• Posted April, 2012

     

    Bobby Keys With the Stones in 2003. Courtesy of Jane Rose/BobbyKeys.net

    I’ve been a Rolling Stones fan since my teen years in the seventies. Tunes like Brown Sugar and Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ (along with many other Stones tunes) commanded my attention on so many levels – especially the sax solos.

    Since those days, the sax figured prominently in other favorite Stones tunes like Miss You, the live version of Going To A Go-Go, to name a couple. Because of my appreciation of those solos, I became very aware of the man behind that sax: Bobby Keys

    What I wasn’t aware of until recent years – and especially until I read Keys’ autobiography, Every Night’s A Saturday Night, was the long list of other rock and roll royalty and their iconic tunes that he’s played on. Musical monsters like B.B. King, Carly Simon, Delaney & Bonnie, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, John Lennon, Joe Cocker and many, many, many others. Saturday Night is a wonderful read and you can catch the Boomerocity review of it here. But it bears repeating that the tone and feel of the book is very conversational. You get the feeling that you’re chillin’ in Bobby’s TV room, shootin’ the breeze and listening to him share a ton of stories of his life in the business.

    I recently called up Bobby at his Nashville area home. It was my first time to have the privilege of chatting with him. His warm, Texas/Southern drawl told me that he’s the kind of person that I can immediately connect with. He’s as country as cornbread and never meets a stranger – my kind of people.

    As we got down to starting our chat, I asked Keys how he liked Nashville.

    “Ah, man, I love the town! It’s just a rotten place for saxophone players – but I LOVEthe town, I really do! I like the people that live here and I have a lot friends that live here. There’s just not a lot of sax biz that goes on here. That’s nothing personal against me. Ha! Ha!”

    As we set the stage for what the chat would cover, I mentioned that I would not ask if his main gig, The Rolling Stones, were going to tour or not. I was startled that he gave me a comment about it anyway.

    “Boy, I hope they do! I tell ya what, I really hope they do! I honestly don’t know. I found that it’s best for me not to speculate – especially publicly. Every time I think that they’re gonna jump left, they jump right. I just had one little brief line from Keith. He just said that he’ll let me know. That’s the extent of it. I’ve learned after all these years – you know, I’ve been playing with the band since, I don’t know, ’69 – forty-three years – and in that time I’ve learned that speculation about what those guys are gonna do is no way, really, to base your future on what you think they’re gonna do. I think there’s a good possibility of it, are my own thoughts on it. I hope so!”

    We shifted our attention to Bobby’s book. Since the book is a tales-from-the-road kind of tome – sharing all sorts of funny stories, I asked him what the reaction has been to it.

    “Well, so far, it’s been really good. I went to New York about ten days ago and did a gig there with my band and also did a lot of media – some radio, interviews and stuff. It’s all been really, really good! When I finished speaking into a microphone – I didn’t do I any writing – you always wonder, ‘Well, I wonder what is gonna come of this – how are people going to receive it?’

    “It’s been very rewarding to me because I’ve had nobody come back at me – except one guy said that there wasn’t enough sex and drugs in it. The thing of it is is that scene has been pounded into the ground for years and years and years by everybody that’s ever written a book about the Rolling Stones. But most of them knew very little about the Rolling Stones. The thing that I like about the Stones is playin’ with them! I love their music and that’s what I wanted to talk more about in the book than anything else was the music.”

    When I commented about all the people he’s worked with over the years such as Buddy Holly, Bonnie Bramlett and a whole bunch of others, I told him that he struck me as the friggin’ Forrest Gump of rock and roll. He cackled out laughing and said, “Now there’s a hell of an analogy! That’s funnier ‘n hell!” Then, obviously turning to his wife who was in the room with him, he said, “He just called me the Forrest Gump of rock and roll! Ha! Ha! Ha!”

    After having a good laugh, I asked Forrest – er – Bobby who hasn’t he worked with that either he wishes he had before they passed away or, if they’re still alive, want to work with?

    “Well, you know, that’s a very good question. I’d like to work with Stevie Wonder – LOVEhis music, you know? I’d love to work with more of the Motown acts, too. But, you know, I’m really pretty happy with what’s happened and what’s happened has really been kinda the left hand of God puttin’ me through a lot of this stuff. I never really planned out any master scheme to achieve what I’ve achieved. I’ve just been in the right place at the right time with a saxophone and was able to do pretty much what needed to be done. It’s just the feel of the music and the way rock and roll had an impact on me.

    “When I heard Buddy Holly playing that guitar on the back of that flatbed wagon and Joe B. up there playin’ bass and J.I. playin’ drums, man! That had an impact on me. I fell into the saxophone by accident. It didn’t start out that way. I got hurt playing baseball and I couldn’t play football so I went into the band and all that jazz. Somebody else has been pullin’ the strings – I’ve just been dancin’! Ha! Ha!”

