Chuck Leavell has played in two of the most legendary rock 'n' roll bands in history — the Allman Brothers and the Rolling Stones — and he's now hoping to shine a spotlight on Georgia's music scene.
A nonpartisan study group in the Georgia legislature called the Joint Georgia Music Heritage Study Committee was assembled during the 2022 legislative session to assess how to expand and encourage the music industry to grow and invest in the state, as well as how to utilize and promote the state's vast music history.
A nonprofit named Georgia Music Partners is continuing to lead the way in making the case for a statewide tax incentive and other breaks. The organization was founded 10 years ago, but in the past several months, it's hosted several open forums across the state with music leaders, both in performance and business.
Georgia Music Partners President Mala Sharm said the group is hopeful that legislation will be introduced this session based on the study committee's recommendations, which include funding for a statewide music office, a music tax incentive, grants for independent projects and work towards more education and funding for workforce development for music jobs.
Leavell has been one of the organization's biggest champions, speaking to the study committee on several occasions to make the case for why Georgia's recording studios, rehearsal spaces and music venues should receive a tax incentive like that in place for the film industry in the state.
Georgia Public Broadcasting's Sarah Rose spoke with Leavell about why this cause continues to be important to him.
Sarah Rose: Tell me a little bit about why you wanted to get involved with incentivizing and trying to grow the music industry here in Georgia.
Chuck Leavell: First of all, let us be reminded of the incredible history of music that our state has in my region here near Macon, Georgia. The history of Otis Redding, of Little Richard. James Brown visited here quite often. Of course, he was from Augusta. You have the Allman Brothers Band history, all kinds of history out of other cities, including Atlanta. We are blessed with an incredible, rich history of music. So that's No. 1.
We want to remember that, and we want to continue that. And in order to continue that, the proposed legislation gives certain incentives for bands, artists, promoters, studios, all aspects of those that are in the music business to come to our state to work. Let's just surmise that maybe you're going to have a group that's going to come in and rehearse before a tour for, say, two weeks, three weeks, a month stay in any given city, whether it's Savannah or Macon or Columbus or Augusta or wherever it might be, and then kick a tour off in a city here. If we can offer those managers, those bands and artists and their booking agents an incentive to do that, well, they're going to look at it seriously. Just imagine what kind of revenue that would bring to any given city that they would choose to do that in. So, you know, hotels, restaurants that they're going to go to, facilities that they'll be using for their rehearsals and so forth. We are in a competitive situation. Louisiana has really attractive programs to do this. Tennessee has really attractive programs to do this. Pennsylvania, of all states. And there's others. We in Georgia must compete and compete strongly to bring these artists to our state instead of seeing them go somewhere else.
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Sarah Rose: You've been really on the ground with this movement. How optimistic are you that legislators are being receptive to what you and the rest of the people involved with this are lobbying for?
Chuck Leavell: There was a very important committee meeting that took place in Macon at Capricorn Studios not so long ago. I guess maybe five or six weeks ago. There were lots of presentations in front of the committee. There was lots of testimony given. And my feeling was they were incredibly receptive. And the bottom line is I think they get it. I think they get it now. I think they understand look, look at the incentives that we have for film in Georgia and look what that's done for the revenue of the state and to put a spotlight on our state and for this art form of film. We want to do the same thing for music. You know, our incentives currently are not as strong as the film incentives are, and we want to equal or better. And certainly we want to equal or better the incentives of the other states that we're competing with.
I think we have a really good shot at convincing the legislature to pass these incentives through the whole Senate and House. That's what we're going to need to do. You know, we had lots of great testimony at that meeting. I was the last one to testify. ... The exclamation point is simply this: "Ladies and gentlemen, let's get this done."
Sarah Rose: You mentioned the other states that have similar incentive programs right now. Why do you think Georgia has had such a long and resounding history with music -- and what makes the industry here so unique in comparison to other places around the U.S.?
Chuck Leavell: Something in the water? I don't know. (laughs) First of all, I think the South, in general, has produced so many great artists, songwriters. You know, look at our neighboring state, Alabama -- that I grew up in, by the way -- the great city of Muscle Shoals that has several studios, Fame studios, Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, The Wishbone Studios. It became a mecca of recording everyone from Bob Dylan to the Rolling Stones to Aretha Franklin to Wilson Pickett. So many others went to Muscle Shoals for a number of reasons.
But I see Macon and I see the state of Georgia as having the same attraction. We want to be a magnet for these artists to come in here and work to create, to go into studios. You know, by the way, and let me just emphasize, our incentives should not be just about rehearsing and in doing opening a tour here, but it should be about attracting people to come to Capricorn Studios in Macon to record or to studios that exist in Athens or in Columbus or in Augusta, Atlanta, certainly. And I think we have so much talent. Look at the golden era that we had with Capricorn Records and Capricorn Studios in Macon. I mean, you know, the Allman Brothers Band goes without saying. We did several records there that were No. 1 records and hugely popular. You had Marshall Tucker Band recording their records there. Charlie Daniels, who was actually not on the Capricorn label, but he loved the studio, and he loved the people that were in charge. So I think the bottom line, to answer your question, is the talent. We have the talent here. We have talented engineers, talented producers, talented musicians, and we have this incredibly rich history. And I think those are great, great incentives for artists to come to our state.
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Sarah Rose: I think some people who may not be really involved with the music industry ... would look at something like this and maybe say, "Well, why? Why is it important for people to come and record at a studio in Georgia? Why is it important for them to rehearse in the state?" What would you say?
Chuck Leavell: Well, first of all, economic revenue. Those incentives will create opportunities for restaurants that these artists and all the crew members and so forth would be frequenting, the hotels and motels that they would be staying at. If you kick off a tour here, you're talking about venues, important venues that would benefit from this. Look, music is joy. Music enhances our lifestyles, all of us. I can't think of anyone that's going to say, "Oh, music. I don't like music." We could become one of the premier states in this country, out of 50 states, to be the one or one of the top five.
Sarah Rose: I know that you've had a chance to travel around the state a lot and meet a lot of different people. Is there a conversation that you've had in this process of lobbying for this incentive that has really stuck out with you, someone that you've met, someone that you've been in touch within the music industry that's really made you feel like this needs to be a program that you pursue further?
Chuck Leavell: I think you're seeing all manner of musicians, engineers, producers coming together to promote this concept. But let me say this, (former) Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) has been so important for this project. He has been on board with us since Day 1. He has put together this incredible committee. Again, that meeting that we had at Capricorn Studios was just vibrant. You could feel the excitement that everyone had about this possibility. You know, all the committee members spoke highly of the idea. They were excited about the prospect. So we just have to carry that excitement over into the full legislature. And I think we can do that. I think we can pass a bill that would be as competitive, if not more competitive than any other state that is looking at this type of thing.
Sarah Rose: And this is my last question for you -- and I admit it's kind of a selfish question. I'm curious what your favorite Allman Brothers record is.
Chuck Leavell: I have to be a little prejudiced since I came into the band on the "Brothers and Sisters" record. "Brothers and Sisters" remains the Allman Brothers Band's highest-selling, most popular album. It was a No. 1 album. We had "Rambling Man" get up to No. 2 on the charts and hold there for a couple of three weeks. We had the song "Jessica," which I was proud to have a significant role in, to also chart heavily. "Come and Go Blues" was another popular song off that record, and we had an amazing tour after the release of that record in 1973. And by the way, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of that album.