passing, Levin toured the world with the band, handling all the keyboard parts that Gregg didn’t play. Vintage Vibe keyboards were an essential component in his rig. In addition, for a number of years Gregg’s rig included a custom-built Vintage Vibe electric piano.

Describing how he connected with Vintage Vibe and the company’s founder, Chris Carroll, Levin said, “I started my vintage keyboard collection in the early 1990s, but didn’t hook up with Chris at Vintage Vibe until about five or six years ago. I’ve played a lot of beat up Rhodes over the years, and that’s why I started dealing with sampled keyboards, because they were consistent. But I got tired of that fake stuff.” As a result, Levin started rediscovering the original instruments, tracking down replacement parts and repairing his keyboards. “That’s when I connected with Vintage Vibe. I had rekindled my love for the vintage sound. In Vintage Vibe, I found a company who got that. They made it possible for me to play that vintage sound again, and make it more accessible.” Eventually, Levin got his own Vintage Vibe electric piano and Vibanet keyboards and took them on the road with Gregg Allman.

“Vintage Vibe keyboards are much more manageable than the original Rhodes,” Levin added. “The Vintage Vibe 73 is about half the weight. The weight really makes it easier to get the keyboard out and play it live on stage. With the reliability and tone, Vintage Vibe is a great choice.”

“Recording Gregg Allman’s last record, Southern Blood, at Muscle Shoals with Don Was producing was an amazing experience,” Levin concluded. “Making that record is what made me want to make my record at FAME Studios too. I have recorded there three times, so it felt comfortable to me. It’s a great place to create music. Everyone there is really, really good people.”


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