    Since I’m real partial to the great Bonnie Bramlett, I was stunned to read in Saturday Night that she was one of those originally considered for the female solo on Gimme Shelter. I told Keys that I would have spent his last tour check to have heard her sing that – not that Merry Clayton was any slouch on her solo, of course. That revelation prompted to ask, Bobby if, from where he sits, there any one thing that he feels should have been done majorly different on a Stones song and, if it had, would’ve changed rock history as we know it?

    “Huh! Well, I’ve never considered it but, personally, I’ve agreed pretty much what the Stones have done – at least during the times I’ve been recording with them and the tracks that I’ve played on - and, of course, with Jim Price. He was a big part of that, too! But, as for the Stones, one of the things I’ve always tried to get them to do is I’ve always wanted them to do an instrumental and put it on one of their albums. It was never seriously considered. I seriously considered it but the minute it got it out of my mouth the laughter didn’t die down for about two hours!

    “But, nah, I don’t think there’s anything that I would go back and change, particularly. But I tell ya, the way I play, I play a lot off of the other musicians. I listen to other elements – what the guitar is doing rhythmically. I’ll play along with that. I’ll pick something out of that strata or that level. I’m very much a rhythmic saxophone player so playing with the Rolling Stones is really fun for me!”

    Keys says in his book that he always viewed Keith Richards as a kindred spirit – that, if he wasn’t born in England, he would’ve had to be a Texan. I asked him to expound on that just a bit. He was laughing his genuine, infectious laugh as he said, “Well, I had him made an honorary Texan. I had the Texas flag flown over the Alamo on the day of his and mine birthday (they both have the same birth day). I knew some people in Texas who were associated with the Texas Historical Society so I had them fly the Texas flag over the Alamo on December the 18th, got it documented and sent it to Keith, hoping it would finally induce him to take into consideration about coming down to Dallas and joining the team! Ha! Ha!”

    Since we were on the subject of Keef, I asked Bobby what the least understood thing is about the Stones guitarist. Without even a nanosecond of hesitation Bobby said, “His temperament. This is a guy, man, that goes out of his way to save the life of a little stray dawg in Russia. Keith is portrayed as a dark person, more or less and he’s anythingbut that! He’s one of the funniest sumbitches I’ve ever known in my life, man! 

    “Some people look at him as having his blood changed at some Transylvanian medieval castle, you know? Those people are not going to believe anything I say. I mean, I’ve met people in bars in hotels we’ve stayed and they’ll go, ‘How about that Keith Richards thang? Were you with him when he had his blood changed?’ and I’d go, “No, man, the guy didn’t have his blood changed!’ They’d say, ‘Ah, man, you can’t say anything about it, huh?’ It doesn’t make any difference how many times I say somethin’ ain’t right, they ain’t gonna believe me anyway. But the guys a sweetheart and chicks dig him for some reason! They really like him - chicks and critters! Ha! Ha!”

    A Boomerocity reader wondered how it worked out that Keith just let Bobby write his own side of the stories in Keith’s book - like maybe, Keith, "Hey Bobby, man I don't remember any of that, here why don't you write the story?"  Here’s Keys’ take on how that all happened.

    “He’s got a hideaway sort of place down in Turks and Caicos Islands and the writer, James Fox, was going down there to talk to Keith. I was asked to go down there. I spent five days down there. Keith would be in the same room. I’m not bashful, man. James Fox just asked me questions and I gave him answers. Keith didn’t say anything like, ‘No, I’d rather you not say this. Maybe not touch on that.’ He didn’t say anything about what I said. He said, ‘Just talk to James Fox and tell him whatever he wants to know.’ And that’s exactlywhat I did! I answered James Fox’s questions and we spent a lot of time talking over a period of a couple of days.

    “But it’s easy to talk about Keith. He’s a pretty memorable fella! I’ve been around him sometimes when it got verymemorable but the thing I remember about him and the most important thing is that he’s the most honest sumbitch and the best damn guitar player. I love playing music with Keith! He’s just got a feel for it that I can really relate to.”

    Success and failure are often determined by the opportunities grabbed or passed on and Bobby has certainly jumped at lots of great opportunities that have brought him to where he is today. Is there a particular song or album that he had a chance to work on and, for whatever reason, didn’t or couldn’t and now looks back and says, “Crap!”

    “Well, shoot! Let’s see. Well, of course, during the recording of Exile on Main Street, George Harrison did his Concert for Bangladesh gig. Jim Price and I had played on the All Things Must Passalbum from which he (Harrison) took most of the material to play at that concert. Anyway, he invited Jim and I to go play at the concert. I thought it was for a real good cause and I wanted to go do it and Jim wanted to go do it but we had already obligated ourselves to work there in the South of France. I would’ve always liked to have been there for that. It’s not like a great big, huge hole in my life because I wasn’t. I was having a pretty good time down in the South of France.

    “Also, not that it ever would’ve happened, I would’ve liked to have played some live stuff with John Lennon. I really loved him - and Harry Nilsson! I tried and tried and tried to get Harry to do a live gig but he was dead-set against it. He never did do a live gig. He did one video.”

