A Rolling Stone Gathers Moss
Chuck Leavell and Mick Jagger at a jam session.
Chuck Leavell has been tickling the ivories for more than 30 years now, jamming with folks like The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers Band, and Eric Clapton, among others. Leavell, who lives outside Atlanta, is also a published author and tree farmer, and a serious environmental activist. In 1999, he and his wife, Rose Lane, were selected as The National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year. He’s also played a solid role in forming the forest component of the past two US Farm Bills. Earlier this year, he co-founded The Mother Nature Network, an environmental website.
Tell me about MNN.
The main goal is to make a positive difference in all aspects of our environmental challenges. There’s a dire need for a truly comprehensive site that will give real answers to real people in a way that can make them feel connected--and help them understand how THEY can make a difference. I believe that people are waking up now to those challenges...and are looking for a source for answers. We are that source.
What’s your involvement on a day-to-day basis?
I’ll be doing some video for two shows. One is called “Love Of The Land,” in which I’ll explore stories of people doing good things on the land, or perhaps facing challenges. The other is “The Green Room” and I’ll be talking to other artists, writers, actors and such who have an environmental connection.
How long have you been an environmental activist?
Well, I’m a child of the 60’s ... and the Cultural Revolution that occurred back then included environmental issues. So I would say in the late 60’s I became pretty aware of these issues. But it wasn’t until the early 80’s when I became a bonafide tree farmer that I became directly involved and active on behalf of the environment. That led me on the path that I’m still on today.
How did you learn to farm trees?
My wife, Rose Lane, and her family have been connected to the land in one way or another for many generations. Her father was a farmer, tended cattle, tended forestlands, as did her grandfather and grandmother, and this goes back as far as the King George III land grant days. As I got to know the family through the years, this love of - passion for, and dedication to - the land began to get in my own blood. In 1981, Rose’s grandmother passed away and left her about 1200 acres of land, what was called “The Home Place.” So this responsibility to carry on the heritage of stewardship of the land fell onto our shoulders. I began to bone up on land and the environment, went to the library and picked out books on the subject and eventually enrolled in a correspondence course on land. As I became more confident, we began to manage our own family forest, entitled Charlane Plantation. The name comes from both of our names: My proper first name is Charles, and Rose’s middle name is Lane, thus Charlane.
What role does the environment play in your music?
The fact that pianos, guitars, violins, cellos, double basses, drums….and so many other musical instruments come from the resource of wood is worth noting. It gives me a direct connection to nature, and I can feel the soul of the earth when I play. But also, when I’m walking in the woods sometimes melodies come into my head. They could be generated from the sound of birds, or from the wind in the pines, or from something visual like seeing wildlife dancing in the woods. Nature also provides a great balance for me. There’s such an electric atmosphere, a constant buzz, when you’re out touring and traveling. Getting back to a natural setting helps me to come down from all that in such a satisfying way.
How can you stay environmentally sound on tour?
Lots of ways...encourage the fans to carpool or take public transport to the gigs. Do like Willie Nelson and use bio-diesel in the busses and trucks. Keep the equipment off when not in use. I sometimes take a bicycle on tour and use it to get around towns and cities ... but granted, Mick couldn’t do that!
OK: Give me your top three songs about the environment, and why?
* Marvin Gaye: "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)"
Such a strong groove, great sounds, great message delivered by a Master.
* Bruce Hornsby and The Range: "Look Out Any Window"
Bruce is a friend, and a wonderful singer/songwriter/player. In this song he asks us all to look out our windows and see what’s going on. A simple request we should all heed.
* Joni Mitchell: "Big Yellow Taxi"
Joni has always written brilliantly about social themes. Here she points out how we “don’t know what we got ‘till it’s gone.” How right she is!