Chuck Leavell has played with The Allman Brothers Band and The Rolling Stones during his storied career.

Chuck Leavell talks about his joy of playing with The Allman Brothers at the 50th anniversary concert in New York

The remaining members of The Allman Brothers Band celebrated the history of the band’s music with a sold-out blowout at Madison Square Garden on March 10 (read the review here).

For many in attendance – and the musicians – it turned out to be the last live gathering we’ll experience for a while.

The morning after the concert, longtime ABB keyboardist Chuck Leavell kindly hopped on the phone for a quick chat about the joy of playing with Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, Jaimoe, Duane Trucks, Oteil Burbridge and Marc

Quinones again and what he thinks – and hopes – might happen in the future.

At the time, Leavell, 67, was optimistic that The Rolling Stones tour would kick off May 8 as planned. The outing has since been postponed, but he mentioned how excited he was at playing another hometown show, this time at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. You can read those comments here.

Also, check out the teaser for the upcoming documentary, “Chuck Leavell: The Tree Man.”

Here are some other excerpts from our conversation. 

Q: So…how did it feel being up there with those guys again?

A: Warren, I can’t say enough about him. His voice just gets better and better and his playing impeccable and with Derek, it was double trouble. Everybody rose up, but Duane Trucks, man, he really channeled his uncle with his style being similar to Butch’s.

Q: When was the last time you played with ABB? 

A: Probably the celebration of the 40th anniversary at the Beacon.

RELATED>> Inside The Allman Brothers Band Museum at The Big House

Q: OK, so that said, even at your level of musicianship, these aren’t easy songs. So how do you remember what to play given that you don’t play with them that often?

A: Well, I had two days of rehearsal with the band (at SIR Studios in New York) and I think they had two days without me. And, you know, I guess it’s that I’ve recorded those songs and the ones maybe I didn’t record originally I’ve played many, many times from 1972 to 1976 and it doesn’t really go away. You have to refresh yourself on some particulars and that’s what rehearsals are for, but it comes flooding back. I think muscle memory is a lot to do with it. You remember where you’re fingers are supposed to move.

A documentary about Chuck Leavell's life as a musician and tree farmer is in the works for release in 2020.

Q: When you’re playing a song like “Jessica” - which is so mesmerizing as a listener - do you get lost in it?

A: The song IS pretty structured up until the solo sections. I’m focused on getting the harmonies and movements right and then you get to the solo and it’s a funny thing because that solo is kinda embedded in people’s minds. I tried not to deviate from it because it’s such a familiar thing. I kinda try to stay true to the original solo, but yeah, it’s a fun one to do. But when you have a song like “Mountain Jam,” you have the free-flowing, anything-can-happen vibe - and a lot did (during the show)! I hope it translated well. 

Q: Watching you during “Blue Sky” and “Desdemona,” you seemed so happy to have that freedom to jam. 

A: “Desdemona” is a beautiful piece and does allow for a lot of freedom in the solo sections. You know how much I love playing with the Stones, but let’s face it, it’s not the kind of role that gives me the freedom to solo like I can do with The Brothers. It’s just a great opportunity to let loose.

Q: How did you wind up singing “Blue Sky,” anyway?

A: I requested to sing it from Warren. I’ve been playing that song a lot lately just for fun because I love the song. When we had some communication about the show, I said if you feel like throwing me a bone, I’d love to sing it. Warren’s voice is so incredible, so I felt like it gave him a break.

Q: So of course the fans want to know, was this really it, or do you think this could have been a dress rehearsal for another Beacon run?

A: It hasn’t really even been discussed. I think everyone in the back of their minds is thinking it, but not in conversation. Everyone is going in their own direction - Derek and Susan with their tour and Warren has the Mule and 15 other projects and Duane is with Widespread (Panic) and I’ve got a Stones tour coming up. I would like to think there are open minds to this and I would like to personally see it happen more than let this be it. I do think it’s working. The fact that it sold out -and sold out so quickly - shows there is a fan base out there. I would be in.

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About the Author

Melissa Ruggieri
Melissa Ruggieri
Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers music and entertainment news for the AJC. She remembers when MTV was awesome.  
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