    Bringing a little levity to the conversation (as if we needed any more), I interjected that, according to his book, he did manage to provide a frog sound on one of Yoko Ono’s albums to which he chuckled, “Oh, yeah, man, that was indeed a red letter day! There, again, man, some hand of Providence touched me there because I had no idea what I was gonna do. I was looking at John like, ‘Hey, man, give me some feedback here, son! Help me!’ He just looked at me and rolled his eyes like, ‘You got this one all by yourself, Bobby!’

    During my recent interview with Keys’ fellow Stones band mate,Chuck Leavell, I told him that I was working on an interview with Keys. He had this to say about Bobby and his book: “Bobby is a great friend of mine. We are ‘Southern Brothers’ - he from Texas and me from Alabama. We talk a lot about both on tour and off.  I'm so glad he is getting his story out there. It is a remarkable story. He has played with so many icons . . . John Lennon, Bonnie and Delaney, The Stones, the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour and so much more. He has so many great experiences to tell about. I can't wait to get my copy!”

    At the time of my chat with Keys, I hadn’t yet these comments with him. However, I asked him what his thoughts were of the Stones keyboardist.

    “Oh, yeah, I’ve got lots of good thoughts about Chuck! One thing is he’s a brother from the south! So, we’re both brothers of the Confederacy. Heh! Heh! I believe that the earth is a southern planet! Ha! Ha!

    “Before I met Chuck I knew his name and was aware of his work, man! He stepped into some pretty big shoes and just by virtue of the fact that was, more or less, recommended by Ian Stewart – whose opinion really resonates with all the members of the Stones, I can tell you that – or it did before Stu died. Chuck stepped into a situation, man, where he had a lot of bases to cover that hadn’t been covered before. All of a sudden he was actually the musical director on the stage. He was the one that was in charge of going in and making sure that the songs were the correct tempo and that everybody started and ended at the same place which, generally, didn’t take a whole lot. But he brought together a lot of people. It’s a big band. I think there’s 13 or 14 of us counting the singers and horn players. Chuck has to walk a pretty tight line, sometimes, between the camps of Keith and Mick. He’s very much a southern diplomat to be able to do that because many have tried and few were successful.”

    With a well received book now under his belt and waiting to hear if the bad boys of rock and roll are going to tour, I asked Bobby if he was going to come out with a solo CD.

    “Yeah, well, actually, the guys I play with here in town – we call ourselves The Suffering Bastards – we’ve been into the studio. We’ve got four tracks that we’ve recorded and we’re probably going to be doing some more future gigs we’ll be having a CD available pretty soon online and at the gigs we play.”

    And when Keys boards that great tour plane to heaven, what does he hope his legacy will be and how does he want to be remembered?

    “A guy who loved rock n’ roll music.”

    It’s Bobby Keys’ love of rock and roll music that has allowed him to be a lively part of the soundtrack of our youth that continues to play to this very day. Somehow, I have this sneakin’ hunch – I just know it in my knower – that Bobby is going to be on many more great rock tunes to come. 

  • Posted July, 2011

     

    bramlettrehearsalbarbicanconcertlondon2005Photo Courtesy of Peter CrossIt was early 1981. John Lennon had been murdered the previous December and I’m in the process of organizing and promoting a concert at my church by the former drummer of Paul McCartney and Wings, Joe English. English had “crossed over” to the Contemporary Christian Music (“CCM”) genre as many other secular artists had. To say things were a little nutty because of the whole Lennon/McCartney association would be an understatement. My phone was ringing off the hook with people representing various levels of instability just wanting to be close to anything “Beatles”.

    Yeah, it was a bit scary.

    However, one time my phone rang and it was Joe English’s manager asking me if I would mind terribly if Bonnie Bramlett could open for Joe’s concert. As long as it wasn’t going to tax my already strained and skimpy budget, I didn’t care. To be honest, at that time I wasn’t as immersed into rock and roll history and royalty to fully appreciate just who Ms. Bramlett was. After the call, I did my homework and quickly realized just how lucky I was to get that opportunity presented to me.

    Ms. Bramlett was the “Bonnie” on the iconic rock husband and wife duo, Delaney & Bonnie. Mr. and Mrs. Bramlett enjoyed chart making hits such as a cover of Dave Mason’s Only You Know and I Know and their own Never-Ending Song of Love. They shared the stage with such huge names as George Harrison, Dave Mason, John Lennon, Eric Clapton and ton of others. 

    A prolific songwriter, she’s co-written such songs as Superstar and Give Peace a Chance with Leon Russell as well as Let It Rain with Eric Clapton. If you’ve never seen Bonnie sing Superstar, you really don’t know what you’re missing. Check out the video of her performing that tune on the YouTube clip shown on this page.

    After she and Delaney split up (both professionally and matrimonially), Bonnie went on to pursue her solo career, supported by a band that wasn’t very well known at the time: The Average White Band. Throughout the seventies, she released three albums (It’s Time, Lady’s Choice and Memories) with the legendary label, Capricorn Records. When she wasn’t busy with her solo work, she was providing backup vocals for some of the biggest and diverse names in music. Folks like Joe Cocker, Dwight Yoakum, Carly Simon and Joe Cocker, again, just to name a few. In fact, with her work with the Allman Brothers, she is the only woman to earn the title as the only “Allman Sister”. How cool is that?

