Between Rock And A Hard Place
with J. Marshall Craig
(Mercer University Press)
Chuck Leavell is a musician that has been around to see a lot of music history, and has been a big part of music history. In his new autobiography, called Between A Rock And A Hard Place written with J. Marshall Craig (Eric Burdon’s autobiography Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood) Leavell takes us on a journey from the music scene of 1960’s and 70’s Alabama and Georgia to the present. He has been on quite a ride, and his ability to bring us along this road with him makes for a very enjoyable book.
As a young piano player, Leavell first came on the scene as a member of Alex Taylor’s band in the 1970’s, followed by a stint with Dr. John that led to a gig playing on the sessions for Gregg Allman’s Laid Back album. Then, at 20 years of age, he was asked to join the Allman Brothers Band in 1972 and began work on the celebrated Brothers and Sisters album. His legendary piano solo on the Dickey Betts-written song “Jessica” from that record propelled him to worldwide fame. After the Allmans split up in the late 70’s, he concentrated on his own band called Sea Level until it folded in the early 1980’s. After that he almost gave up on music, and then the Rolling Stones called. He has been the Stones piano player and musical director ever since, including for the upcoming 2005 tour and album.
There is a whole lot more to his story than what I have laid out here, of course, from gigs with Eric Clapton, George Harrison, and the Black Crowes, to becoming one of America’s leading forestry experts. After inheriting some land from his wife’s family, Leavell decided to learn about the trees and the land, and that led to the first book he wrote called “Forever Green: The History and Hope of the American Forest.” In a recent conversation with GRITZ, Leavell says that his love of forestry and all things nature is more than something that grounds him after coming off the road with the Stones. “It’s what keeps me sane,” says Leavell. “Rose Lane and I got married in 1973, and we would come out here periodically with her family, and I saw the closeness and love of the land, I saw the stewardship of the land.” He has since won many forestry awards, and sponsors a scholarship at the Warnell School Of Forest Resources at the University Of Georgia to help to pass on his love of the forest. “It is a renewable resource. If it is properly nurtured, if it is properly handled and respected and managed, if we take care of our forests, they will take care of us.”
But most of the book is about the music. Leavell talks at length in the book of being around musicians such as Duane Allman, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. So, how do those three compare with each other? “Let’s begin with the amount of respect those guys gave each other,” Leavell tells GRITZ.“All three of those individuals recognized the talent of the others. They fed off of each other, they respected each other, they listened to each other, and they learned from each other. It was certainly true of Duane and Eric when Duane was alive. With Eric, the conversations that I’ve had with him, it’s the eloquence in which he describes Duane. I knew Stevie fairly well through my association with the (Fabulous) T-Birds, as he would come out and sit in with his brother. If you had to compare styles, I guess Eric and Stevie Ray would have been a little closer in style with the heavy emphasis on the blues. With Duane, his slide playing was over-extraordinary.”
Look for Chuck to be on the new album and tour with the Rolling Stones in 2005, as well as releasing his latest solo album Southscape. And for a great bet on a good summer read, grab up a copy of Between Rock And A Hard Place.