120,000 miles by Greyhound: The story behind Doug Levitt’s album

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Foreign correspondent turned singer-songwriter Doug Levitt was inspired by Woody Guthrie when he set out with his guitar and started traveling via Greyhound bus. Photo courtesy of Patrick Fraser.

As musician Doug Levitt puts it, traveling by Greyhound may as well be part of the fabric of American society. It's a reality the LA-based foreign correspondent turned singer-songwriter should know. That’s because for over 12 years (and 120,000 miles), he’s met and swapped stories with folks from all walks of life. 

Levitt’s turned some of those stories into songs for his upcoming debut album, “Edge of Everywhere,” which comes out this Friday. He will soon embark on a U.K. tour supporting Nashville singer-songwriter Laura Cantrell

Levitt tells KCRW he takes considerable inspiration from folk artist Woody Guthrie — perhaps our foremost traveling chronicler of the outskirts of American life through the medium of popular song.

Before turning to the great open road, Levitt was a foreign correspondent based out of London, covering conflict zones in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Iran.  

“Then, as you do, I became a singer-songwriter, because that's just the next step. I returned to the States, and I was really struck by the level of disparity in America. Having lived overseas for about five years, and then coming back, I knew that America was at an inflection point. I was feeling like, ‘What could I do, if anything?’” 

He adds, “I was fleeing from a failed engagement and … I felt inspired by Woody Guthrie. So I set out with a guitar and with Woody Guthrie’s [autobiography] 'Bound for Glory,' and I began writing songs and stories about folks along the way.”

These stories include that of a man in Amarillo, Texas, who was on his way to a federal prison to turn himself in. He’d violated his parole and had been on the run for years. Then, there’s the story of a man whose son was shot by an errant bullet. Along the way, he also heard the stories of veterans, folks whose whole lives fit into a single bag, and countless others.

Levitt often forged deep connections with his sources by opening up about his own trauma. In part, as he puts it, he used these travels to process tough personal situations, such as losing his own father to suicide. He talks about the idea of learning to forgive ourselves through sharing our most painful experiences with each other. 

“These stories are so affecting, they really cut to the core of the human experience. That's what kept me going, and that's what keeps me going still.”