    Anyway, back to the concert.

    The Saturday before the concert, I got a small taste of what I was in for with Ms. Bramlett. On Saturday Night Live Delbert McClinton performed his hit song at the time, Giving It Up for Your Love, which Bonnie sang back-up on the record as well as that performance. In my opinion, she stole the show.

    The following Wednesday night was the concert. My gosh! When Bonnie Bramlett took the stage as the opening act, I was totally and completely blown away by the raw power and soul that woman projected. I definitely got an education in the power of performing. She seemed to embody rhythm, blues, rock and soul all in one body. She sang it like she invented it and drove it like she stole it. And, yet, there was such a gentleness and sincerity about her that, when she spoke or hugged your neck (Yeah! She gave me big ol’ long hug after her performance!), you knew that this woman was as real and genuine as a human being could be.

    Over the years, I’ve kept up with Ms. Bramlett, catching her appearances in movies, (The Doors and The Guardian) or her regular role on the hit TV show, Rosanne as well as a guest role on Fame. In the past year, the R&B icon blipped large on my Boomerocity radar when I came in contact with her daughter, Michele (Delaney’s daughter from his previous relationship with Patty Stanley). An interview with Michele soon resulted.

    In the months since that interview, I’ve kept in touch with Michele and the work she is tirelessly pursuing.   In recent weeks, Michele was kind enough to arrange a phone interview with “Baba” (Bonnie). It was the first time we had spoken with each other since that Joe English concert over 30 years ago. When I called Bonnie for our interview, our first few minutes were spent reminiscing about that show.

    At one point, Bonnie asked me, “Don’t you think we were way ahead of our time in gospel music? I mean, c’mon!” I thought about her question for a few seconds and had to agree with her. While there were definitely other “secular” artists who had crossed over into contemporary gospel music as well as some Christian metal bands and the like, there really wasn’t anyone who reflected the kind of R&B that Bonnie and friends helped pioneer. Bonnie agreed.

    “Nobody was playing slide guitar! The slide just wasn’t happening yet! They

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  • Posted January/February, 2011

    Photo Courtesy of Chuck Leavell

    The Allman Brothers. Don McLean. Bonnie Bramlett. Marshall Tucker Band. Charlie Daniels. Sea Level. Aretha Franklin. Chuck Berry. Dion. Gov't Mule. The Black Crowes.  Eric Clapton. Larry Carlton. George Harrison. Rolling Stones.

    How would you feel if those names were on your resume in some form or fashion?  I can tell you that if my resume had those names, my head would swell to twice the size of Texas.

    Chuck Leavell’s resume includes those names and many, many more. When you add to that the credentials of an expert forester, conservationist, author, husband, father, and grandfather and you get an idea of who the man really is.  All of that and, yet, his head retains its normal size and shape.

    How does he do it?  I don’t know but my head did swell just a little bit when I had the good fortune of posing a few questions to the legendary keyboardist.  I pursued an interview with Leavell after reading his 2004 book, Between Rock and a Home Place. As a huge Rolling Stones fan, I, of course, knew about of Chuck’s monumental work with the band and with his own band, Sea Level.  I just wasn’t aware of the huge volume of other work he’s associated with.

    I was also aware of his conservation work – especially at his beautiful home, the family tree farm known as Charlane Plantation. The plantation, in the family since 1932, was inherited by Chuck’s lovely wife of 37 year, Rose Lane, after the passing of her grandmother.   After working their way out of onerous inheritance taxes, Rose Lane and Chuck have developed a thriving, successful tree farm that also hosts hunting and other kinds of retreats.

    It was about Charlane Plantation that I opened the discussion with Leavell, asking about what were the latest developments at the farm.

    “We are always working on our place. My wife, Rose Lane, says it means ‘job security’ for me as I will never get done! Currently we have a good bit of maintenance going on. We’ve just started renovating the exterior of our horse barn, the upstairs of which serves as Rose Lane’s art studio. We built the barn some 18 years ago using lumber that was taken from our own trees . . . mostly ones that were dead or dying… and it’s time to polish it up some.

    “We also just finished renovating an old tenant house into a nice guesthouse. We’ve built most all of our structures out of our own wood, and most of the renovations we’ve done to our existing structures as well. It’s quite a good and special feeling to look at them, walk through them and say… ‘yeah, that came

    Chuck Leavell With Grandson, Miles - Courtesy of Chuck Leavell

    from our own grounds’ . . . and to think that our grandchildren and future generations will be saying ‘our grandparents (or great-grandparents) built that back in 1990’, or whenever we built or renovated any particular structure on our place.

    “Of course, we’re always working in the woods, too. We did some light thinning of a few areas last year that had yet to be thinned - sort of like weeding the garden. We probably touched on 150 acres or so, opening the stands up to a slightly wider spacing, which will help the trees left standing grow much better and faster. It also helps encourage natural grasses, weeds and legumes to grow better underneath the stands, making it more attractive for wildlife.

