Blues guitarist Levi Platero ups the ante, ready to gamble on himself
To'Hajiilee native will perform with band in downtown Farmington
FARMINGTON — The conversation was one of those late-night-rapidly-fading-into-early-morning exchanges that unexpectedly veers from relaxed to intense. Levi Platero remembers it in detail because it became a defining moment for him, at least in terms of what he finally decided he wanted from his career and his life.
It was about 4 a.m., and Levi Platero and his brother Douglas were trying to unwind after another night of the Legendary Blues Cruise, an eight-night cruise ship excursion that took place in February through the Caribbean Sea and featured some of the biggest names in blues music.
The brothers were performing as part of the seminal Native blues band Indigenous, and when they weren't on stage, they were spending their time rubbing shoulders with the likes of Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Tab Benoit and Chris Layton, part of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble.
The headiness of that experience, along with the warm, salty sea air and the glimmer of the stars on the water, got the two Platero boys to thinking about the big picture.
"We were talking about our lives," said Levi Platero, who will perform Tuesday night in downtown Farmington. "(Douglas) never really talks to me, but he opened up to me that night. And when he did that, it hit me."
Surrounded by some of the biggest icons in blues music, Levi Platero found himself taking stock of his own career. As the singer, guitarist and songwriter for the Levi Platero Band — the project to which he devotes most of his time and effort — Platero has seen the group achieve a more significant presence and build a larger audience in recent years across the region.
But when he compared himself to the artists headlining the cruise, and the work they had created, he realized he wanted more.
"I thought, 'This is what I want. This is where I want to be. I want to be surrounded by big-name people, and I want to create something special,'" Platero said.
The next time he played the Blues Cruise, the To'Hajiilee native vowed, it would be with his own band.
Since last winter, Platero has funneled that ambition into a sharp increase in his creative output. He has taken to releasing a new single on the first Friday of every month and plans to release a new album by the middle of the summer, when he will head east for an extended tour of the Great Plains, Midwest and East Coast.
Platero had been recording and stockpiling new material since last year. But he was still stewing over how and when to release it when he embarked on the cruise in February. The awakening he had on that trip led him to the conclusion there was no time like the present.
"I was really thinking, 'If you keep thinking about it, you're going to get too cautious. Just put it out,'" he said. "I guess that's my mentality from a business standpoint. I had been so cautious, I was afraid to shoot my shot."
Platero is applying that gambler's approach to other aspects of his work, as well, as evidenced by his decision to hit the road this summer in support of the new disc to territory well outside his normal touring footprint.
"When it comes to touring, I'm not worrying about the expense," he said. "I'm just calling places and saying, 'Let's do it.' I feel pretty ambitious about this year."
Platero said his confidence that he can make those decisions work for him has been bolstered by some of the industry connections he has been making, especially among those who have displayed interest in investing in his music. Just last week, he said, a friend from California took him to an Albuquerque auto dealership and bought him a touring van — something he's never been able to afford.
"He bought it right off the lot for me," Platero said. "That makes me think I'm going to do this until I can't do it anymore. I want to leave every piece of myself on stage."
Platero also believes he'll see some potential endorsement deals come to fruition over the next couple of months. That kind of financial support will allow him to take his career to the next level, he said.
"Yeah, of course I'm happy," he said. "It's been great, and I know there's more to come. There's people who definitely believe in the music and the ability the band has."
Platero said it's been gratifying to see people respond to his work and become willing to put their money behind him in such a short period of time. After all, it was only three months ago that he was still fretting over what his next step would be.
"It feels like so long ago, but it was in February," Platero said of his epiphany. "Ever since then, it feels like I've been pushing and working hard and trying to do something. I'm very excited to see where this kind of work takes me."
Tuesday's concert is presented by the San Juan Jazz Society and takes place at 7 p.m. in the pocket park behind Studio 116, 116 W. Main St. Tickets are $10 in advance at sanjuanjazzsociety.com and $12 at the gate. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 505-320-5084.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.