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November 2009 Chuck Leavell Interview

Mystery And Manners' November 2009 Chuck Leavell Interview

This Chuck Leavell  interview, conducted last week, provides insight into Leavell's latest ongoings, such as the development of his new website Mother Nature Network, tree farming, The Rolling Stones, upcoming solo performances, his Christmas CD and the rumor about The Band regrouping at The Alamo with Leavell on the keys. This interview serves as volume two. My fall 08 interview with Chuck provides a backdrop to this recent Q & A. Not only is Chuck a great musician, active tree farmer and writer, but he personifies the term southern gentleman. Here's the latest... 

James Calemine: Give folks a sense of the website Mother Nature Network's mission statement as well as the progression and development of the site since
we spoke before its launch last fall.

Chuck Leavell: There are a lot of environmental websites out there--over 6200. My partner, Joel Babbit, and I did quite a lot of research about this back when we were
exploring the idea of MNN, some two years ago, but we could not find a
site that we felt 1) spoke in a voice that the average person could really
understand, 2) was comprehensive and covered all aspects of environmental
issues, and 3) was well designed, easy to navigate and didn't have all those
distracting flash ads, pop up banners and such. So we decided to build what
we felt people were searching for. Our mission was to build an
environmental site that would be accurate and well vetted; have content that
people were yearning for so they could make changes in their lives that
would reduce the impact on our planet; present the content in a classy and
easily digestible format, and in general be a pleasant experience for the
visitor. We launched on Jan 6, 2009, and at present, according to
alexa.com, a website that ranks other websites, we are the 7th most visited
environmental website out there....and three of the ones in front of us are
governmental sites (NOAH, EPA and The National Park Service) so we've
become one of the top three or four independent environmental sites in the
world in eleven months...and we're very proud of that.

JC: Talk about working with The University of Georgia's Agriculture
Department. Any experiences you'd like to share regarding the good
folks of UGA? Which really leads into the next question...

CL: Well, I've been involved with UGA for some three decades or so. My wife,
Rose Lane, and I sponsor a scholarship at the Warnell School of Forest and
Natural Resources, and have many friends up in Athens that work at UGA. 
The Agriculture Deptartment is top notch and has been a source of innovation and research here in the south and beyond as has the Warnell School. Georgians should be very proud of what UGA has to offer in these fields. We have many friends up in Athens that work at UGA. They have some of the most talented folks in the world working there....in all aspects of the outdoors.

JC: Any latest tree farming developments? Legislation? Good news?

CL: Good news and challenges. Our markets have fallen sharply in recent years, which is disturbing. Family forest land owners like me and Rose Lane...as well as industrial and institutional tree farmers need a good reason to keep our lands in trees...and if we can't get a reasonable price for our natural, organic product, the sad truth is that much of it will be converted to development. There is a saying among us tree farmers that "asphalt is the last rotation". I don't think any of us want to see us lose these forests....but they are indeed at risk. I call this the "invisible forest health crisis". Here in the south, we've been losing about a million acres a year to growth and development. That is a tremendous number and very disturbing. On the upside...there has been quite a lot of research and discussion about possible new markets. Carbon sequestration, bio mass for energy, eco-system services like clean water, clean air, recreation, home and shelter for wildlife, etc. Congress will likely be taking up some of these issues soon,and if they do it right, there is hope for keeping forests in forests. But if they miss the mark....then we'll continue to see this "crisis of conversion" continue. So I guess I would say that we are hopeful for good news.

JC: Any plans for writing any other books? Music or children's?

CL: Yes, I'm in the process of writing a new book called "Smart, Strong and Sustainable" that will be about these above mentioned growth issues. My writing partner, Jeff Craig, and I have gone out and looked for some positive models for the growth we will experience. We've been researching ways that we can deal with growth that will have the lowest possible impacton the environment. We're about halfway through our first draft...so it will be a while before it's published...perhaps by late spring or early summer. As for music, my next project will be a tribute to pioneering piano players...mostly pre WWII blues players...but reaching a bit beyond that.

JC: Will you play any holiday shows for the 11th year release of your Christmas CD?

CL: I have only a couple...one is a homecoming show in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where I grew up. It will be at the recently renovated BAMA Theater, and I'll bebacked up by the Randall Bramblett Band. That is on Nov. 20. The other is a solo show in Stuart, Fla. at the Lyric Theater...that's on Nov 28. Both should be lots of fun, and I look forward to them.

JC: Any upcoming Stones plans? Solo plans?

CL: The Stones have been idle for over two years now...so while I can't say definitively, I have to believe the band would want to work in 2010. But of course that is totally up to them. I think they have been wise to sit on the sidelines for a while...but I can say that I am personally getting anxious to get back together...and I hope they feel the same. We'll just have to wait and see. As for me doing further solo shows into 2010, that will largely depend on Stone's plans. I am considering doing some things in the spring of next year...again, a wait and see.

JC: Any truth to you playing keys with Robbie & Levon in the BASEMENT(?)of theAlamo?

CL: That was such a weird rumor. I have no idea how it got started. Someone sent me a link to a site that said I was involved, but it's totally just rumor. I don't really know those guys...but I do very much admire them. If I did get a call, I would certainly consider it, though.

JC: Give some of the latest news and pertinent information on Charlane Plantation.

CL: We continue to manage our forest and wildlife...but because of the down market, are not harvesting anything now. We do have some areas that areprime for a first time thinning, and I would like to get to that next year if possible. It's like weeding the garden....when you do a first thinning,you open up the forest stand so that the remaining trees grow stronger andbetter..and the wildlife tends to use it more. We did do some thinning alittle over a year ago, and those stands look fantastic now. We've had greatrain this year...and at present (Nov of 2009) we have about a 10 inch surplus. That is really good news. The wildlife population is in great shape here...lots of black bear, white tail deer, wild turkey, quail, water foul,songbirds and such. So all in all, we are blessed....


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