    “We are in the middle of our hunting season, and January and February are booked pretty solid with our traditional southern quail hunts. I’ve been working some new dogs, which I love doing…so there has been quite a lot going on.”

    When I asked if he was the Ted Nugent of Georgia, Chuck’s response polite but direct.

    “With all due respect to Nugent, he’s an ethical and expert outdoorsman, but he’s a bit radical for me. I try to take a more gentle and gentlemanly approach to our hunting. As far as what we offer the public, it’s again, the traditional southern quail hunts, from November through the end of February. We have the jeeps, dogs, excellent guides and have a top notch and top class operation. We have several comfortable accommodations. Our lodge was built about 8 years ago, again, with our own resources and we renovated a historic 1830’s home back in the early 90’s that we use as well.

    “Rose Lane directs our staff in terms of the food, etc. and we have lots of repeat clients year after year. During the off season, we offer ‘retreats’ from time to time. Since Rose Lane is an excellent artist, some of these are centered around art. But some folks like to come just to be in the country, take a tour, walk our nature trail and such. We enjoy sharing our place and meeting new people, helping them to understand and appreciate nature and conservation issues. It makes for a good balance with our ‘other life’ of rock and roll.”

    Leavell wrote in his book, Between Rock and a Home Place, that, because of the predatory nature of our rich Uncle Sam’s inheritance tax code, he and Rose Lane had to sell off a big chunk of the original plantation.  In the seven years since that book was published, I asked if they were able to re-purchase the property.

    “No, that property was in another county, about 50 miles from us. It was about 300 acres of land that Rose Lane’s grandfather had passed on down. It was heartbreaking and really hurt to have to sell it, but we didn’t see any other way out at the time. While we’ve never recovered that tract, the good news is that through the years we have been able to acquire more land, much of which was adjacent to us. Rose Lane inherited about 1100 acres back in 1981 and we now have about 2500 acres, 1800 that is contiguous to her inheritance.”

    Before shifting my questioning to his other conservation endeavors, I asked Leavell what their long term plans for Charlane were.

    “We will continue to manage it as best we know how, and to share it with others through our hunts and retreats. Of course, I would love to continue to expand it, but it’s getting really hard to do because of how expensive land is. While the housing market across America has been hit hard as we all know - and prices for normal housing has dipped - that has not been the case for most timberlands, agricultural lands and recreational lands. It takes a lot of resources to purchase these kinds of lands and to maintain them. But I’m always hopeful that we can find select opportunities. We all know that old phrase, ‘land rich and cash poor’. That applies to a lot of landowners I know. I don’t think anyone would be impressed with our bank account but I’d rather have the land than bits of paper.”

    Chuck is a self-taught forestry expert, having begun his studies while touring with The Fabulous Thunderbirds.  Since then, he’s gained much respect and notoriety as an expert in forestry and conservation, having been award many awards and acknowledgements.  He’s also written two books on the subject with a third on the way.

    Before venturing into the finer points of this field of his expertise, I swallowed my pride and asked Leavell what the difference was between a conservationist and an environmentalist.

    “It’s a good question. I like to think that we are both. The definition of conservation is, in part, ‘The action of conserving something, in particular protection, or restoration of the natural environment, natural ecosystems, vegetation, and wildlife; the preservation, repair, and prevention of deterioration of archaeological, historical, and cultural sites and artifacts; and the prevention of excessive or wasteful use of a resource.

    “In a nutshell, I think it means to be wise and careful with the resources that you have - to practice a sort of sustainability. I tell people that trees are an organic, natural and renewable resource. We all use things that come from trees every day of our lives - wood furniture, our homes, musical instruments, books, and so many other things. As a conservationist, I want to use this resource for these many fine things but I want to make sure that I am doing it in a way that is conserving the resource - that is, in a way that will assure me it will always be there.

    “As for the word ‘environmentalist’, the definition in part is: A person who is concerned with or advocates the protection of the environment . . . who considers that environment, as opposed to heredity, has the primary influence on the development of a person or group.

    “This can get a bit complicated, and the ‘catch’ is how far you take the second part of the above definition. I certainly care deeply about our environment and want to keep it healthy and vibrant. But when it comes to making certain decisions about what to do with our lands and how that affects us as humans, hard choices have to be made from time to time. We all have to have places to live, to work, for our kids to go to school, etc. So, while it might not be the best thing for our environment to build such structures, or to build more highways, rail systems, expand airports and such, it’s inevitable that we are going to do it. We have to make compromises.

    “Actually, this is the subject of my new book, Growing A Better America, that will be out in mid March of this year. It’s about making careful and thoughtful choices about how we are going to grow. We have 310 million people in our country now, and predictions are that we’ll have 400 million around 2040. There are about 6.8 billion on the planet, and predictions are to have 9 billion by 2045. We are going to have to make some critical choices about accommodating that kind of growth, and how that will affect our environment.

