Do you ever will things to happen? Have you ever been in a situation where you actually made something happen just by the force of your will? If so, did you step back and wonder just how full of yourself you must be to think you actually caused that and that it wasn't just random chance?
The other night, my wife talked me into something I don't usually do these days. I put on a suit and a tie and some shoes that were uncomfortable and accompanied her to a formal dinner. This dinner was honoring a fellow named P. Allen Smith. He's become somewhat of a celebrity around here with his ideas about local farming and sustainability (one of the new hippie code words, much like diversity).
As suspicious as I usually am of concepts such as sustainability and diversity, Mr. P. Allen actually has some very good ideas about what is wrong with the way we live. In fact, I walked away thinking sustainability was a much more valuable concept than this pie in the sky idea of diversity.
I grew up on a farm and every other kid around me was growing up on a farm. This was a very healthy environment in which to grow up, regardless of the DDT fumes from spraying the cotton coming in my open window at night. (As I remember it, we had no mosquitoes and very few boll weevils.) His theory is that in this day and time when hardly any kids know from whence their sustenance cometh, it should come as no surprise that they tend to be fat and lazy and fucked up beyond belief from the fast food and frozen/reheated crap they eat each day. He would say this much more judiciously, but he is fond of promoting diversity and I'm fond of saying what is on my mind.
Back to story of willing things to happen. The main reason I agreed to put on a suit and tie and uncomfortable shoes was more than the free drinks and free meal. One of the speakers and the only live entertainment at this event was a guy I used to jam with when we were both kids in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I haven't seen him in almost 40 years and I hardly even remembered what he looked like. But my wife and I were sitting in some comfortable chairs in the reception area with about a thousand other folks around and I thought, "I would like Chuck to come by here now so that I can talk to him before we get seated." Within just a couple of minutes, a fellow walked past us and I stood up and said, "Aren't you Chuck?" The weirder thing is that he remembered me.
We had the introductions of wives and the chit-chat about the old gang we used to run with so many years ago, and we left with a warm embrace and my sincere appreciation of the life he's living and the things he's accomplished. He appears to be so sober and happy and content with his place in life that it almost brought a tear to my eye.
One afternoon a very long time ago, I was jamming in a living room in Fort Payne, Alabama, with some guys who had good harmony. The next thing I knew, they were the biggest selling country music act in America. On another completely different afternoon a very long time ago, I was jamming in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with a kid playing piano. The next thing I knew, he was the keyboard player for the Rolling Stones.
Chuck and I had a couple of friends in common even before we met. One was a reclusive guitar player with a little band called the Hour Glass. The other was a drummer named Johnny Sandlin whose dad ran the hardware store in my little town. Chuck wound up playing keyboards for that reclusive kid's band and made quite a bit of retirement money from his work on a song called "Jessica". He did an entirely piano cover version of the song on his "Southscape" album. Another one of my favorite bands, the Dixie Dregs, also did a very hot cover version of this song on their album "California Screamin'", released in 2000. Bad news? This is almost impossible to find. However, for a video of Chuck playing this song with the more popular band, see here. The saddest thing about this video is that the reclusive guitarist whom he and I both adored was long dead prior to this recording. RIP. I cannot tell you how much you have missed in life by not seeing Duane Allman play guitar live. It was transformative.
Now Chuck spends most of his musical time either working on his own stuff or on tour or in the studio with big-lips and that gang of aging Brit rockers who must have killed Brian Jones and bottled his essence for use as an immortality pill. I mean, seriously. How do you explain Keith Richards? How many cigarettes does it actually take to kill a man? And what does Mick Jagger weigh? I suppose if you trim yourself down to just the essential molecules, even cancer cannot find purchase.
Aside from his work with the Allman Brothers and the Stones, he's worked with folks as
diverse varied as Blues Traveler, Joe Henry, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Indigo Girls, Widespread Panic and Brian Setzer. If you want to see the entire long, long list, you can go to His website. Click the "play" button to hear him. Try to remember that he's not really known as a singer.
As a kid, Chuck says that his first real teacher was Malcolm John "Mac" Rebennack, Jr. Most folks know him better as Dr. John, the current ambassador for all things New Orleans. Around 1970, Chuck toured for six months with Dr. John and now looks back on that experience as one of the most formative in his career. There is something infectious about this style, and if you are interested in learning more about the music of the Big Easy, I suggest you check out a blog created by another old friend of mine. It's called Home of the Groove and this guy, with whom I spent several years playing music in Memphis, knows more about this topic than any one man should know. Sometimes it kind of scares me. While looking for an e-string, I once found some gris gris bags and little totems in his guitar case. I didn't ask.
You can hear this Nawlins influence when Chuck plays almost anything.
After Dr. John, he played with the Allmans until they broke up (the first time) and then he and one of the two drummers, Jaimoe Johanson, formed the fusion group Sea Level. Get it? "C. Leavell"? This group toured practically non-stop during the late '70s and released five albums. This was always more of a labor of love than a fully-formed marketing plan, however.
It was in the early 80s that the Stones turned their ears his way and asked him to join them as a permanent backup player. He's now known as somewhat of a critical ingredient in the world of those folks. If you knew him and saw what a natural politician he is, you'd see why they need a man like this around.
The reason Chuck was in town for this shindig with P. Allen Smith and the rest of us the other night in Little Rock had very little to do with music. Chuck is now quite well known as a tree farmer and advocate for the sorts of homegrown agriculture that motivate Mr. P. Allen. He and his wife Rose Lane, who has known him as long as I have, manage their own forestland, Charlane Plantation in Macon, Georgia. The same Macon, Georgia, where that genius introvert guitarist we both knew died in a motorcycle wreck at such a young age. The same Macon, Georgia, where he is buried. So it is not a far stretch to imagine the essence of Duane Allman feeding the roots of the huge pine trees on Chuck's plantation. Perhaps this has something to do with why Chuck has found such joy and fulfillment in his work on sustainability.
Lord knows, that Allman boy was not sustainable. Not at all.