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John D. Levan is a charter member of the Pioneers and active in the functions of the organization.
He arrived on the Arkansas scene in the sixties with "The Five Emcees", a band that played
Rock-A-Billy and other styles of music. They traveled extensively in the USA and Canada.
John joined as a guitarist/bassist/vocalist. His influence on the up and coming musicians of the
era was immediate and lasting. As a member of the Emcees, I saw the players from the surrounding
clubs that were influenced by John's vocal and playing style.
John is still delighting audiences in the Northwest Arkansas area and has contributed many fine
performances to our annual reunion "Jam".
Jerry D. Yount
Northwest Arkanasas Pioneers of Rock 'n' Roll
For most of their young lives the three LeVan brothers were raised on a farm in Okmulgee county
Oklahoma. Life was pretty quiet growing up until my older brother John traded a three dollar pup
tent for a guitar in the summer of 1953. Things were never quite the same after that. Even now,
fifty years later, you can hear that newborn sound that came to be known as rock & roll, and
rock-a-billy music. this is pretty much how it went;
1953: John acquired his first guitar and began to learn how to play. Practice, practice, practice and
more practice. It wasn't twenty-four hours a day. It just seemed like it to my younger brother
David and I.
1954: The whole thing really started to move when John turned to his early mentor and high
school friend James (Jimbo) Hudson who taught John a lot of chords and stuff like that. James played
left handed guitar and piano. When they sat across from each other to practice guitar it looked like
a mirror image. John to this day confesses he owes a lot to James Hudson. Later that year John
appeared with Red Foley on "The Ozark Jubilee" in Springfield, Missouri. At this time our dad
determined that John was going to stick with this music thing so he took John to Crow Music in
Muscogee where he bought John his first quality guitar. It was a "Guild-Stratford X350" electric
with an "Alamo" amplifier. Nowadays this guitar would be a collectors item and fetch a handsome
1955: John joins up with one of Oklahoma's pioneer rockabilly bands led by singer Clyde Stacy.
The band was called "The Nightcaps" with Rick Eilerts and Bill Tolbert. John played lead guitar.
This was about the same time Elvis released his first record on Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee.
1956: Moving on, John plays guitar for another Oklahoma pioneer, Gene Croce and The Rockets.
This started what is now called the "Tulsa" sound. Others in this era include Clyde Stacy, Jack
Dunham and Bobby Taylor. All three were great singers of that era. John says candidly that his
respect and admiration for this group has done nothing but grow over the years.
1957: Back once again with Clyde Stacy and the "Nightcaps", Clyde records his early rock hit
Hoy Hoy which lands the band on the Philadelphia Bandstand with the one and only Dick Clark,
who later changed the name of the program to American Bandstand. You might have heard of it?
1958-59: Off to college in Wilburton, Oklahoma to study engineering where John played in the campus
1959-62: Our family moved to New Mexico in 1959 where John met and played guitar for rockabilly
songwriter Sonny West, who had written Rave On and Oh Boy for the rock and roll legend
1962: Late 1962 John returns to Oklahoma where he forms his first band, The Twilights.
1964: Guess who's playing guitar and fronting band with the great Charlie Daniels? John D. is a
member of Charlie Daniels first band (which was rock & roll) called The Jaguars. It's the 60's. Why
not? I learned a lot about showmanship working with Charlie says John. Later in 1965 Charlie left
the band and headed for Nashville to seek his fortune and the rest, as they say, is history. John
and The Jaguars continued to tour the East coast from New York to Florida up until 1967 when they
1967: John now joins the MC's with Tommy McClelland, Daryl Price, Dwayne English and Jerry
Yount. John fronts the band and plays bass and lead guitar touring the United States and Canada from
Las Vegas to the Fryers Club in Toronto. Jerry plays guitar and horn while Tommy sings blues, pop,
rock & roll and plays a mean trumpet. During the 60's John D. also managed to work two tours with a
favorite of mine, the incomparable Roy Orbison.
