DRY BRANCH, Ga. -- "How many of you would like to see Gov. Perdue sit in with me and play on a song?"
The piano player is Chuck Leavell, and the man he's summoning onstage is Sonny Perdue -- who, at the time, was midway through his eight years as governor of Georgia.
"I want you to know I went out and bought this cowbell today especially for this occasion," Leavell told the crowd in a theater in Hawkinsville, on video obtained by 11Alive News from Terminus Films / Hibotte. He and Perdue were in central Georgia around Christmas 2006. It was home turf for both men. Leavell wants the Governor to help him play a song called "Honky Tonk Women."
"The beat is like this," Leavell said, riffing a one two -- one two -- one beat on a cowbell. "Can you handle it?" he asks the governor.
"I don't know," Perdue said warily before trying and falling short.
It's a moment where Chuck Leavell's worlds collide. In Georgia, he's an environmental activist, appointed by Perdue to the Georgia Land Conservation Council. Internationally, he plays piano with the Rolling Stones -- the band behind "Honky Tonk Women."
At home in Twiggs County, Leavell is a living link to Macon's roots in rock music -- the middle Georgia city with a bridge named for Otis Redding, an all-but forgotten childhood home of Little Richard, and a fenced gravesite for two members of the Allman Brothers -- a band which once featured Chuck Leavell.
Now he's playing on the Stones' 50th anniversary tour. At age 60, he's a relative youngster in a very, very vintage band.
"My role with the band has morphed some. I do the set lists from night to night. I work with Mick (Jagger) on that. And I keep detailed records of all the rehearsals we do. So if we make any changes in the arrangement of a song, I make notes of that and they sort of depend on me to be the record keeper in that regard," Leavell told 11Alive News before departing on the Stones' current tour of North America. "I set the tempos on a lot of the songs from night to night. You hear me say 'one, two, three, four' several times during the course of a Rolling Stones concert."
This year marks Leavell's 30th with the Rolling Stones. This spring, he said he was also asked to tour with guitar wunderkind John Mayer.
"It was, unfortunately, at the same time that the Rolling Stones were going out and I had to make a decision," Leavell said. "And I been with those guys for 30 years so I felt a little bit of loyalty to 'em."
Leavell said his other world -- the one rooted at his tree farm in Dry Branch -- remains a constant priority. Here, he nurtures the Mother Nature Network, a web site he cofounded, which is devoted to environmental reporting.
And in middle Georgia, Chuck Leavell occasionally shares the spotlight with less renowned musical talents -- like the governor of Georgia.