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Mar 24 / Josh

Chuck Leavell’s Loving Cup

Albany NY 05 _Daryl Ferraiolo_#D663

Chuck Leavell is a very busy man. While his musical resume is a mile long, he is best known as being the keyboardist for the Rolling Stones for the past 30 years. Aside from his musical talents, Chuck has recently founded an environmental resource website called the Mother Nature Network.

Love of the Land

“I’ve been running Charlane Plantation, which is in part a managed family forest, since 1982. We’ve been doing this a long time. Also, my wife’s family has a generational connection to the land: her father was a farmer tending forest land, her grandfather was also in forestry, and her grandmother came from a family that raised cattle. We’re doing our best to carry on a stewardship to the land and that led me to learn about the environment and be passionate about land issues, wildlife and all things that are connected.”

Easy Being Green

“I’m a co-founder [of the Mother Nature Network] with my partner Joel Babbitt. Joel came to me 2 years ago and brought this idea of an environmental website. We launched in January 2009 and we are now the most visited, independent environmental website in the world.  The discovery that Joel and I made early on was that there were good organizational sites, like the Nature Conservancy, whom we are aligned with, but are very narrow in focus. For example, Riverkeepers are only looking at rivers. You could go down the line – Duck’s Unlimited, Pheasant’s Forever, they are all narrowly focused on one thing. There are some mom-and-pop sites that are out there, but they aren’t well funded and don’t have lots of resources. Our concept was to be the ‘WebMD’ of the environment. [We try] to be very comprehensive, well vetted, and accurate about all aspects of the environment so we can give people the opportunity to make better choices in their lives.”

Eating Responsibly

“I think we are now victims of the agri-business. I was recently a correspondent, oddly enough not a musical participant, at the last Farm Aid. I interviewed Willie Nelson and other musicians. One of their big efforts, and main slogan, was to ‘stop factory farming’. That is their goal of the present – to bring it back down to local farmers, local produce. One of the participants made the point to say ‘We have local doctors, businesses, why don’t we have local farmers and dairy people’. I like this concept very much, but how realistic it is in this world, I don’t know. I’m afraid we’re going to be dealing with agri-business no matter what. Hopefully their methodologies will get better. It’s a bit scary to know how they grow animals and vegetables. For example, growing chickens with very large breasts or with bigger wings. It’s disturbing.”

“We have our business here, the Charlane Family Plantation. We entertain a lot of people and in essence, we have a restaurant of our own. Rosaline, my wife, directs most of what’s presented there. Certainly we have our own garden. Rosaline looks after that as well. We have a bit of native fruit around, a couple of pear trees, apple trees and some pecan [trees]. We enjoy taking from that. We plant seasonal, fresh vegetables in the garden. We try to grow as much as we can, but in reality, with the hunting business you’re going to go to the store.”

Recent Musical Happenings

“The Stones finished in August of 2007 and haven’t worked since then. I did a tour of Europe of my own immediately after that ended and it resulted in a live release, “Chuck Leavall Live in Germany”. The tour was called the Green Leaves and Blue Notes tour, and the tour was not only to play music but raise awareness about environmental issues, specifically forestry. I have a few friends in Germany that are forest landowners and we came up with this idea. It was a lot of fun, I had an excellent band with superb, all German players.”

“Since the Stones tour ended, [I’ve been involved with] lots of session work. I get called into Nashville from time to time. I’ve worked with Miranda Lambert, Montgomery Gentry, and David Nail. I remain friends with the Allman Brothers and occasionally sit in with them. Last year they were celebrating their 40th anniversary and I played the Beacon Theater with them on the last night of the run.”

“I’m also in the beginning of the new project. It’s going very well. It’s a tribute to pioneering blues piano players, who are mostly unknown to the general public. Artists like Rory Carr, Little Brother Montgomery, and Skip James from the 30s, 40s and 50s were influential to me and many others.”

“I stay busy with these musical projects, but I’m also writing a new book. It’s about smart growth, its called “Growing America Smart, Strong and Sustainable”.  We’re about ¾ through it.”

Favorite Epicurean Cities

How can you talk about food and not talk about New Orleans? Certainly the fame and the history that city offers in terms of food, just like the music, its an incredible blend of French, Spanish and African influences food-wise and music-wise, to create something extraordinary.

Our daughter goes to school in Boston. I love going to the North End, some of the best Italian food there.

We love San Francisco. You’re on the bay and they just have great seafood there.

Restaurants in Nearby Atlanta, GA

La Gratta – Wonderful traditional Italian place.

Sean’s – Traditional American offerings but very, very quality food.

Woodfire Grill – Another favorite of ours. It has become quite popular since the chef’s run on TV’s Top Chef.

The H and H

“Let me talk about more indigenous foods. In Macon, Georgia, which is closer to me, there is a wonderful soul food restaurant called The H and H. It’s an institution in Macon and the woman who runs it, Louise, we affectionately call Mama Louise. When we first moved to Macon, Louise would take us in and if we didn’t have money to pay it was OK. If we had money to make it up later, we would.  She never worried about it, she just wanted us all fed. She loved the music and she loved the people. It was during the heyday of when I was in the Allman Brothers Band and with Capricorn Records. We were based out of Macon and all connected in that way. Louise is still around, she is probably in her mid 80s. She still serves the best soul food in the world: sweet potato pie, fried chicken, stewed beef, collared greens, squash and its absolutely marvelous. When we finally got some notoriety with the Allman Brothers, we used to fly Louise around and have her cater events from time to time. I still love seeing her and going to the H and H.”

Under My Crumb

“My favorite BBQ place is in Northport, Alabama, which is right across the river from Tuscaloosa. It is a small community, separated by the river. There’s a place called Archibald’s in a small concrete building with a few stools. They have absolutely the best ribs. When we played Birmingham with the Rolling Stones in 1989, we picked up a bunch of BBQ from Archibald’s and a nearby place, Dreamland. We took them back to Birmingham and invited the band and the crew to the lobby of the hotel there. It was big fun.”

Song About Food

“I have a song called Tomato Jam. My wife put this together, it’s a Southern dish. It’s more of a side dish, but it contains tomatoes that are boiled down, pineapple, lemon and then its made into a jam. It’s so wonderful – you get the sweetness of the pineapple, the spicy from the tomato and the tartness of the lemon – so I named a song after it.”

Be sure to check out The Mother Nature Network to see what Chuck has been working on. Also, if you are down South you can catch Chuck playing with Randall Bramblett Band at the Wanee Festival and in Hawkinsville, GA this April.

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