THE ONE AND ONLY..........
By: Ginger Coyote
I recently approached Levi Dexter about doing an interview and was so very happy he agreed to it. Levi and I have known each other for years. But it is when Meri St Mary and I ran into him and his lovely Wife Bernie at a show he was playing with The Blasters that we really reconnected.. Levi has done it all and it would take an autobiography to really do him justice. I know that Dave Burks has also volunteered to interview Levi on other era's of his long career for Punk Globe. I really Hope you enjoy my interview with Mr. Levi Dexter!!
Punk Globe: Thanks so much for the interview Levi. Can you tell me at what age did you get involved with music?
Levi Dexter: Growing up in England I listened to lots of radio. The BBC and later Capitol radio and also the Radio Luxembourg. The BBC played plenty of vintage records when I was a small boy. Capitol Radio had Charlie Gillett who on Sundays played American roots music. Rock 'n' roll, rockabilly, blues and gospel. Radio Luxembourg had Tony Prince who played oldies and was a huge Elvis Presley fan. This was my learning ground. I grew up in Chelsea, London. In the early 70's Malcolm McLaren had opened the Teddyboy shop "Let It Rock" on the Kings Road just around the corner from where I lived. It became a hangout and it was during this time I decided to become a Teddyboy. My mother moved us to Southend-On-Sea in the mid 70's. A big Teddyboy town. It was very strict musically. Nothing after 1959. Even the twist, surf and mersey beat were considered the music that killed rock 'n' roll.
Punk Globe: Who were some of your inspirations that attracted you to music?
Levi Dexter: What I listened to on the rockin' radio shows and the bands I saw at the time were my biggest inspirations. I ran an Elvis fan club in Essex by the time I was 15. I was a big fan of Gene Vincent & the Blue Caps. Anything rock 'n' roll from the 50's was an inspiration.
Punk Globe: Can you tell us about your first time on stage?
Levi Dexter: Around 1973 an '74 I would go see all the great Teddyboy rock 'n roll bands. Crazy Cavan & the Rhythm Rockers, Flying Saucers, The Riot Rockers and many many others. I used to sing along watching them in the audience and we would all jump on the stage and scream and holla' during the guitar breaks (just like on the early Gene Vincent recordings). Then one day Cavan asked if I would like to sing a song with the Rhythm Rockers. I couldn't believe it but went for it. After that Cavan would ask me to jam every time I went to see them. My friends would ask all the bands to let me sing with them and most were kind enough to let me sing a song with them. This was the beginning for me. The start of it all.
Punk Globe: I first became aware of you with Levi and The Rockats. What bands had you snag with prior to The Rockats?
Levi Dexter: I had only jammed with the Teddyboy bands before Levi & the Rockats. I never considered it possible to have my own band.
Punk Globe: Can you tell the readers how Levi and The Rockats originated? How long had you been together before I met you at The Tropicana?
Levi Dexter: Malcolm's shop had been shut down by the tax people and his new shop Sex was just opening. Instead of Teddyboy clothes and records it was now a bondage and fetish store. The Teddyboys (and girls) resented it along with the new Punk Rockers that seemed to have taken over the Kings Road. A year or two earlier people would move off the sidewalk when a few Teds came along.

Now there was no response but when punks came down the street in bondage clothes, pins and crazy hair people ran to get out the way. The Teds resented this as the Kings Road was considered Teddyboy turf. The punks had drawn a dagger sticking out of Elvis' back at the Sex shop and come to Southend starting fights with Teds and burned the confederate flag (that represented rebel rockabilly) at the Queens Hotel, a popular Teddyboy club in Essex.

