Gary James' Interview With
Chuck Leavell

He's a master musician with credits that would make the most seasoned musician stand up and applaud. He helped found the group Sea Level, he's toured with the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers Band and Eric Clapton. He is Chuck Leavell.

Q - Let's start off by asking you about The Stones. They will be touring Australia in March (2014). Will you be joining them?

A - Yes. We're all buzzed to do our Pacific Asia tour that starts in late February and goes through the final week in April. These are wonderful places, some of which we've never been and others that we are excited to go back to.

Q - Why do you think there's this continued interest in The Stones? After all, this is not the same band that the world first saw and heard in 1964.

A - In many ways it's a better band. More experienced, more focused and now we have all those years of a proven track record. Why has it endured so long? Great songs. Great records. Strong work ethic. Willingness to get beyond challenges. Not being afraid to try things. Passion for the art. Not taking ourselves too seriously, but being serious about doing our best. Respecting the fan base and great performances. All of that and more.

Q - Growing up, did you listen to and like the music of the British Invasion groups?

A - Absolutely. My first band, when I was 14 years old back in 1966, The Misfitz, did a lot of British Invasion, Beatles, Stones, Dave Clark Five, Zombies. But we also did a lot of indigenous music, Soul, R&B and Country. But doing all that British Invasion way back then certainly helped to prepare me for working with the Brits. I've worked with The Stones, Clapton and George Harrison. Plus, working with my early influences is a pretty cool prospect.

Q - Was it your intention to become a professional musician or did things more or less fall into place for you?

A - Around '65 or so I went to a Ray Charles concert with my big sister, Judy. I was already playing the piano and some guitar at the time. That concert literally changed my life. Seeing Ray and that incredible band. So powerful, so strong, so moving, was just almost and out of body experience for me at the time. I left there saying to myself, I don't want to be a doctor, a lawyer, a stockbroker. But if I could ever play in a band that was anywhere near that good, that's what I want to do! My wish has come true over and over and one of my main goals in life came about when I got to play with Ray in Italy for a TV broadcast. He was very gracious to me and I got to tell him what he meant to me and we had our picture taken together.

Q - What was it like working at Capricorn Records? Was there a feeling in the air that something special was going to happen with the music?

A - Yes, there was. I first went to Macon in 1969 at the age of 17. I had a contact there, Paul Hornsby, who had worked with The Allmans in The Hour Glass and who was from Alabama. Paul became a mentor to me and he eventually was invited to move from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where we me, to Macon, Georgia to work in the studio there. Paul suggested I come check it out, which I did. I was most impressed with everything I saw including my future wife, Rose Lane White, who was working in the Capricorn offices at the time. I moved there in 1970 to pursue my career in earnest and started making my way up the ladder. There was this amazing feeling that we were breaking new ground, taking Southern music to a different and higher level. By 1972, I had been invited to join The Allman Brothers Band, having just turned 20.

Q - If you look back to the early 1970s, Southern music really seem to dominate both the charts and the concert business. I realize not everyone was recording for Capricorn Records, but we haven't seen anything like that since. It was the timing of it all, wasn't it?

A - What can one say? The stars lined up. But let's not forget that there was a lot of hard work to get there. Rehearsing, experimenting, writing, recording, the touring, doing media, all of that. But I will readily admit there was magic in the air.

Q - Are you helping in the production of this new biopic of The Allman Brothers based on Greg Allman's autobiography?

A - I can tell you that I am in the core band that is doing the tribute to Gregg at the Fox Theater in Atlanta on January 10 (2014), which I am very excited about. Don Was is the musical director and there is a plethora of guest artists. Then a week later, Gregg will be a special guest on a gig I am doing on January 18 (2014). As for the film, I have not really heard anything about how it will be handled. I read Gregg's book though. In my estimation he got it all right, at least for the time I was there. I think it was a very honest and fair book. I do hope they do it justice in film.

Q - Besides music, the environment is something that is near and dear to your heart. When you go to Washington DC and meet with legislators about saving the environment, are you frustrated by their lack of understanding of the problems? Do they seem more interested in knowing about some of the musicians you've played with?

A - Yes, it is very frustrating. We should be doing so much more in the environment realm. Why does it seem to always be on the back burner? I do applaud Obama for some of the things he has said and some of the intentions he has tried to get started, but I think all our politicians and lawmakers could do so much better. The environment doesn't care if you are a Republican or a Democrat or what ethnicity you might be or how old you are. It just wants to be healthy so we can all be healthy. But I keep knocking away as best I can personally on the issues and I keep hoping things will get better. In some ways they are, but in many ways things are getting worse. It's very, very frustrating. I've met a lot of politicians that love music and I certainly don't mind that. If I can open a door or two, that's a good thing. I've even sat in with Representative Colin Peterson's band, The Second Amendments. Colin is a great guy and has done a lot for farmers and environmentalists, but I know he has frustrations too, especially with the current state of the Farm Bill. All I know to do is just keep trying to move forward and keep looking for opportunities to get some positive things done.

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