Levon Walker is a singer/songwriter in Knoxville, TN. Fundamentally a pianist, consequentially a guitarist, and aspiringly the founder of a band. Levon writes poetry and is learning modern dance. He can top off the same cup of coffee all day and never jitter. He has no strong feelings towards hipsters anymore, obscure popularity is better than none. Levon’s garden this year will be more heavily concentrated on beets and sweet potatoes than last year’s.
In the Western Coal Fields of my Bluegrass Kentucky, I was raised in the small, quiet town of Madisonville, the self-proclaimed “Best Town on Earth.” We got there when I was very small and my dad sold the farm in Crittendon County to begin an insurance business. My mom inherited the family piano and at age six I began the Alfred Piano Method. Mom was raised playing hymns for her tiny Southern Baptist Church and I’d wake up before school hearing her stride bass with full octave right hand melodies. It was gospel ragtime. Dad brought me up on Jim Croce and sang around town himself. His 12 string acoustic was my first guitar.
By age 14 I was playing the piano in our Southern Gospel Church. We had a choir, a Hammond B3 and the retired lead guitarist from Black Oak Arkansas, Harvey Jett. Music kept me out of trouble then, but would later lead me to it.
Growing up in Kentucky meant plenty of running barefoot, exploring strip pits and shooting things up. Far from self actualized, I attended the University of Kentucky on an Engineering scholarship and left with a degree in Finance plus an unfinished minor in Jazz Piano Performance.
With no aspiration for Finance, I had a room full of keyboards and vintage pianos, some mediocre guitar abilities, and notebooks full of songs I was terrified to sing. Hiding behind keyboards was my style, although I resented my fearful hindrances. I once walked out of a Ben Folds concert, let myself into a closed building with a piano, and played all night while screaming at the top of my lungs. These outbreaks would continue in private for a long time.
I was working in a coffee shop the first night I met the aspirant artist, Ashley Addair. She inspired me to finish college, write my earliest songs, and stop chain-smoking. I played in bar bands and church, terrified to sound check a microphone. The keyboard player is the shy scientist. Ashley and I got married in a fever and I became a loan company collection agent, a fresh college man who’d never considered employability.
I got my first shotgun pulled on me while repo-ing a pickup truck in a Western KY trailer park. The places I learned to find people taught me a new version of my hometown. Dirty, hungry kids lied to me about their mommy. I tried some different routes in finance until one day Ashley packed the apartment and said she was moving to Nashville; I could come.
Before I had the chance to make a big star of myself, I had an unfortunate glass mishap at my restaurant of employment. A growler of beer exploded in my hand and severed all the tendons. We lived for six months on workers comp while I couldn’t fret a guitar or write my name. Thank you, Nashville.
It seemed like a good idea about then for Ashley to finish school. With renewed vigor, I became an insurance man for the New York Life Insurance Company and we moved to Knoxville. I didn’t know a soul there and never sold a policy for months. I cold called, walked into businesses, and joined clubs. I had a suit that I couldn’t afford to dry clean. A briefcase full of crackers.
Then I was a banker. Most of my clients were elderly ladies who needed their checkbook balanced or loafing old men coming by to drink coffee. Ashley and I found a foreclosed historic grocery store and started fixing it up. Soon enough there were foreclosures everywhere and the banking industry was making headlines. People were at my desk with very serious problems. The big bank downtown needed better sales numbers from me and I found myself in a bit of a fix, or a bursting bubble as it became fit to say.
I’d been volunteering to teach financial literacy courses around town. My classes were the mommies who probably lied to bill collectors. The people being eaten alive by bank fees. Pretty soon I was writing a letter to the bank of my resignation; sort of being encouraged to write it, too.
For a year I taught financial literacy and it made a lot of sense. Ashley was in grad school to be a middle school teacher. We had the best intentions and the ability to pursue our art on the side.
Then one day we quit and started a blog. It was January of 2009. Go back and read it.