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Chuck Leavell has played keyboard for a number of popular musical acts including the Rolling Stones, Allman Brothers Band, Sea Level, Eric Clapton, and many more. As an internationally respected conservationist, author, tree farmer and co-owner of Charlane Plantation in Georgia, he is as comfortable discussing responsible environmental stewardship as he is playing keys for some of the biggest names in music. Here at ReGeneration.org, it is our great honor to have him as an inaugural member of the ReGeneration Advisory Group. We recently had the chance to chat with him about his music, the environment, his farm and what is on the horizon.
What role does the environment play in your music?
Well, it plays a role with me in several ways. First, let’s don’t forget that my instrument comes from nature. The fact that pianos, guitars, violins, cellos, double basses, drums….and so many other musical instruments come from the resource of wood is worth note. 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 – or perhaps working here on my own family forest, Charlane Plantation, sometimes melodies come into my head. It 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. It also provides a great balance in life for me. Out touring and traveling, there is such an electric atmosphere, a constant buzz, if you will. Getting back in a natural setting helps me to come down from all that is such a satisfying way.
Your work as a tree farmer on Charlene Plantation has won you recognition throughout the country. How did you become inspired to grow trees and what’s next for the Plantation?
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 forest lands, 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 rub off on me, to get in my own blood. In 1981, Rose Lane’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 – approached other landowners and asked questions – eventually enrolled in a correspondence course on land use while touring with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, a great little Texas blues band that I played with for a couple of years. I did my homework in the back of the tour bus, in dressing rooms, whenever I could find the time.
As I became more confident, we began to manage our own family forest, entitled Charlane Plantation. The name Charlane comes from both of our names. My proper first name is Charles, and Rose’s middle name is Lane, thus Charlane. As the year’s progressed, we began to get some recognition for our work, eventually being selected as The National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year in 1999. This led to some advocacy work on behalf of forestry and the environment. And today, in addition to the work we do at Charlane, I serve on several Boards: The American Forest Foundation, The U.S. Endowment for Forests and Communities, The Georgia Land Conservation Council, and most proudly, the Dell Re-Generation Board.
What’s next? I’m proud to be a part of a new website dedicated to the
environment: The Mother Nature Network, or www.mnn.com, the mother of all environmental websites! We will strive to be the number one go-to site for environmental news, education and information. We have a marvelous and talented staff, and I am so proud to be a part of it.
I’ll be doing some video for it, two shows to be exact. 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 called “The Green Room” and I’ll be talking to other artists, writers, actors and such that have an environmental connection.
Can you tell us more about it the Mother Nature Network?
I can’t tell you how excited I am about it. My partners and I realized that there is a huge void on the Web for really good, reliable and understandable information concerning the environment. The present sites that exist tend to be either too complicated, too shallow, or perhaps aimed at one particular thing.
There is 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. Our content team is amazing, and we have access to a huge platform of information. We will keep it up to date on a daily basis, with the main goal to make a positive difference in all aspects of our environmental challenges.
What role should musicians play in the environmental movement?
All of us need to play a role, not just musicians. Just being more aware of what’s happening to our environment is a good start. Facing the truth about climate change and being kinder to our planet is a good next step. Conserve, re-cycle, plant trees, drive more energy-efficient cars and drive less when possible are smart options. I’m a strong advocate for buying more energy-efficient appliances, insulating your house and office properly, and using renewable resources like wind, solar and bio-mass. If nothing else, support policies that get these things done. We all have to pitch in, and we CAN do this.
When it comes to the environment, what advice do you give companies?
I’m so encouraged to see our American companies getting involved and making positive changes in their ways and in their attitudes towards environmental concerns. Dell’s commitment to an eventual zero carbon footprint is a prime example. Ray Anderson’s Interface, Inc., a carpet manufacturing concern, is another good example. So many things can be done. I would suggest folks purchase a book authored by a brilliant acquaintance of mine, Brian Dumaine, of Fortune Magazine, entitled “The Plot To Save The Planet.” Within the pages of the book, Brian enlightens with many great stories of companies who are changing their ways, getting involved, setting good examples. He describes in detail how and why they are doing it. It’s a great read.
Ten years from now, what will you look back and say you achieved?
Certainly I intend to continue my musical career, as a solo artist and with others. I hope there will be a couple more Rolling Stones tours.
The year 2012 will mark the band’s 50th year, which is, well, astonishing. Can we all stay healthy and celebrate the 50th Anniversary with new music and a tour? I don’t know, but I sure would like to think so. I want Charlane Plantation to be better and better as time goes by, and I’ll work hard to make that come about. And I will continue my advocacy on behalf of our environment. I’m starting a new book now called “Smart, Strong and Sustainable”, which will address the kind of growth we are now having and that we will be experiencing in the future here in America and beyond. I’d like to see us do much better in that department, and no doubt we can. I’m the eternal optimist, and ten years from now I believe we will be well on our way to having a wiser, better planet to live on.