This escalated into the infamous Punk/Ted gang war of '77. The KIngs Road was now a battle zone. Of course there were no guns or deaths but it was quite violent all over London during that time. June 1977 I went to see Shakin' Stevens & the Sunsets play at a movie theater after the movie The Girl Can't Help It. Half the theater was Teds the other half Punks. The air was heavy with tension. As usual one of my friends asked Shakin' Stevens if he would let me sing. He said "If the band want to stay after my set .. sure". They played their show and they all left the stage. I was approached by an American man in a blue sharkskin suit who had a vivid blue streak in his hair and asked "Do you really want to sing with the band" when I said yes he walk to the back of the stage. This was Leee Black Childers. He had worked with Mott The Hoople (All The Way To Memphis is dedicated to him on the LP credits), David Bowie (it's his collage on the inside of the Diamond Dogs gatefold cover) and at the time Johnny Thunders band The Heartbreakers. As Shakin' Stevens was on the same Track Records as the Heartbreakers Leee went back stage and yelled at the band to get back on stage. I jammed a couple of songs and the whole mood changed in the audience. Teds and Punks we coming down to the front to watch and everybody seemed to be having a good time. Leee gave me a business card and told me to be at the Track Records office at 10 the next morning. I was there at 8am. We discussed the possibilities of forming my own band. Later we went to the pub The Ship on Bond street for drinks. I met Leee's punk friends there and realized that not all of them wanted to kill me. After we left I asked Leee if we could avoid the club on the corner of Bond Street as there were tons on punks hanging outside there. "Oh .. It's the Vortex .. that's where we're going next" said Leee. I was petrified as I was wearing a teddyboy drape jacket, creepers and had greased hair. I felt like I was going into the lions den and would be torn apart. All the punks came and told me how cool they thought it was to see a Ted there and made me feel welcome. The energy there was like no other place I had ever been to. Billy Idol told me he was a big fan of Elvis lifting his punk t-shirt to show the Elvis t-shirt underneath and said "You don't know how many times this has saves me"! I moved from the flat I was squatting in and moved into Leee's multi level house in Islington that night.

The next night we started looking for possible band members. Leee said it was just as important to have cool, good looking guys in the band regardless of their talents. He already knew Dibs Preston (later know as Dibs Preston) from the nightclubs and said "He plays guitar .. He looks great .. He's in"!

A few days later me and Leee went to the Royalty in Southgate on one of their 50's rockin' nights and stood in the balcony looking down at all the people dancing. "Who's THAT" he said "He's perfect"! I said "It's my good friend Smut (later known as Smutty Smith). I lived with his family for years". He approached Smut and said "Drums or bass"?? Smut said "Drums" and Leee said "Oh no! With all those tattoo's he's gotta' play the upright bass". Within days Smut had also moved into Leee's place. Leee knew Don Devereaux who was a rocker who played good drums. Greasy and always clad in leather .. he was in too and we had a whole band. Lastly came Mick Barry was picked to play second guitar. He was a good picker and wrote good songs. He co-wrote "The other side of midnight". Of course hardly any of us had real top level skills as far as rockabilly so we sounded rough and messy. There was no way we could have played the Teddyboy circuit as the demanded an pretty authentic 50's sound when they went to see bands.

Our first gig was November 10th 1977 at the end of term party at the Royal College of Art in London. Lots of Leee's punk friend came to see our debut. We borrowed amps from Marco in Adam & the Ants as we didn't have any. We weren't that great but we made it through the set. On the encore Johnny Thunders joined us for a Chuck Berry medley and saved the day. Everyone went crazy. When we were done these rasta guys set up what seemed like a mountain of sound system. They came on stage in black hoods and played "Klu-Klux-Klan" as their first song. It was Steel Pulse and only their third show. They were amazing!!!

December 26th at the Music Machine in London there was the punk show Boxing Day Relapse with Adam & the Ants (with Jordan), Siouxsie & the Banshees and ton of other punk bands. Nobody wanted to go on last so we said we would. This was our first "official" gig. We had a great time and Lemmy from Motorhead and Ariana from the Slitz got up on stage with us. We knew at this point that it was best if we played the punk scene as it was so forgiving when it came to musical ability.