    “My book talks about ‘smart growth’, and looks at positive models of community design, community expansion and such. I get in to energy issues; transportation issues; keeping our carbon footprint as low as possible; preserving natural areas when possible; the importance of green spaces in our metropolitan areas and much, much more.

    “I know that’s a long answer, but I think it’s important that people have an understanding of these things.”

    Chuck Leavell With The Rolling Stones - Courtesy of Chuck Leavell

    As a direct result of Chuck’s incredible accomplishments in conservation and forestry, he co-founded The Mother Nature Network and serves as its the Director of Environmental Affairs.  When I asked what the latest developments are at MNN, he answers with the same kind of pride as he does when speaking of Charlane or his musical work.

    “MNN has been a phenomenal journey for me. My partner, Joel Babbit, had the idea to build the site and asked me to participate. He has had a life long successful career in public relations and advertising, serving really big clients like Coca-Cola, Dell Computer and others. We’ve been friends for a while, and he came to me one day saying that his clients wanted to get out to the public over the Internet all the things they were doing to “green” their businesses. And by the way, these companies and all the companies that are sponsors with MNN are doing some great things in that regard.

    “Anyway, Joel did not feel comfortable with any of the existing environmental sites in terms of placing ads and getting messages out on behalf of his clients. After discussing it in depth and doing a lot of research, we looked at each other and sort of said at the same time: ‘should we build it?’ So, we did.

    “Through Joel’s connections, we raised commitments of up to ten million dollars to get started. He resigned his position as CEO of GCI, a huge firm he was heading up, and we went to work. We hired really talented and dedicated enviro-journalists, website developers and other staff and opened our offices in Atlanta. We launched in January of 2008 on a wing and a prayer. Since then we have grown from a ranking of something like number 7,200 on the list of environmental websites to be the number one most visited independent environmental site in the world.

    “I have to give credit to our incredible staff.  We have really great folks - about 25 at present - working for us. Joel and I are elated with the progress. The last numbers I had are that we are getting over 2 million unique visits a month, and about 12 million page views per month and still climbing each month. We actually became profitable towards the end of last year, which is quite amazing for any website in 2 years time. We thought it would take at least 5 years to get into the black, so we’re thrilled.”

    With public discourse often dominated by subjects to protecting and preserving the environment, I asked if there is anything that keeps him awake at night from a conservation perspective.

    “There are a lot of things that I’m concerned about. I described some of that in talking about my new book, but in terms of forestry alone, I have many worries. One is that we have seen a great deal of our industry move offshore in the past 10 years or so. This is for many reasons. Like so many other industries, companies find that labor is cheaper in other countries; there is less regulation in other countries; less cost for construction, cheaper land and so forth.

    “I’m not suggesting that we should do the same thing some of these countries are doing, because some of their practices are not good for the environment and somewhat suppressive on their labor force. But any way you look at it, it has caused a huge drop in US forestry markets. What people have to understand about this is that to a degree, it’s ‘use it or lose it’. In other words, if folks like me and so many other family forest landowners don’t have a decent market, there is no good reason for us to keep our lands in trees. So when that happens, families begin to sell their lands. They can’t afford to pay the taxes, the upkeep, etc. and they are backed up against a wall. I’m not saying it’s that bad at the moment, but if the markets for wood keep going down it will definitely get that bad.

    “Other concerns include that tax structure for forest lands, the uncertainty of biomass and carbon markets, the pressures of growth and development, outbreak of diseases and insects, severe weather events and more.”

    Before moving my questions to music related subjects, I asked Leavell what homeowners, or those who don’t even own a home, can do to green up America and the world from a forestry perspective.

    “Anyone can plant a tree. There are many programs around the country where they give out trees to people. Plant a tree in your yard, your neighborhood, your school, your church. I also encourage people to conserve. Turn out the lights when not in use, set the thermostat at a reasonable temperature, drive less when you can and walk or bike to work. Talk to your neighbors about keeping your parks in good shape. Consider buying Energy Star appliances when you need to replace your refrigerator, washing machine, dryer, whatever. I give a lot of these and much, much more in Growing A Better America.

    Chuck Leavell has played keyboard for the Rolling Stones for almost 30 years. As I said at the beginning of this interview, he has also played with other of the biggest names in rock. What many people may not know is that he has also produced several solo albums and is working on a new solo project. I asked Chuck about the album.

    “The working title is Back To The Woods and it is a tribute to pioneering blues piano players from the 30s/40s/50s era. Most of the songs come from artists that are little known: Little Brother Montgomery, Skip James, Leroy Carr, Jesse James and others. I did do a very early Ray Charles track called Losing Hand, and an Otis Spann tune called Boots and Shoes, but those would be the two best-known names.

    “I’ve been recording it up in Athens, Georgia, at Jim Hawkins’ studio. Jim was a principal engineer at Capricorn Studios back in the 70’s and actually built Capricorn in part. He has a nice, comfortable space in Athens now. I used Chris Enghauser on stand up bass and Louis Romanos on drums - both live in Athens and are great players. So far I have Danny Barnes (renown banjo player and guitarist), (guitarist) Bruce Hampton and Randall Bramblett (Sea Level, Traffic, Steve Winwood, Levon Helm and Bonnie Raitt, among others) as guest artists, and have some commitments from others, including Keith Richards. I’m about 80% done with it and hope to finish it by March. No release date yet, but probably May or June.


