How Rolling Stones' Chuck Leavell Became Classic Rock's Go-To Keyboardist

By Andrew Magnotta @AndrewMagnotta

August 6, 2019

It's no secret why Chuck Leavell has held down a spot in The Rolling Stones' live band since 1982; he's one of the best around.

Leavell might be one of the most recorded keyboardists in rock and roll history, and he's lent his talents to the live bands of some of classic rock's biggest names. Leavell's golden fingers have graced multiple generations of hit records.

When asked by Q104.3 New York's Out of the Box with Jonathan Clarke about how a kid from Alabama managed to have such a lasting career in rock and roll, Leavell attributed his success to preparation and an important lesson from his father.

"My dad used to give me great advice, and one of the old sayings he would give is, 'You make your own luck,'" Leavell says. "What does that mean? Well, I think it means, in large degree...learning how to be at the right place at the right time and just look for opportunities. All my life, I've tried to follow that."

Leavell's first big break was when he joined The Allman Brothers in 1973 after playing on Gregg Allman's solo debut, Laid Back, earlier that same year. During that period, Leavell says he used to find himself at late night jam sessions with members of The Allman Brothers Band, but the day he was called to their manager's office, he was pretty sure he was getting fired.

"I guess two or three weeks after this was going on, I get a call from Phil Walden, the band's manager. He said, 'I'd like to speak to you in my office,'" Leavell recalls. "I thought, 'Well, what have I done wrong?' And you have to appreciate, I was barely 20 years old at the time. I walked in and there's all the members of the band, and a few pleasantries go down, and then the show dropped: 'Would you like to join The Allman Brothers?' 'Yes, I would!'"

The ensuing album, Brothers and Sisters, hit No. 1. Leavell did four more albums with the Allman Brothers and many more with his jazz fusion outfit Sea Level.

An invitation to join The Rolling Stones came in the early-'80s, and Leavell has appeared on every Stones album since '83.

In the '90s, Leavell did sessions with the likes of the Black Crowes, Eric Clapton and Gov't Mule.

That's him playing piano on Train's Grammy-winning song "Drops of Jupiter" the following decade. Between Stones gigs in the 2010s, he did two albums with John Mayer and a tour with David Gilmour.

Leavell's latest solo album, Chuck Gets Big is available now.

You can see him all summer on stage with the Rolling Stones or with his various other bands. Get all his live dates here.

You can follow Chuck Leavell on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

When Leavell isn't touring the world or making music, he's a tree farmer and one of the world's foremost conservationists. Learn more about what he's doing to save the planet here.

Here's Chuck's in-studio performance of "Down The Road A Piece":

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