Punk Globe: Who was in the original line up?
Levi Dexter: Myself on vocals, Eddie Dibbles (now Dibs Preston) on guitar, Rollin' Mick Barry on guitar, Smut Smiff (now Smutty Smith) on upright bass and Don Devereaux on drums.
Punk Globe: You did a duet with the wonderful Jayne County with her song "Evil Minded Mama" Tell us how that came about?
Levi Dexter: Yeah .. Wayne County (hadn't become Jayne yet) stayed at Leee's quite often and decided to write a rockabilly duet back in 1977. I was asked if I was interested in singing on it and said "Of course"!
Punk Globe: Was their an actual release of "Evil Minded Mama"? Can you tell us about the tour that came from teaming Rockabilly with Punk Rock?
Levi Dexter: It's the B side of the single "Trying To Get On The Radio". I wasn't credited on the label but this is my very first recording. Wayne County had recorded "Eddie & Sheena" and there were plans to release it as a single. The song told the story "Eddie was a Teddyboy, Sheena was a punk and they have a baby and name it Elvis Rotten". There was a video project for it and Dibs was on the 45 picture sleeve with some punk chick. If the Teds had found out we would have got a good kickin' and would have been banished from the Teddyboy scene. With the Ted/Punk war still raging we were booked to open for the Wayne County & the Electric Chairs "Eddie & Sheena tour". The papers said "First Punk/Ted tour expected to be a bloodbath". It wasn't. Those that had an open mind enough to go had a great time. It marked the end of the Ted/Punk war. After that everyone got along pretty good as long as the punks stayed out of the Ted clubs.
Punk Globe: Tell us about the demo deal that the band got with RCA Records?
Levi: This was right before Levi & the Rockats broke up. We recorded demos at the RCA studios in New York and the producers of the studio recording of "Hair" mixed it. It was a thrill to record in the same studio as Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline and Joe Clay (one of my favorite rockabilly singers) but the sound and mix were dreadful. We also did a live show for the suits at RCA and Richard Gottehrer who was into rockabilly and already recorded Robert Gordon. He called us "unrecordable". RCA passed on us but signed the Rockats when we broke up and they all moved to New York. I stayed in L.A.
Punk Globe: Tell us how Levi and The Rockats came to live in America? How did you end up with Guy and Dean Thomas in the band?
Levi Dexter: The spring of 1978 Leee, his assistant Gail (who later married Smutty), Smutty and myself left for the U.S. We arrived in L.A. and spent 6 weeks there before driving to Dallas and then Kentucky. I didn't want to be singing about the South and never have been there. We spent all summer researching rockabilly music and getting a real feel for the place our music came from. Smutty had made friends with Guy Hemmer in Kentucky so he was added to the group. November we all headed to New York. We found Dean Thomas playing drums in a club in New York and liked his style and drum playing so he was in. Leee had arranged for us to stay at Blondie's loft on the Bowery in New York. They had left because a sniper was shooting at them from the opposite roof. The record company had put steel shutters on the windows but they had moved out. We were on the third floor. The band Television was one floor down. On November 10th 1978 (a lucky day for me) we opened for the Cramps at Max's Kansas City. This was our American debut. It was awesome. The Cramps became my favorite American band at that point. The Cramps made a poster of a spinning circle dress and legs, garters etc. and a cat playing a bass and holding up a sign saying it was our debut U.S. show.
Punk Globe: I remember seeing you play your firs show in San Francisco and the crowd went crazy! Great looking Rockabilly guys playing fun music and Smutty covered with tats worked his stand up bass for all it was worth.. Was the reaction the same in Los Angeles?
Levi Dexter: We may not have been the best musicians but made up for it with desperate energy. People went crazy at every show. We knew we were onto something. All we had to do was learn to play better. We used to drink but never did drugs. Being a Teddyboy still we though drugs were for hippies!
