Richard Hyatt: Living as happy as a $20 dog

March 9, 2014 

Allen Levi's father made sacrifices to get him through law school, so he didn't know what the old man would say when he broke the news that he was forsaking justice for a career as a singer-songwriter who tells simple stories about $20 dogs romping on thousand-dollar rugs and one-eyed birds that survive this obstacle course called life.

That was 18 years ago, and even if I hadn't asked what Aaron Levi's response was, the answer was there for the taking. When his son was a lawyer, Aaron attended every trial. Now, at 86, he toted four guitars to the sidewalk and waited for Allen to bring around the pickup truck after performing for a group of hometown friends.

The two of them have been helping each other a lot these past two years. They suffered the loss of their beloved Gary, Allen's little brother. Now his mother, Hilda, is looking cancer in the eye.

Faith is his rock, but Allen Levi wouldn't have made it without music. When he was practicing law, music was there.

When he studied literature in Scotland, music was in his suitcase. After hearing about Gary's brain tumor, he wept on stage at the Springer Theater and struggled through a song about his brother.

He had only recently turned 40 when he left behind a career that sometimes felt like a straitjacket. Most guys celebrate a mid-life crisis with a red sports car. Even though he didn't read music, he could read a road map, so he got in his car and followed an unlikely dream.

"Looking back, the law prepared me for what I do," Allen said. "My tools were words and, as a litigator, I told stories."

His stories wake up our hearts. He points out things that matter and, just when he is about to take us down, he makes us smile.

Whenever I hear him, I marvel that he has never been promoted to the Big Stage.

He isn't the best guitarist I've heard, but his chords are intriguing. His voice isn't operatic, but his style is appealing.

His songs are catchy though it's hard to imagine anyone else performing them, for they are uniquely his.

But Allen doesn't chase stardom. He enjoys Bible studies on his front porch and reading to elementary school kids in Harris County. He doesn't watch TV and enjoys trees, not tall buildings.

Record labels would retool him and bring him into their world. He's joyful in his own, content to tell simple stories -- and that should make us as happy as a $20 dog.

Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at

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