Drake Levin, lead guitarist for Paul Revere & the Raiders during the quintet’s hit-making prime in the mid-1960s, died Saturday at his home in San Francisco after a long battle with cancer, according to his longtime friend and former Raiders bandmate Phil Volk. He was 62.
Levin’s four-year stint with the Raiders, known for its campy Revolutionary War uniforms, thigh-high black riding boots and tri-corner hats, coincided with a string of top 10 hits including “Kicks,” “Hungry” and “Good Thing.”
For a time he was one of the most recognizable American rock guitarists through the group’s weekly appearances on the Dick Clark-produced music series “Where the Action Is.”
The band’s 1965 hit “Just Like Me,” prominently featuring Levin’s double-tracked lead guitar, is on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.”
“I’ve lost my dear friend, my Raider buddy, and the music world has lost a guitar icon,” Volk said in a note posted on his website.
Drake Maxwell Levinshefski was born Aug. 17, 1946, in Chicago, and after his family moved to Boise, Idaho, he began to gain recognition as a musician with bassist Volk in the Surfers. Nebraska-born Revere also had moved to Boise, where he formed the first incarnation of the Raiders in the late 1950s. That edition of the group charted a top 40 single with “Like, Long Hair” in 1961, making it Boise’s best-known rock band.
Revere invited the Surfers to open a Raiders show outside Boise in 1963, with Raiders drummer Mike “Smitty” Smith sitting in. This put the group on Revere’s radar screen, and when his guitarist left, he offered the job to Levin. Volk soon followed him into the Raiders.
The group relocated to Portland, Ore., looking to build on its regional following. Revere and the Raiders recorded Richard Berry’s “Louie Louie” a week before it was put on tape by another Portland band, the Kingsmen, whose version became the national hit and established it as one of the quintessential songs of what came to be known as “garage rock.”
Levin’s guitar work came to the fore in “Just Like Me,” a gloriously sloppy number with a chord progression and overall sound similar to “Louie Louie” that reached No. 11 in early 1966.
Levin, Volk and Smith left the Raiders in 1967, leaving behind Revere and lead singer Mark Lindsay, and formed the Brotherhood. By the time the Raiders landed their only No. 1 hit, “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)” in 1971, Levin was long gone.
Levin’s prominence as a guitarist helped him land subsequent work playing with organist Lee Michaels, singer-songwriter Emitt Rhodes and others. After settling in the Bay Area, he became one of the region’s top blues players and formed groups of his own, including Billy Dunn and Bluesway. He last played with his Raiders cohorts at a 1997 reunion in Portland that featured all the mid-'60s band members except Revere, who has continued touring with his own lineup.
Levin is survived by his wife of 37 years, Sandra; sons David and Darby; his mother, Charle; his brother Jeff and his sister Lori.
A memorial service is planned for July 18, but details have not been settled. When finalized, arrangements will be posted on Volk’s website, philfangvolk.com.