    In describing his solo work, Leavell says, “Well, I am first and foremost a piano player. That’s what most of my own CDs center around. I might throw in a bit of Hammond B-3 or Wurlitzer now and again, but it’s mostly piano. In terms of style, I’ve been influenced by a wide range of great players, and I think my style reflects that. You’ll hear tinges of blues, rock, jazz, and country, but hopefully you’ll say ‘that sounds like Chuck’.

    “It takes a long time to develop your own sound and style as a player, and hopefully I’ve done that. I don’t think of myself as some ‘master’ player - just an honest one. I do my best to paint pictures with the notes I play - to project emotion, color, and feeling. That’s about the best I can do to describe myself. Perhaps descriptions are best left to others.

    Early in his book, Between Rock and a Home Place, Chuck shared how his late mom talked to him about how he played his music, leading him towards how to inject various feelings into the sounds he produced on the piano. When I asked Leavell if he still feels that she still “speaks” to him today in how he plays today, his reply was short, sweet and from the depths of his heart.

    "Every day, in every note I play."

    From a fan’s perspective, it’s hard for me to think that, with the musical resume that Chuck has, there would be anything left that he hasn’t done musically. However, I had to ask him what he hasn’t done that he would still like to do.

    “Fortunately, I’m still getting calls to work with other artists. I still love working with those I’ve worked with in the past, but also like the challenge of working with those I haven’t. Recently I recorded with John Mayer in NY for a week. Fantastic session, fantastic artist. I hope I get another round with John some time this year. Next week I record for about 10 days with Martina McBride. So, I just take it one day at a time and hope the phone keeps ringing! Of course I’ll continue to do my own stuff as well. I know the Stones have been contemplating their options, but they have not come to any final decisions, so we’ll all have to wait on that. I can tell you that I’m ready when they are.”

    Photo Courtesy of Chuck Leavell

    Later, Chuck said about his contribution to the Mayer disc, “It was mostly Hammond B-3, but I did play a bit of Whurly and a pump organ on a couple of things. John is an amazing talent. He wrote three of the songs we did right on the spot. He’s got tremendous and infectious energy.”

    I don’t know what on earth possessed me to do this, but I dropped some names from Chuck’s musical past and asked him to share what comes to mind regarding his thoughts about the following musical greats:

     Ray Charles: “The MASTER. Probably my main influence.”

     George Harrison: “One of the sweetest guys on the planet. Truly as great a humanitarian as he was a singer/songwriter/performer.”

     Duane Allman: “Changed the direction of the electric guitar with his slide playing. Never got to know him personally, but always admired him and heard him play many times. Unquestioned and unbridled passion in his playing.”

     Eric Clapton: “Well, he’s Eric Clapton, isn’t he?! Eric likes exploring, changing, experimenting and I have always appreciated him for that. He doesn’t rest on his laurels and isn’t afraid to try things.”

     Gregg Allman: “In the top five of the greatest blues singers ever. A good friend. A survivor.”

     Ronnie Wood: “Effervescent, fun, diversely and multi-talented. Made me feel at home when I came into the Stones, for which I’m forever grateful.”

     When asked if there is any talent that is commanding his attention, Leavell shares that, “I’ve been listening a bit to Grace Potter (and the Nocturnals) and like her stuff. Not complicated, but with deep soul.  I like that. I honestly haven’t been to many concerts in the last couple of years, so can’t say much about live performances I’ve heard. I played with Keith Urban on the Jimmy Fallon show, and have come to really admire his artistry. I’m trying to learn a bit of mandolin, and have been listening to some bluegrass players. Love Chris Thele, Doyle Lawson, Sam Bush. I don’t listen too much to contemporary radio much these days, so I’m not the best person to ask about hits on radio.”

    Since he’s seen a lot of changes in the music business, I asked Chuck what he thought it was going to take to save the business.

    “Man, that’s too deep for me to get into, but I will say that if something isn’t done to improve how musicians and artists are paid for downloads and preventing illegal downloads, it’s going to be a tough future. The genie is out of the bottle, and I don’t know if it will ever be back in. We’ve lost a lot of control over how our recorded music is sold.”

    Wrapping up my time with Chuck, I asked if we were going to see him on the road with anyone any time soon.  While I wasn’t hinting for some advanced info about a Rolling Stones tour, he does comment about it at the end of his answer: “I have very few select solo shows booked - playing Macon at the Cox Capitol Theater Jan 22nd with the Randall Bramblett Band, and a gig at the Wheeler Opera House on March 12th. Other than that, I’ll be promoting my book and finishing my CD as well as doing the sessions I have booked. Nothing to report at present on Stones activity.”