Punk Globe: In that time period Guy left the band and I remember Chis Isaak trying out for the band and you turned him down. Do you recall that?
Levi Dexter: There was so much going on all the time and it's hard to recall everything but yeah .. I remember being introduced to him but he already had plans to do his solo thing. We only wanted a full time commitment so it didn't pan out. He looked right for the part though and was a really nice guy. I haven't seen or heard of him since then. I wonder if he remembers??
Punk Globe: Tell us about doing The Merv Griffin show? I bet he really liked you guys!
Levi Dexter: Oh yes .. Back in those days there were A&R and scouts going to clubs to scout out punk talent (not any more) and Merv sent his scouts to check us out at a gig with the GoGo's. They asked if we wanted to do the Merv Griffin show. We hadn't heard of it but knew it was a national T.V. show and Leee said it was a great opportunity. We were at rehearsal at 7am the next morning. The stage manager said "Give me your record". We said we didn't have one. Then they asked for our tape. We said we didn't have one and wanted to play live. After going through "All through the night" and "They flipped out shouting "Live?? Oh God! Microphones! Heaven help us"! We set up quickly and ran through "All Through The Night" but felt pretty stupid doing all the panting and false endings so we left them out. We were too young to know they were timing the songs. Adding two false endings during the taping really messed up their timing. Then we ran through "Note From The South".

After the rehearsal Merv called me over to a grand piano that he was playing tinkering lounge music on. He called me over and said "I started many an English career" he said, "Hermans Hermits .. I had them on first .. Dave Clark 5 .. I had then on first too" he rambled on. Then he asked me "What do you think of the set? Is there anything else you'd like"? "It's a bit disco with all the flashing lights" I said and then asked "Can we hang our flag at the back"? "Hang the kidís flag" he yelled at the stage manager without even asking what kind of flag. Needless to say.. Playing rockabilly music live.. let alone singing "A Note From The South" with a confederate flag hanging at the back of the stage on national T.V. on an Easter Friday caused Merv quite a bit of flack. Merv showed old time good faith and trust in his gut feelings. It's a shame things don't work that way today.
Punk Globe: You also played The Zig Zag Magazine Awards in London with Jayne. Tell us about that?
Levi Dexter: I just went to the party with Leee and his friends and did Evil Minded Mama on their encore. It was a fun night.
Punk Globe: Did you also do the Midnight Special during this time?
Levi Dexter: Days after we did Merv Leee ran to Wolfman Jack who had been his friend for years and asked him to book us on the Midnight Special. Again we played live and did "All Through The Night" and "Rockabilly Idol". I was thrilled to meet Wolfman Jack and asked for his autograph. He signed it "To Levi, keep a stiff upper lip and a tight ass, Wolfman Jack". Also on the same show were the Jacksons (without Michael).
Punk Globe: Another great honor was playing The Louisiana Hayride.. Is it true you used a microphone that Elvis Presley used?
Levi Dexter: This was a VERY big deal for us. Leee's friend Tom Ayres from Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco had arranged for us to play the Louisiana Hayride where Elvis had been introduced back in 1954. Frank Page who introduced Elvis and we were the last band he introduced as he was retiring that night. Half the show was assorted country music acts then there was a break and then we played a whole show. It was one of the most special events we ever played. We did feel very honored. Backstage we were asked "Do you want to use the Elvis microphone or the Hank Williams microphone"? Leee answered "He wants to use the Levi Dexter microphone"!
Punk Globe: What prompted you leaving Levi and The Rockats?
Levi Dexter: By late 1979 we had gone about as far as we could without being signed to a record label. The band blamed Leee and wanted to have a new manager. I wasn't about to leave Leee who had pulled us all out of the gutter put it all together, brought us to America and kept us alive and working. The band wanted to move to New York to live and I wouldn't leave L.A. Christmas day 1979 we played out farewell show at the Starwood in Hollywood.
