Chuck Leavell, a member of the Allman Brothers Band during the '70s and a 30-year veteran keyboardist for the Rolling Stones, has worked with a dizzying array of artists including Eric Clapton, George Harrison, the Black Crowes, and John Mayer.
When he is not touring or designing setlists with the Stones, currently celebrating their much-hyped 50th anniversary, Leavell steps out on his own, playing dates in support of his recent album, Back to the Woods.
The project is a heart-felt tribute to the long neglected piano blues and boogie masters of the '30s, '40s, and '50s. Incidentally, Keith Richards and Mayer make guest appearances on guitar. Visit ChuckLeavell.com to stay up-to-date on Leavell's latest projects and upcoming gigs. His 2004 memoir, the well-written and largely enjoyable Between Rock and a Home Place, is also available.
In February 2010, Leavell sat down for a conversation shortly before appearing in concert in Albany, Ga., performing a special benefit show for GraceWay Recovery. While the story is definitely quick and to-the-point, it is noteworthy in one aspect – it was this writer's official debut interview.
The Chuck Leavell Interview
What is the story behind the photo of you and the brilliant Jerry Lee Lewis, included with this article?
I’ve known Jerry Lee for many years. I played a show with him once in Rome, Italy. That particular photo was taken on the Stones' Forty Licks Tour when we were in Los Angeles, and Jerry Lee came to a Thanksgiving dinner we had. And of course, I am a fan and have been inspired by him tremendously.
Who have you been listening to lately?
Mostly the blues masters of the piano, especially Little Brother Montgomery, Leroy Carr, and Cow Cow Davenport – all for the research and preparation for Back to the Woods.
If you were discussing your essential albums with a non-fan, which ones would you pick?
Well, the first record I did with the the Allman Brothers Band, Brother and Sisters, would be one, as well as Eric Clapton’s Unplugged live album, recorded 20 years later. And my own records, including Forever Blue: Solo Piano , Southscape , and Live In Germany: Green Leaves and Blue Notes Tour , would all show folks what I do.
Do you still do any session work?
Absolutely; I’ve played on quite a few recording sessions over the past couple of years since the Stones’ last tour ended, mostly with contemporary country artists, such as Montgomery Gentry [My Town, 2002 and Back When I Knew It All, 2008], Miranda Lambert [Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, 2007], Martina McBride [Eleven, 2011], and David Nail [I'm About To Come Alive, 2009 and The Sound of a Million Dreams, 2011], a new artist that is getting attention.
Do you play any additional instruments besides piano?
I play a bit of guitar and some mandolin. No, I haven’t played them in public…but one day!
What can fans expect at your solo concerts?
I don’t give away my performances, but I will tell you that it will cover a good bit of my career.
What is the purpose of your latest conservation venture, the Mother Nature Network?
I co-founded it with my partner Joel Babbit in 2009. Joel is a brilliant creative person with a long and successful career in advertising and public relations. We launched MNN.com just over a year ago and are now one of the most visited environmental websites in the world.
Our aim is to give the best possible news, information, and educational tools to folks that want to do better on environmental issues. We’ve worked hard to make it comprehensive, accurate, easy to navigate, and understand.
It’s been a great experience, and we continue to grow significantly every month. We’ve recently merged with two different Discovery properties, and MNN is now the No. 1 most visited environmental website in the world. I’m very happy about that.
Author's Note: Don't forget to browse the six-image slideshow accompanying this article. Entitled "Memories with Eric Clapton, George Harrison, John Mayer and the Allman Brothers Band", the rare photos perfectly illustrate why legendary musicians continue to seek Leavell's superb musical abilities...
DON'T GO ANYWHERE! During Chuck Leavell's solo benefit performance for GraceWay Recovery in South Georgia, his storytelling abilities certainly mesmerized the crowd. An all-new article, "That's Chuck Leavell, Not Chocolate Milk: In Concert with the Stellar Pianist", details the evening as the musician recalls his admiration for country music and Hank Williams, the secret to a successful marriage, the songs he wrote for the women in his life, touring with George Harrison during a 1991 sojourn in Japan, and the confused, funny reaction he received from a six-year-old fan after listening to Eric Clapton's definitive "Unplugged" MTV album.
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Further Reading: In December 1991 Leavell participated on George Harrison's final tour, a brief co-headlining jaunt with Eric Clapton in Japan. The quiet Beatle composed an arsenal of beloved recordings in his 40-year career. "Don't Let Me Wait Too Long" is a Beatlesque and quite commercial track on 1973's Living in the Material World, Harrison's second solo studio album. A recent article, "Rediscovering a Superb Love Song...", examines why the composition truly deserved to be a hit single...
Exclusive Interview: Singer/songwriter Ray Stevens is a versatile pianist who has scored numerous hit singles on the country and pop charts in his 50-year recording career. His best-loved recordings are often humorous in nature and include the Grammy-winning "Everything Is Beautiful", "Mr. Businessman", “Gitarzan,” "Turn Your Radio On," “The Streak,” “Misty,” “Shriner’s Convention,” and “Mississippi Squirrel Revival." In a wide-ranging three-part interview ["Ray Stevens: Still Trying To Figure Out What He's Gonna Do When He Grows Up"], Stevens is candid on topics such as seeing Louis Armstrong in concert, hearing himself on the radio for the first time, the moment when he realized he could make a living as a musician, his buddy, Jerry "Guitar Man" Reed, playing trumpet on an Elvis Presley recording session, his versatile musical abilities, how he approaches writing a song, and much more...
Exclusive Interview No. 2: The Master of Telecaster, James Burton, was a prominent member of the famed Wrecking Crew in Los Angeles. Burton is best known for his extensive work with Elvis Presley, John Denver, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Monkees, and Glen Campbell. To read a revealing conversation with Burton marking the 25th anniversary of Nelson's untimely death ["On The Road With Rick Nelson..."], simply click on the highlighted link.
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