1970: Back in Tulsa, John forms another band "The Frisco Railroad". Asked why he named the band
after band member and keyboardist "Rocky Fisco", John drawls "It just sounded good that's all".
Rocky Frisco, by the way, is still playing with J.J. Cale who wrote After Midnight and
Cocaine for Eric Clapton not to mention They Call Me the Breeze for Lynyrd Skynyrd.
How's that for name dropping? During this time John still has time to meet and become close friends
with Tommy Overstreet. You may recall Tommy. He had twenty six single hit records and seven number
one hits. Tommy has been a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in Burns, Tennessee for some time
now. The story goes that Tommy and John met while doing a concert in Nebraska. Because one act
failed to show Tommy asked John to extend his band's performance and Tommy and his band would do the
same to cover for the no-show. The promoter was happy and John and Tommy became life-long friends.
Having met Tommy on several occasions this writer can say I never met a classier act than Tommy
Overstreet. I mean that professionally and personally. Tommy now resides in Oregon with his lovely
wife Diane and their two daughters. He and John still keep in touch with one another on a regular
About this time John, now back in Tulsa, was jammin' with such notables as Leon Russell, Johnny Cale
(aka J.J. Cale) and Rock Frisco at the Derrick Studios in Tulsa owned by William P. Davis. Not to be
confused with "Bill Davis" who in John D's opinion is "the best R & B singer I ever heard without a
Note: John D. and another good friend of his "Rockin' John Henry" famed Tulsa DJ and radio
personality, for most of forty years, were also inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame August 17th
of this year. Rockin' John went to be with the Lord on August 10th 2004 and John and this writer
attended his funeral, which was a fitting tribute to someone who was an authority on R & B, Rock &
Roll and Rockabilly music from its very conception. Rockin' John had amassed a collection of over
14,000 records of Rock & Roll from the middle fifties to the present.
1980's: John D. toured the country working concerts on the road and in Tulsa.
1989: In the late 80's John moved to Springdale, Arkansas where he is still active in Blues,
R & B and Rockabilly music. Working out of a studio in Fayetteville John records a "Gunfighter"
album to compliment the Gunfighter book written by folklorist, historian and western writer Philip
Currently recording a rockabilly CD/album with his band "The Tunderboltz". John and guitar picker
J. David Coleman are working with Earl Cate of the "Cate Brothers" noted R & B and Rock & Roller's,
who are in the Arkansas R & B Music Hall of Fame. John says, "I don't have any better friends in
this world than J. David, Earl Cate and Tony Gourley who are as close as my own brothers".
John D. & The Thunderboltz
are a four piece Rockabilly band with blues and a twinge of swing
thrown in; consisting of vocals, twin lead guitars, bass and drums. You will also hear horns, strings
and piano played on a Roland guitar synthesizer. The music is fun, dynamic and irresistible. If you
sit you want to clap your hands, if you stand you want to dance! Veteran players all they are, to
the man, seasoned professionals always ready for the road. While their new CD "John D & The
Thunderboltz" garners early kudos and very positive vibes, The Thunderboltz are completing production
of a brand new video featuring several new cuts off of the disc. This CD is a 14 song album of
Rockabilly treasures including 7 original songs from the pen of John D. This dynamic package makes
for some great listening. Who are these dudes that make up the band "John D. and the Thunderboltz"?
Well, read on ...
J. David Coleman - Lead Guitar
David epitomizes the phrase "been there, done that". A professional musician since the late 1950's
this viruoso draws on a vast spectrum of experience that enables him to play with smooth finesse or
to get as down and dirty as the music demands. A true road warrior David has backed Grand Ol' Opry
stars as well as Rockabilly musicians. He is at home from playing pure Rockabilly to pop standards in a
jazz style; drawing on influences as diverse as Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy, Mark Knofler and Lindsey
Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac. A master of the Roland guitar synthesizer he adds strings, horns and
piano giving the group a broad range of textures to draw upon. "Yep, been there, done that".
