In my New Year’s post, I said this – Note – I’m working on doing something in the next couple of months that will – should it happen – be of some interest to readers. It involves a visit somewhere. I’m going to drop well, not hints, but teasers over the next month or so. Should be interesting if it all works out.
Consider this teaser #1.
Chuck Leavell is a keyboard player initially from Birmingham, Alabama. He kicked around Alabama in his younger years, playing in bands and eventually wound up playing with – and being mentored by – keyboardist/guitarist Paul Horsnby. In 1967-68, Horsnby had played with Gregg and Duane Allman in a band called Hour Glass.
Hornsby eventually moved to Macon, Georgia and became a session guy at Capricorn records. He convinced Leavell to join him in Macon. Chuck wound up touring with James Taylor’s brother Alex and later which Dr. John which he referred to as his “college education.”
Gregg Allman heard Chuck play and invited him to join in on his 1973 album, Laid Back. Not yet wanting to replace Duane with another guitar player after his tragic 1971 death, Chuck was asked to join the Allman Brothers and recorded a couple of albums with them, most notably Brothers and Sisters which includes his great piano solo on “Jessica.”
The Allmans broke up somewhat acrimoniously in 1976 and Chuck went on to form Sea Level, a play on his name. The band lasted for five years from 1976 – 1981 and released as many albums. The ensemble included bassist Lamar Williams and drummer Jai Johanny Johanson (Jaimoe), both of whom had been in the Allmans. (Jaimoe and Dickey Betts are the only surviving members of the ABB.)
Sea Level released its eponymous debut album in 1977. Wikipedia lists it as jazz-fusion and that is most assuredly true. (The late ’60s and early ’70s were the heyday of that genre.) But the album is weirdly schizophrenic in that it veers from hot fusion to a Southern Rock, almost Lynyrd Skynrd sound from one tune to the next.
But these boys could play and much of it has the red-hot guitar of a guy named Jimmy Nalls. (Sadly he died a few years ago from complications of Parkinson’s. Lamar Williams died shortly after the breakup of this band, possibly due to exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam.)
So, how about some music? First up is a tune called “Rain in Spain” and it is right out of that ’70s jazz-fusion space and still sounds great to me. AllMusic says, “The opening track, the Leavell-penned “Rain in Spain,” is as driving and melodic as any Allman Brothers instrumental but also possesses a jazzy harmonic sophistication beyond what the Allmans might have attempted:
So now you’re perhaps saying, “Man, now I’m in the mood for some more of THAT shit.” And so we instead swing over to the very next tune, “Shake a Leg,” which sounds like Dr. John crossed with the Band:
I will leave you here with another instrumental, “Grand Larceny” which is straight out of the Crusaders/Larry Carlton-era playbook. Some really super-tasty playing here:
Coda: Back in the early ’80’s, Chuck auditioned to be a co-piano player along with Ian Stewart in the Rolling Stones. Stewart passed away in 1985 and Chuck has for many years now been the Stones’ touring and recording keyboardist. And interestingly he is a long-time tree farmer. I shit you not. His website even has a ‘Tree’ category.