Tumbling Dice: a LITS-centric collaboration with a rock legend you might not know of

photo of chuck leavell

Chuck Leavell (photo courtesy of Allen Farst)

Have you ever heard of Chuck Leavell? Maybe not.

How about the Rolling Stones? The Allman Brothers? Eric Clapton? Now we’re getting somewhere.

Chuck Leavell is one of the best piano players in rock history. A native of Birmingham, AL, Chuck was an original member of the Allman Brothers, joining the band shortly after Duane Allman died in 1971. He played the piano solo on a little song you may have heard of called Jessica. In 1981, Chuck became the touring keyboardist for the Rolling Stones, a job he has held ever since.

Other acts Chuck has recorded for or performed with include Eric Clapton (Old Love), Train (Drops of Jupiter), John Mayer, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, The Black Crowes, The Beatles’ George Harrison, Blues Traveller, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and many others, as well as recording five solo albums. He is a member of the Music Hall of Fame in both Georgia and Alabama.

So, what does Chuck Leavell have to do with LITS?

photo of young chuck leavell

Chuck Leavell playing with the Allman Brothers in the 70s. (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Chuck is Steve Bransford‘s father-in-law. A year ago, Chuck approached Steve (who works in ECDS) about creating a video of a live recording of the song Tumbling Dice, which Chuck had recorded with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band. Although Steve is a documentarian with no music video experience, he took on the project as something to do with his free time at home. He elicited the help of fellow LITS documentarian Adam Forrester (Online Learning), and away they went.

Chuck’s idea was for them to create a video of himself playing the song on stage with projections of musicians taken from over 100-hours of big band archival footage. The trick was to first edit together a video of these archived musicians matching the instruments in Chuck’s song, then make a second video of Chuck playing the piano on stage with the projections ‘playing’ with him.

Steve and Adam were given access to videos of the bands that played with Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, and many more. The footage, which was provided by Reelin’ in the Years Productions, formed the first video that Steve and Adam arduously edited together to match Chuck’s song.

Many videos have used cutaways to archival footage, but it is extremely unusual to incorporate the footage with the actual live performers. “We stretched the limits of our video software,” says Steve.

photo of Steve and Adam

(L to R) Steve Bransford and Adam Forrester.

The actual shoot was done in March at the Plaza Theater in Atlanta. Steve and Adam recorded Chuck with a skeleton crew (which included LITS’ own Derek Butler, Student Digital Life). “One of the big breakthroughs was when we decided to use the projector as the key light,” says Adam. The key light is the main source of light for a recording. “It was a cool idea, but it was also very challenging to make the light work.”

The result is this amazing video of Tumbling Dice.

The release of the video times nicely with Chuck’s new album, Chuck Gets Big. He is also currently on tour with the Stones as their musical director. Billboard Magazine recently interviewed Chuck and featured the video in their article. Chuck was also interviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

Are Steve and Adam going to become music video directors? “Who knows? But I am making a little video for a friend of mine, so you never know,” says Adam. They are both soon screening some of their documentary work at the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, AL. Steve’s showing Well-Placed Weed and Adam will be debuting Some Million Miles, a film about meth addiction and recovery in northern Alabama.

Regarding this music video experience, “It was a fun opportunity. It’s rewarding to be faced with a technical challenge and still pull it off,” says Steve. “This work felt totally collaborative,” added Adam. “We were helping each other out to obtain a combined vision. It was very cool.”

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