Chuck Leavell: The Magic of Finger Painting

Alan Bryson By

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George Harrison

AAJ: Another thing in your autobiography that particularly moved me was your friendship with George Harrison. I know by the time you met George you had already met plenty of rock superstars. Still, it had to be completely surreal as you were walking alone with him around the grounds of his estate?

CL: It was! My first band while growing up, the Misfitz, played British invasion. The Beatles were at the top of the list in that regard. Everybody had their favorite Beatle and George was mine without a doubt. I just liked that he was the odd one, he was mysterious, and he was the underdog. I think I had a similar feeling in my musical situations as he must have had with the Beatles. I would learn his guitar parts—I would take those 33 1/3 rpms and slow them down to 16 rpm. I loved his songs—the few of them that made it on to the Beatles records. When the Beatles broke up and he put out All Things Must Pass (Apple, 1970) it was like an explosion of music which I thought was brilliant.

But let me get beyond the artist and talk about the person. He was one of the best human beings I've ever met or known in my life. You felt that immediately when you first looked him in the eye and shook his hand. He was a great humanitarian who cared about people and cared about making the world a better place and wrote songs about it. He was also very comfortable to be around. He had a great sense of humor and one of the most wonderful chuckles I've ever heard in my life. When you heard George laugh or saw that smile on his face, it was a glow. It was a very special thing and I'll always be grateful for not only playing for him, but having known a guy like that.


The Environment

AAJ: Readers should also know that beyond music you have a parallel career in the environmental field. You lecture, write books, and own Charlane plantation. From your book, I know that this is where your heart is. Could you share what your life is like there when you're not touring or in the studio?

CL: Sure, well it's a hundred eighty degrees from touring, recording and the lifestyle of a musician. As you know, I am very passionate about it. First of all, it was a responsibility handed down to us by Rose Lane's grandmother, and because her family has such a heritage of stewardship of the land, I wanted to make sure that I did the right thing in carrying that heritage forward. When we inherited the first part of the property, I knew very little about these things and I went through a process of educating myself. But once I did begin to gain some knowledge, I also gained passion for it. I realized for the first time not only how important forestry and trees are to all of us, but the big picture—the environment. Of course, we all know what we've been doing to our planet, and we face some very difficult choices and challenges, but I'm an optimist. I do believe that finally at this juncture people are waking up—people are making changes in their lifestyles.

I think you'll see more alternative energy coming into the picture—wind power, solar power, electric automobiles and so forth. I think one big change that we are seeing now that will make a huge difference is entrepreneurs and people of wealth putting money into these things. It's going to take a real investment in capital and a real investment in personal commitment. But I'm seeing that now for the first time and I think now we've finally turned the corner. It's not easy and there are a lot of things to grapple with. It certainly isn't going to change overnight. I believe passionately in these things, and if we don't make the changes, I fear we face destruction. But I don't think it's going to come to that.

I'm going to continue to try and make the difference I can make. I'm working on a new book on growth issues. I think that's a big issue we need to look at—we've got over six billion people on the planet and the population is going to continue to grow. So if we are going to grow, we have to be smart about it.

I will tell you one other thing that I'm happy and excited about—we're launching a new website around October with some partners. It will be called Mother Nature Network: mnn.com or mothernaturenetwork.com.

The purpose of the website is to give real answers to these environmental questions to the mainstream population. What we've found in our research is that the sites already in existence are often too scientific and difficult to understand or they are too shallow. In some cases there are so many advertisements that it looks like a Nascar jacket and you can't really get past that to the meat of the information. So we are building a very clean site with useful and easy-to-understand information that can be easily accessed. I believe strongly that people want this and are looking for answers. The Internet is the most powerful place for information that we have now, and it's growing all the time, so it's the logical place to reach people.


Dream Band

AAJ: There's so much we can't cover in one interview, but thankfully you've also written an autobiography that goes so much deeper that we were able to go today. But one final question, imagine your dream band for one night—a septet with you and six musicians who are no longer with us. Which musicians would you pick?

CL: Elvin Jones, drums;
Jaco Pastorius, bass;
Joe Zawinul, synths;
Wes Montgomery, guitar;
Charlie Parker, sax;
Louis Armstrong, trumpet.

Zawinul and Pastorius played beautifully together, in my opinion. They, along with me, would represent the more modern era, although I certainly don't feel worthy here. The rest are obvious choices, often referred to as the "all time best" on their respective instruments. But I'd be interested to hear what marrying the earlier era with the latter might sound like. Of course I'd personally be scared to death!

Selected Discography

Chuck Leavell, Live in Germany: Green Leaves and Blue Notes Tour 2007 (Evergreen Arts, 2008)

Chuck Leavell, Southscape (Evergreen Arts, 2005)

Chuck Leavell, Forever Blue (Evergreen Arts, 2001)

Chuck Leavell, What's in the Bag? (Evergreen Arts, 1998)

Sea Level, Best of Sea Level (Capricorn, 1997)

Sea Level, Ball Room (Capricorn, 1980)

Sea Level, Long Walk on a Short Pier (Capricorn, 1979)

Sea Level, On the Edge (Capricorn, 1978)

Sea Level, Cats on the Coast (Capricorn, 1978)

Sea Level, Sea Level (Capricorn, 1977)

Rolling Stones, Stripped (Virgin, 1995)

Rolling Stones, Voodoo Lounge (Virgin, 1994)

Rolling Stones, Steel Wheels (Virgin, 1989)

Keith Richards, Talk is Cheap (Virgin, 1988)

Mick Jagger, She's the Boss (Columbia, 1985)

Indigo Girls, Swamp Ophelia (Epic, 1994)

The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Hot Number (Epic, 1987)

The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Tuff Enuff (CBS Associated Records, 1986)

Eric Clapton, Unplugged (Reprise, 1992)

Eric Clapton, 24 Nights (Duck Records, 1991)

Larry Carlton, Renegade Gentleman (GRP, 1993)

The Black Crowes, Shake Your Money Maker (Def American, 1990)

Dickey Betts, Highway Call (Capricorn, 1974)

Allman Brothers Band, Wipe The Windows, Check The Oil, Dollar Gas (Capricorn, 1976)

Allman Brothers Band, Win, Lose, or Draw (Capricorn, 1975)

Allman Brothers Band, Brothers and Sisters (Capricorn, 1973)

Gregg Allman, Laid Back (Capricorn, 1973)

Photo Credits
Courtesy of Chuck Leavell
Petra Fehrmann, HR1



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