"NATIVE MAX MAGAZINE"
Levi Platero is a Diné blues artist from To’hajilee, New Mexico whose intuitive guitar playing soulfully encapsulates a lifetime of experience. At nine years old, Platero began playing on a fifty-dollar guitar from a pawn shop. By the time he was fourteen, he was performing with his father, Murphy Platero, and cousin Douglas Platero in their family band, The Plateros.
“This guy—he was doing it!” Nataanii Means (Oglala Lakota, UmoNhoN, Diné), a hip-hop artist exclaims to an online audience as Levi prepares to perform a song on Means’ virtual show Tone & Taanii’s Tea Time. Means, now an established artist in his own right, described how much he looked up to Platero when they were teenagers. This sentiment and respect for Platero is held across the millennial generation of Native musicians who had grown up alongside Platero, while following his musical journey and achievements.
As a teenager, Platero began touring with some of the biggest Native names in the industry. He recounted, “I wasn’t in school for two months because I was on tour with Micki Free. We toured, did the whole Hard Rock [Café] thing, and I come back to school in Albuquerque. Everybody was like, ‘where’ve you been?’ I was like, ‘oh, I was just doing music stuff.’” Music “stuff” included performing alongside artists like Derek Miller (Six Nations of the Grand River), Gary Farmer (Cayuga), Martha Redbone (Choctaw), Keith Secola (Ojibwe), and more.
When asked what it was like to earn such a high level of success at a young age, Platero spoke humbly and candidly about the fact that he was still just a kid. “Honestly, if you really want to know, I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t even know it was such a big deal. I was just doing it because I loved it and it was fun. That’s about it.” He recounts all the things he’s been told over the years, “Oh yeah, man, you’re a legend, you’re awesome, you’ve done it all.” He pauses, “I kind of missed that. Like, I don’t miss it as in oh, I want to go back. Like, I actually missed it.”
In 2013, The Plateros, which now included bassist and vocalist Bronson Begay (Diné), began touring and playing with Indigenous, a blues rock band from South Dakota. Their front man, Mato Nanji had invited the boys to perform with his band. “I got to play with one of my favorite guitar players—the only other Native American blues guitar player who has really made it outside of the Native American music scene.” Platero stayed with them until about 2015, and then returned for another year from 2017 to 2018.
Despite having entertained thousands of people and toured all over the country for over a decade, Platero needed a change of tune, quite literally. “I loved playing, I loved traveling, I loved doing what I was doing, but in the back of my mind, I was just like, this isn’t my music. I didn’t write this.” Feeling the urge to start writing original songs, Platero began exploring new music and reading books, articles, and poetry. “I was just writing and writing. I would get frustrated—I would cry. I would literally cry. My dad would always say, ‘it’ll come, you’ll be able to write.’”
Together with Begay, he wrote four songs, some of which can be heard on his debut EP Take Me Back (2017). “It just started coming out. I was able to write a whole album.” Platero ended up releasing four of the tracks as singles in the summer of 2018— “Memories,” “Ugly,” “One Flesh,” and “Finish Lines.”
At this point, Platero had rebranded as the Levi Platero Band, with new members. Royce Platero (Diné), a versatile drummer and Platero’s cousin, had joined as soon as Levi had left Indigenous. Platero spoke highly of him, “He knows a lot of intricate drum patterns, he’s a great guitar player, he can sing, he can play some keys and he plays a mean bass...he’s just the ultimate package of a band member.” Jacob Shije (Santa Clara Pueblo), joined at the end of 2018 as a rhythm guitarist and Bronson Begay remained as the bassist for the band.
At the end of 2019, Platero released a self-titled album, “Levi Platero Band.” He admits there is no theme tying the songs together. “My process was just simply out of enjoyment of writing songs and putting together music.” He described the first album as a introduction. Levi’s style of guitar playing, and improvisation are inspired by guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. I asked him to list his top five guitarists, changed my mind and asked for ten. He gave me thirteen. Among them are BB King, Albert King, Doyle Brumhall II, Elmore James, and Otis Rush.
Platero’s improvisatory styles are unique, but even more so is his voice. He describes his baritone voice as “flat” and “thin.” As a more soft-spoken person, he doesn’t sing very loudly, and his range feels limited. “I’ve been singing since I was like twelve. I’ve just been trying, giving it my all, for close to eighteen years.” Despite his complicated relationship to his own singing voice, he does take pride in the fact that it is very distinct, “I don’t sound like anybody when I’m singing, and nobody sounds like me.” Platero has learned to work around what he feels are limitations to his voice by writing songs that cater to his strengths. Over the past five years, he’s worked up confidence to try new techniques, singing in falsetto and mastering the art of soulful melismatic runs. Though thin and slightly gritty, his voice carries dulcet undertones that gleam behind a veil of smoke.
Levi will be releasing his sophomore album, “Dying Breed,” on July 30, 2022 on all streaming platforms. His album release party to be held at Launchpad in Albuquerque, New Mexico will feature Mozart Gabriel, Jir Project, and Gary Farmer and the Troublemakers as opening acts. Containing 10 songs, it is Platero’s most ambitious work to date. “Every song has its own identity. It’s not all blues, it’s not all pop, and it’s not all rock.” Like the first album, this album expands on who Levi is, as a person. Putting himself in a very vulnerable position by sharing with the world his innermost thoughts and feelings, he hopes it will inspire others to do the same, that they might feel empowered as a result. Significant is the fact that he wrote everything. “I wrote every single lyric. I came up with every single song, melody, and chord progression. I did it and I’m happy.”
He reflects on being somewhat of an old soul when it comes to music. “Everyone around me [was] either listening to like metal or hip-hop.” But Platero was a blues guy through and
through. He says lots of people think blues is “just boring and redundant,” but simply put, he just loves it. We wrapped up this interview by discussing how artists in other genres like hip- hop or heavy metal often transition into other non-performance roles as they age. “With blues, you could play forever. I can play blues forever.”