Punk Globe: The other band members went on for a while as The Rockats. What did you do?
Levi Dexter: Yes. Smutty and Dibs went to new York and performed as the Rockats with new members. They were picked up by RCA and recorded "Make That Move" and a "Live at the Ritz" L.P.We didn't play together again until 28 years later at the third Green Bay Rockin' Fest and haven't played together since. I see Dibs now and then. We're all good friends and have a drink together when we run into each other.
Punk Globe: You appeared on 20/20 and Good Morning America. Tell us about that?
Levi Dexter: 20/20 did a piece on new wave music in '79 and features a clip from on of our shows at CBGB's. GMA filmed us at the Mudd Club in New York in 1980 and used it in on their show. It was good exposure for us. Any chance to be seen on T.V. is a great opportunity. I had already jammed with Brian Setzer and his brother Gary in Long Island (as the TomCats) and knew Brian was super talented. Leee flew them both out to Hollywood and put them up at the Tropicana Motel for a week. We rehearsed with Brian, Gary and Danny B. Harvey a few times and it was amazing! After about four days it was clear that Brian wasn't ready to commit to constant travel and he decided to go back east. On the way to the airport I told him he needs to leave the east coast and go somewhere else and return later as heros. When he got back he quickly formed the StrayCats and left for England. The rest is history. I quickly formed Levi Dexter & the Rip-Chords and we headed off to debut at the Metropol in Berlin in April 1980.
Punk Globe: Your music career has flourished and you also began doing DJ work. Tell us about that?
Levi Dexter: If I'm not playing I love to play good rockabilly records in a club. It's more for fun than anything and a chance to make the night more rockin'.
Punk Globe: You have also gone onto doing photography. How did that come about?
Levi Dexter: When my wife Bernie Dexter started modeling she always had a problem getting hi res images or prints from the photographers. They would sell the images saying "I'm the photographer .. your just the model .. I own these images". To put a stop to it I studied through trial and error and became her photographer. She works with other photographers if she likes their work but I don't shoot photo's of anyone else. She is my muse.
Punk Globe: In case some of the readers are not aware... You are married to the beautiful and ever so nice Bernie Dexter who could be a double for a young Bettie Page.. How did you two meet?
Levi Dexter: We crossed paths many times and even lived opposite each other on the same street in Hollywood. Then Tip Polecat (from the Polecats) set us up on a blind date and we have been inseparable. We've been together for over 13 years and married for over 10 years. She's the most wonderful woman I have ever been with and we're more in love than we could ever imagine.
Punk Globe: Levi can you give us some web addresses so the readers can catch up with you?
Levi Dexter: I don't maintain my website very well but upcoming gig posters can be found on
LEVIDEXTER.COM There's plenty to look at on BERNIEDEXTER.COM It's best to search our MySpace pages and YouTube.
Punk Globe: What is in store for 2010 for you?
Levi Dexter: We just got back from Bernie working 3 cities in Germany. I played the Valencia Hall Party in Spain and the Good Rockin' Tonight festival in France. I play Europe each year at rockin' weekenders. Still play L.A. when I get the chance. In October I play the Ace Cafe in London.
Punk Globe: I know I just skirted your musical career which can only lead to another interview. I would like to thank you so very much for the interview. Can you give the readers an last words until the next interview?
Levi Dexter: I'd like to thank you Ginger for asking me to do this interview. I'd be glad to talk more in the future. The early days were a great adventure but the going was rough and hard. I believe the rockin' scene is stronger now than it has ever been. Anyone can come to a rockabilly show in America no matter what your style is. Rockabilly and punk music is less segregated than it used to be due to the web and access to information and there is a whole new generation of young people into it. I feel that the future looks bright and positive. It feels good to still be here and I look forward to the future. I'd like to thank all my fans for their support over the years and for supporting rockabilly music .. Punk rock of the 1950's.