The following interview is an email interview with the legendary Chuck Leavell for iamnotjerry.com
March 3, 2010
Jorge: When you look up Chuck Leavell it says “Chuck Leavell-Environmentalist, Author and Musician”. I will add “Sixth Rolling Stone.” How do you manage all these prestigious titles?
CL: Well, first of all it’s very flattering to call them prestigious, and I appreciate the compliment. I think that if you are passionate about something, you are simply GOING to find the time to involve yourself. I absolutely LOVE playing the piano….and learning about and engaging in environmental affairs….and writing about subjects that interest me and that I hope will interest others. Granted it’s a bit of a balancing act, but you just have to make the time and arrange the time you have to get things done.
Jorge: To many fans you will be remembered for your tenure with the Allman Brothers Band from 1972 to 1976 as Duane Allman’s replacement. What was it like replacing a second lead guitar as a keyboardist?
CL: You know, I’ve never seen it that way. I don’t think anyone could “replace” Duane. He was too unique a player and individual. I see it more as a natural progression for the band. I got the position because we were recording Gregg’s first solo record, “Laid Back”…and during that time we had some jam sessions that included all the Allman Brothers. This went on for something like three weeks or so, and it was sounding good to all of us. Then one day I get a call from Phil Walden, the band’s manager to come to a meeting in his office. When I walked in, there were all the ABB in the room. A few pleasantries passed around, and then the shoe dropped….asking me to join the band. It was one of the best days of my life, and I just wanted to contribute as best I knew how. Soon after that we started the recording of the “Brothers and Sisters” record. In retrospect, I think it was a clever move on the band’s part not to get another guitar player and to take on a different direction. There would have been tremendous pressure on any guitar player that would have come on board, and probably would not have worked. I felt no pressure whatsoever, because I played a different instrument and just had to be myself. I’m just grateful it all worked out so well for everyone!
Jorge: Sea level consisted of Jimmy Nalls on guitar, Lamar Williams on Bass , Jaimoe on drums, Randall Bramblett on saxophone and you on keyboards. The band put out 5 albums between 1976 and 1981. Many credit Sea Level as the pioneer of the jazz, blues rock genre. The band would certainly be in the Jam Band camp in 2010. What are your thoughts of that time in Sea Level?
CL: Now that’s a time when I felt pressure. In the ABB, I was an integral part of the band, but not so much up front like Gregg or Dickey. With Sea Level, I was put in the spotlight much more. Someone needed to sing, and that someone became me at first…and of course when Randall came in the band that gave me some relief. I enjoy doing vocals, but at the time I didn’t have a lot of experience and had to find a comfort level. Eventually I did, and it turned out ok. But we also relied on instrumentals, and wanted to keep that focus as well. I think we found a pretty good balance overall and we all enjoyed what we were playing. Don’t forget that this was a time when “fusion” or “jazz fusion” was very popular. We didn’t see what we were doing as quite that…we were more of a kind of soul-rock band that was experimenting with tinges of jazz. In any case, those were good years for me and while we never experienced the success of having huge hits and huge album sales like we did with the Allmans….we did quite well overall and I still get lots of positive comments on Sea Level. I still do some of those songs when I play my solo gigs, and they always get a great reaction from the audience. I’m very grateful for that, and for the years we had together.
Jorge: You will play two dates with The Randall Bramblett Band (4/16/10 Wanee, 4/17/10 Hawkinsville Opera House). Can you give us a hint what we might expect to hear? At Wanee, what are the chances of you sitting in with The Allman Brothers?
CL: Well, I don’t give out my set list in advance, but I will tell you that I like to try and cover various aspects of my career in my gigs. I’m looking forward to both shows….they should be lots of fun. As for sitting in, that may not be in the cards this time, as our time slots are a good bit apart (I play at noon), and I may have something else going on after my set is done…and then I need to get to Hawkinsville. But one never knows….and of course I maintain a great relationship with all the guys in the ABB.
Jorge: If you could change one thing in the music industry and it would become a reality, what would that be?
CL: Probably to stop the downloading piracy that has been going on for so long. It’s a shame that the record labels weren’t smart enough to sort that out a long time ago…they were definitely asleep at the wheel when this issue came into play. At this point, the genie is out of the bottle and it’s very difficult to get it back in. There are some new technologies that are coming into play that can help…in particular, a company called Media Rights Technologies, or MRT. They have a very sophisticated technology that can protect all kinds of digital media and could help diminish this kind of piracy. Look….some bands and artists want to make their music available for free to the public….and that’s fine for them. But for those that don’t want to give it away, there should be good protection for that. Artists need that choice
My sincere thanks to Chuck Leavell and Dan Beeson