By Lauren Wise
By New Times
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He's been up close and personal with Cher's rear end, escorted Johnny Rotten around the Valley and entertained Fats Domino in his New Orleans living room. Yet Charles Levy--the man who single-handedly turned an anonymous roadside tavern into a hub of cutting-edge music, and manages Gloritone, the Valley's best chance for a Gin Blossoms since, well, the Gin Blossoms--is a humble man.
You might not discern this from the "I hate you" sticker that glares from one side of Levy's computer monitor. But the corner of an office where Gloritone and the other local band under Charles Levy Management, The Revenants, practice is a monument to modesty.
It's just big enough for a desk, some files, and a CD boom box softly humming Duke Ellington. Very few personal effects adorn the walls or one row of shelves, save an autographed poster from the first Lollapalooza, a souvenir from Levy's days as a junior promoter at Evening Star Productions, and an autographed Woody Jenkins for Senator poster in the window.
Then there's Levy himself, a fresh-faced Paddington bear of a man--picture Corey Haim-circa-Lucas all grown up--a man most know simply as "Charlie" and have heard speak only in rasps under the din of a band he'd booked at Nita's Hideaway, the aforementioned tavern, defunct after 23 years as of July 12.
He's visibly nervous as the interview begins, and seems eager to explain who Woody Jenkins is even if it only means he can put off talking about himself just a little bit longer.
He says the poster's a gift from his father, who still resides in the New Orleans area, where Levy grew up. "Woody Jenkins is some guy that ran for senator in Louisiana a couple of years ago," he says with a trace of "N'awlins" lilt that would be hard to detect in a noisy bar. "He was really an archconservative and everyone thought he was going to win. I was teasing my parents, [saying] 'Senator Woody Jenkins!' So for my birthday, my dad got me a signed poster."
That birthday is November, and his last one was number 28. Though Levy says, "I feel like an ancient man," his face is young and impish, hidden behind thick, black-framed glasses perched precariously, as if they're always about to fall off.
Behind them lurks a person of solid character, someone who'd help you change a flat on a freeway. This is a guy who says he could have been a fireman or, because he played football in high school, a high school football coach.
He's neither now, but he's less self-conscious and reveals something that might explain how he landed so far west of his original career direction. It helps to explain how such a likable sort got involved in the sordid business of music promotion.
"My grandfather was a rock promoter in the '50s," Levy says matter-of-factly. "He put on shows for the Big Bopper and Little Richard. He was Fats Domino's manager from day one for years. Fats Domino would come by the house."
This happened in Levy's preteen years (his grandfather died when he was 11), but between this and the fertile New Orleans musical landscape, he had a good breeding ground for a fledgling music promoter.
"Here, every high school has its McDonald's," he says to explain how growing up in New Orleans differs from the Valley. "We had our bars. My high school bar was the Bourbon Street Saloon. You could be in a bar when you were 17, so at that time, we were 14 and 15 going into bars. We'd say, 'Let's meet at the Bourbon Street and go check the Neville Brothers out at Tipitina's.'"
He managed to graduate high school with his sobriety intact, and landed in the Valley the way much of its twentysomething population has--he moved to Tempe in the late '80s to attend Arizona State University.
"I wanted to go somewhere completely different," he says of the move. "I didn't know anyone in Arizona. I just thought I'd go out west where nowhere is."
Once he was "nowhere," Levy found he wasn't exactly college material. "I hated school, but my dad said I had to graduate," he says. "All the football players took sociology, so I thought that's where all of the easy classes are. So I majored in sociology."
Noam Chomsky he was not, but it didn't matter. His sophomore year, Levy's career course was steered not by scholastics but by an extracurricular activity he scorned.
"My roommate my sophomore year was into ASU government--I used to tease him about it," Levy says. "But one day I was looking through the literature and it said 'concert director,' and I went in for an interview. I knew there was no way I was going to get it, but I hit it off with the girl that was hiring and she said, 'I know you have no experience, but I'm going to make you the concert director.'"
Because America West Arena did not yet exist, the university's Activity Center was a thriving venue. For the next year, Levy bounced from job to job for various ASU concert events. He would do rigging for a show one day, hospitality the next. It was during this time Levy found himself Cher's personal assistant for a day, where he was privy to something few Valleyites can (or would want to) claim.