    After the interview was over, I reflected on the vast, rich body of work that Chuck has.  From his iconic keyboard work on the landmark Allman Brothers tune, Jessica, to the Stones, Clapton and many others, I just ran the music through my mind and smiled.  Like the beautiful trees of Charlane Plantation, Chuck Leavell’s work shades our entire musical landscape with the beauty of his work.

    You can find out more about Chuck, his music, his books, and his conservation work at the following websites:



    www.chuckleavell.com      www.charlane.com      www.mnn.com

     

  • playthebluescoverPlay the Blues
    Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton
    Label: Warner Brothers Records
    Reviewed: September, 2011

    As any of you know who have bothered to read any of my reviews, you know that I’m basically a rock and roller at heart with some new country thrown in now and then. Sometimes, though, there’s nothing like going back – way back to the basics of good, old fashioned jazz-blues kind of sound. People describe it in different ways but, to me, I describe it as a kind of Bourbon Street jazz-blues fusion of sorts.

    Call it whatever you wish but that’s my label for it and I’m stickin’ with it.

    When the Wynton Marsalis/Eric Clapton collaboration, Play the Blues, landed in my mailbox last week, I didn’t know what to expect but I knew it was going to be good. Little did I know that it was going to take me back to that Bourbon Street jazz-blues days that were before my time. Innocent days before we knew more than we should. Simple yet elegant sounds with happy, intricate melodic tapestries of fun music. I know that last sentence sounds somewhat contradictory but think about it while you listen to this CD and tell me if I’m not right.

    Marsalis’ signature trumpet sound, coupled with Slow Hand’s always incredible guitar work is a historical match made in musical heaven. These two geniuses bring a sound that I seriously doubt can be replicated by anyone else who has such platinum credentials.

    The disc opens with an old fashioned favorite, Ice Cream (“we all scream for ice cream!”). It makes you wish you could bum a couple of nickels off of your parents and go down to a soda shop and buy a dip of some really good ice cream and maybe go see a silent movie somewhere. I know. Those prices were about a “hunert” years ago but that’s where the music takes you.

    Boomerocity favorites off of this album, though, is Wynton and Eric’s treatment of the ol’ gospel classic, Just A Closer Walk With Thee. One gets the feeling that a “Nawlins” funeral is about to come down the street. But, more than that, the guys sing it like it should be sung because it immediately took me back to some of the old time gospel song services that I experienced as a kid growing up. As they would say back then: It gave me co’ chills down my spine. This song would be worth the purchase of the whole CD just by itself.

    The other Boomerocity favorite on Play the Blues is yet another version of Clapton’s “Derek and the Domino’s” hit, Layla. Think Clapton’s “Unplugged” of this tune but drenched in Bourbon Street blues and you would get a good idea of what I mean.

    Great album. Great times. Great value with a DVD that comes with the CD so you can’t lose. Besides, c’mon! We’re talking Marsalis and Clapton here! Just buy the darn thing!

  • The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale
    Eric Clapton & Friends
    Label: Bushbranch/Surfdog
    Release Date: July 29, 2014
    Review Date: August 17, 2014

    JJ Cale was one of those delicious, best kept secrets in music. I’d wager that the average music connoisseur probably doesn’t know the name but they most certainly know some of his most well-known work. Eric Clapton made Cale’s career by covering “Cocaine”, “After Midnight” and “Call Me the Breeze”.  John Mayer, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny Cash, Jerry Garcia, Waylon Jennings and many others also recorded Cale’s songs.

    Eric Clapton developed a very close personal and professional friendship with JJ.  When Cale passed away unexpectedly from heart failure last year, Clapton immediately decided to put together an album that “appreciated” Cale’s work. He went a step further by asking other top shelf talent to join in on the record. People such as Tom Petty, Mark Knopfler, John Mayer, Willie Nelson, Don White, Derek Trucks and Christine Lakeland were brought in to pay tribute to the songwriting genius of JJ Cale. The result is a sixteen track gold mine of Cale goodies entitled, “The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale”.

    The album’s title is a nod to Cale’s single, “Call Me The Breeze”, that was recorded in 1972. The album amazingly channels the smooth, cool, relaxing vibe that Cale was none for and Clapton integrated and adapted into his later recordings.

    Any one song out of the sixteen is worth the price of the whole album. However, three randomly chosen Boomerocity favorites are:

    “Since You Said Goodbye” is chosen for its easy going vibe even though it’s a break up song. How does that happen? I dunno but this tune earned repeated slaps of the repeat button.

    “Lies” is picked but I love how Clapton and John Mayer respects the Cale sound yet made this sound uniquely theirs. I’d say this is THE Boomerocity favorite from the album.

    “Starbound” (with Clapton, Willie Nelson and Derek Trucks) has a mournful, wistful feel to it made especially acute with the passing of Cale.

    Obviously, fans and musicologists alike will want this album in their personal listening library and die-hard fans will most definitely want the deluxe packages being offered.  Also, check out the interview with Eric Clapton pasted below. It’s definitely worth the investment in time to listen to the back story about the creation of this landmark CD.

    Rest in peace, JJ.