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Chuck Leavell: The Magic of Finger Painting

By Published: September 2, 2008
Sea Level Reunion

AAJ: Moving on to Sea Level, apart from the funkier side, in some ways it seems that band's output was the natural progression of this early Allman Brothers blend of music, fusing its feel and energy with a bit more of the sophistication of jazz. Looking around today, it almost seems like Sea Level was years ahead of the curve. Due to death and illness, a complete reunion isn't possible, but have you and Randall Bramblett ever considered putting together a Sea Level tour?

CL: My feeling is that it's really looking over your shoulder to do that. Many members of the band have passed on and Jimmy Nalls has debilitating health issues. I did work with Randall on Southscape (Evergreen Arts, 2005) and I have a show coming up where I'll be using his band to back me up, and we'll certainly be doing some Sea Level material. At the bottom line, my feeling is that it's done, it was what it was, and we had a good time with it. Rather than trying to revive something that I think has already run its course, if I were going to do something with Randall, I would be reluctant to call it Sea Level. I'd rather it be something new and fresh.

In terms of your comment on the music, I really have to credit Jaimoe for the direction of the band. When I joined the Allmans I spent a lot of time with Jaimoe. We had that little trio with Lamar, and we hung out a lot at Jai's house. He was just so great about listening to all kinds of music. He turned us on to everybody from Miles Davis to Cannonball Adderley, Chic Corea, all of that stuff, so I have to credit him in a large part for the direction of the music.

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Randall Bramblett

AAJ: You've worked closely with so many excellent composers: Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, and another one who is not as well-known, but is nevertheless extremely talented—your friend and Sea Level band mate Randall Bramblett. His “Living in a Dream,” “King Grand” and “That's Your Secret” are classics. He's great, don't you think?

CL: He's unfortunately one of the best-kept secrets of the South, in my opinion, and I say unfortunately because I do not understand why he's not a household name. I think he's such a great song writer, singer, performer, keyboard player and saxophonist. While Randall's had some success—Bonnie Raitt, Delbert McClinton and some others recorded some of his material—he has hundreds of songs that I think so many other great artists could or should do. Randall's made great great records in recent times. Why they haven't made it to the charts is just a mystery to me. He's about to release a new record next month that I've already heard, and he continues to amaze me. In my opinion, I think he's probably the best Southern singer/songwriter we have.

AAJ: Speaking of him, I keep hoping that Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi will cover “That's Your Secret” and introduce it to a new generation. It's such a timeless song, with clever lyrics, fantastic vocal hooks and space to really break out instrumentally.

CL: Absolutely. You may not know this about Randall, but he's got a dual degree in religion and psychology. I think a lot of his lyrics are so great because they probe the mystery of life, and Randall comes to that honestly because of his interest in those subjects. Randall wants to help people and he wants to help people with his music. He worked as a social worker counseling people who are going through tough times. He's done a study of Carl Jung and even wrote songs about him on his early solo records. He follows these great philosophers and great thinkers and their search for the mystery of the ages.

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Derek Trucks and Allman Brothers 40th

AAJ: Speaking of Derek Trucks, you both started out extremely young, worked with Alex Taylor, and joined the Allman Brothers when you were twenty. You each joined during turbulent times—you after the death of Duane and Derek just before the departure of Dickey—and you both helped to turn the band around. Also, both of you were tapped by Clapton for a tour. Do you see him as a bit of a kindred spirit?

CL: For sure. I've admired Derek throughout his young career, but one thing you may not know is that I cut the first demos of Derek as producer. I recruited Jimmy Hall. I think Derek was either twelve or thirteen at the time, and he was being managed my Bunky Odom, who was someone who had actually worked at Capricorn in the days when I was with the Allmans. Bunky came to me and he said, "Listen, there's this young kid—he's Butch's nephew and he's just an amazing guitarist and slide player and I'd really like to get something down on tape with him. Would you help?" So I said, "Of course," and I recruited Jimmy Hall to sing because Derek didn't sing. We cut maybe five tracks or so. I think we were ahead of the curve. It did not result in a record deal for Derek. I think people listened to those recordings and said, "Wow, amazing, but what do we do with it?" I don't think they could quite put together how to market Derek. And time went on and I think it was good that he was able to mature at his own pace. I'm just so proud of his work. No doubt, Derek will be an influence for a long time.

AAJ: Would you consider hooking up with the Allman Brothers in a more official capacity during their Beacon runs or summer tours?

CL: Well, sure. Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the Allman Brothers and there's already been some discussion about special shows that may take place. I don't know what scheduling may come up concerning the Stones or other possibilities, but certainly I'd like to leave some time to help celebrate their 40th anniversary. Having been part of the band and maintaining a strong relationship, I think it would be tragic if I didn't engage in some way, shape or form.

l:r: Jaimoe, Chuck Leavell, Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks

AAJ: And they probably all agree that on certain songs, without you it's just not the Allman Brothers.

CL: Well I would love to and I look forward to it. I think it will happen. I'm kind of waiting to see what schedules they come up with and what openings exist for me to engage.

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