H. Levi Williams - Bass, Rhythm Guitar, Vocals
Levi is a multi-talented "Jack of all Trades" with a background as a radio DJ and session musician
who was exposed to the roots of Rockabilly at a young age. Levi knows what sounds good and how to
get it across to an audience. This guitar strumming, vocalizing, bass playing gentle giant has
provided a rhythmic anchor to a number of groups playing in an eclectic range of styles, most
recently touring with Sleepy LaBeef. He has returned full circle to return to his musical upbringing,
namely that synthesis of blues and country that led to rock and roll - "Rockabilly".
McAllen Wolfe - Drums
The newest member of the Thunderboltz is a true professional and a veteran player. The many talents
and experience of Mac, as he is know by his peers, are very evident when you see and here him perform
live. He brings a whole new dimension to a great band like the Thunderboltz. Reaching back to his
high school days his tenure playing drums from late '50's with such notables as Waylon Hollyfield
(Author of Rednecks, White Sox and Blue Ribbon Beer), Jerry Hays (author of Who's Cheating Who), ;and
the list goes on! Mac has played jazz, country, Southern rock, pop and blues, and now with the
Thunderboltz has really hit his stride.
SOME OF THE AWARDS RECIEVED
BY THE THUNDERBOLTZ
C.M.A. Award (Country Music Association of American)
The Prestigious American Song Festival - Three Times
John D. LeVan, guitarist and lead singer for the Thunderboltz, was inducted and certified into
the national "Rockabilly Hall of Fame" as of August 2004.
Over his career John has written over 300 songs and has won the American Song Festival International
Songwriters Contest on three occasions along with a CMA (Country Music Association of America)
award. Tommy Overstreet and Jack Dunham of Tulsa were very instrumental in John's induction into the
Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Jack is one of the founding father's of Rock and Roll in Oklahoma in the
50's and 60's and has written several nationally charted songs including two number one hits for the
late Conway Twitty.
RECEIVES CMA AWARD
John D. LeVan, Beggs country/western recording artist and songwriter, has received the Country
Music Associations Best Entertainer of the Show award along with entertainers Charlie Daniels,
Tommy Overstreet and Mel McDaniels.
LeVan, originally of Preston, received the coveted award for his performances at the Sooner Music
Fest, July 3-5 in McAlester. Others of the twenty plus acts included Conway Twitty, Reba McIntire,
Johnny Paycheck and other "name" entertainers.
"I was the only one (of the four winners) without a hit record," LeVan said. "I owe my winning
the award to my band, they're such excellent musicians."
LeVan and his band just finished two appearances at the Missouri State Fair in Centralia, Missouri
and will appear locally at the Brittainy Inn August 3-6 and 10-13. He is a favorite at Branson,
Missouri and has sold various songs he has written, three of which have made the hit charts.
by Vasilia Spencer, Freelance Reporter (Tulsa, OK)
The story's not over yet. John is still doing what he loves best and that's playing the music he
loves and helped to create, some fifty years ago. Keep a look out. John and some of these "pioneers"
of Rock & Roll and rockabilly music might be playing a theater near you very soon.
In closing my brother John asked me to add this note of thanks:
"I want to thank my friend Jack Dunham, who is on the board of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame along
with Jerry Yount and Gerald Golden who are officers with the "North West Arkansas Pioneers of Rock &
Roll". Many thanks for their efforts on my behalf regarding my induction into the Rockabilly Hall
of FameŽ. Last but not least, I want to thank my dear friend Tommy Overstreet. A friend who has
always been there with a good word of advice, sometimes humorous, sometimes critical, but always
in a positive and constructive way and always honest. Also to my two brothers David and Joe....
"Rock On" and may God bless". John LeVan
Posted October, 2004
ŠRockabilly Hall of FameŽ