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Talkin' Blues

Talkin' Blues with Chuck Leavell

By Published: May 1, 2012
AAJ: Another guest vocalist on the album is someone who is a legend in the Southeast, Col. Bruce Hampton.

CL: Bruce has been a friend a long time, and you're right, legend is absolutely the right word. He had the Hampton Grease Band in the '60s and into the '70s, and since then he's had a myriad of really great bands—Aquarium Rescue Unit was a great band, the Codetalkers—and he's always very unusual, unique, and exploratory.

When Steve played me that song, I told him there's only one guy who can sing this, there's no choice. I couldn't sing it. But I love the tune, I think it's so wacky with that violin playing that repetitive figure, and the incredible tempo of the song. So we were very fortunate to get him, and I think he knocked it out in, like, one take.

AAJ: I was curious—I imagine that, through Keith Richards, you've probably hung out with Tom Waits before, and as I listen to this, I keep thinking there's got to be a second volume of this someday, and how cool would it be to have him do a couple of guest vocals for you.

CL: Oh yeah, that would be tremendous. I'm a big fan. And yes, Keith and Tom are close friends, and a volume two is definitely a possibility. Of course, this one has just been released, and I'm in negotiations with a German label to license it and release it in Germany. So right now I'm focused on this one and taking it as far as we can.

AAJ: Your album also motivated me to revisit Clint Eastwood's Piano Blues DVD. I've gotta say, personally, I think your album and his DVD together would be a great gift idea for a blues lover.

CL: That's quite interesting. I hadn't thought about that, but I certainly admire Clint for everything he's done in jazz and blues. He's a real champion of the piano, period, but especially those genres. Oddly enough, he was here in Georgia recently making a movie, and I came close to having a small part in the film, but it just didn't work out. I've never met Clint, but I was keeping my fingers crossed that it was perhaps a possibility, but maybe one of these days.

AAJ: As I re-watched his DVD, this time it struck me that, for our generation, we think of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts' dual lead-instrument approach as revolutionary, but it was very much alive in the early days of piano blues. Eastwood had these great clips of duo pianists like Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons, or Eugene Rodgers and Dorothy Donegan.

CL: Absolutely, those are quite famous. I learned about those duets mainly through Ian Stewart, and we've talked about that before. Of course, boogie-woogie is a somewhat different genre from the direct blues. I really wanted to focus on the blues for this project, but you're right about the duets. I think it's marvelous.

There's a guy, and I don't know if you know this name, Bob Seeley, but you might want to check him out. In my opinion, Bob is probably the best boogie and stride player alive today. He's in his 80s, but he's incredibly fit. He goes to Europe all the time and plays in France, Spain, and Germany, and of course, he's very active here in the States.

Bob's a good friend of mine, and I actually wrote an article about him for Musician Magazine, back during the Rolling Stones' Steel Wheels tour. Ian Stewart knew that he played this little restaurant called Charlie's Crab. He doesn't play there anymore, but he did for years. So I took Bill Wyman, Lisa Fisher and a couple of other guys to Charlie's Crab to hear Bob. I was so moved by him that I wrote this article about him for Musician Magazine, and we've remained friends for a long time. But you should investigate him. He does a lot of duet stuff. In fact, he just sent me something he did with Bob Baldori.

Jon Mayer Born and RaisedAAJ: Before I forget, I should mention John Mayer guests on a couple of tracks. He really stepped up for you. I especially liked his playing on the Memphis Slim track. You've played with so many great blues guitarists. What impressed you about John Mayer's musicianship?

CL: First off, John opened several shows on the last Stones tour with his blues trio with Steve Jordan and Pino Palladino. Before that, I had known about John and the kind of pop side of his singing and playing, and I had always admired him and thought he was a tremendous talent.

But I don't think anybody realized the blues chops that this guy has. When I heard him with the trio, I just thought, holy moly, all due respect to Stevie Ray Vaughan, but John is right up there, no doubt about it with his chops.

He started getting the attention of people like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and others, and really starting getting respect. I remembered that very distinctly when I put my CD together, and John had already called me to work on his CD, so I thought, well, I'm just going to be bold and ask him if he would play on it. Shoot, he didn't think twice. He said, "Of course I will, and as a matter of fact, you can use some of my studio time if you want." So that's the way we ended up at Electric Lady Studio. John kindly allowed me to use the studio so we could overdub him and Keith. So we got them together on the same day, which was really a great day for me.

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