Rolling Stones' Musical Director Chuck Leavell Covers 'Tumbling Dice': Video Premiere

Allen Farst
Chuck Leavell 

As the longtime music director for the Rolling Stones -- not to mention his tenures with the Allman Brothers Band, Sea Level, Eric Clapton, David Gilmour, John Mayer and others -- Chuck Leavell has full rights to take on the group's catalog in his own fashion. So, not surprisingly, his brassy take on "Tumbling Dice" with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, whose video is premiering below from the keyboardist's just released new album Chuck Gets Big, is something different than what we're used to hearing him do with his "British brethren."

"This (album) is really a celebration of the career," Leavell tells Billboard, "so of course there's something from the Allman Brothers, something from Sea Level, something from the Stones, instrumentals from my own records, too. There are also a few of the songs I've just always loved playing -- like 'Georgia on My Mind,' 'cause Ray Charles is my true hero. It's just kind of a mishmash celebrating the career and hand-picking songs that I felt like people would appreciate."

It's also a chance for Leavell to take the frontman mantle himself. "I wanted it to be mostly a vocal record because working with these great vocalists, I rarely get to sing," he explains. "I mean, I get to sing background with the Stones and did with The Allmans, Clapton and Gilmour, but I wanted to have the opportunity to showcase my voice -- not that I'm an incredible singer, but that was important to me. I'm very pleased with the way it worked out."

The seeds for Chuck Gets Big were planted six years ago, after a German promoter who had booked shows for Leavell and his own five-piece band broached the idea of hooking him up with the Frankfurt ensemble during 2011. Intrigued by the prospect, Leavell agreed and sent MP3s of a dozen songs for the troupe to arrange. "They had one rehearsal without me," Leavell recalls, "and I walked in the next day not really knowing what to expect, just kind of on a wing and a prayer. And the minute we started playing I realized how incredible these musicians were, how on top of their game they were and how carefully written and detailed the charts were.

"So during that first rehearsal I'm thinking to myself, 'Chuck, you got to step up yo' game, son, 'cause these cats ain't here to mess around. They're here to kick ass and take names!' It really did put some pressure on me -- in a good way."

The 13 tracks on Chuck Gets Big (there's a bonus cut called "Tomato Jam") are taken from those performances, whose isolation in the recordings were good enough to take the crowd noise out and convey the spirit of a live performance while sounding like a studio effort. "I sat on these files for a while because I had already released a Live in Germany album with the five-piece band and some of the same songs were on there and I didn't want to repeat myself," Leavell explains. "Finally last year I said, 'Let me pull these things out and listen to them,' and I was duly impressed."

While Chuck Gets Big rolls out, Leavell -- who also guests on the Allman Betts Band's debut album Down to the River -- has five more dates left on the Stones' No Filter Tour, which wraps up Aug. 31 in Miami. He says that after Mick Jagger's health scare earlier this year, which required the tour to be rescheduled, things are going as well as they ever have. "Everyone's in good shape," Leavell reports. "Mick is incredible; he said that he was back working out about a week after the procedure. So he's doing great and so is everybody else, and God, what a blessing it is we still get to do this and the crowds still want to come -- especially given the circumstances of having to put the whole thing back together. The band is tighter than ever and it just couldn't be better."

The full track listing for Chuck Gets Big includes:

1. Route 66
2. King Grand
3. Losing Hand
4. Honky Tonk Woman
5. Living In A Dream
6. Blue Rose
7. Southbound
8. Tumbling Dice 
9. Ashley
10. Statesboro Blues
11. Georgia On My Mind
12. Compared To What
13. Tomato Jam (Bonus Track)

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