Chances are, if you’ve seen the Rolling Stones in concert, you’ve seen Chuck Leavell play the keyboards.
The Georgia musician was a member of the Allman Brothers Band and after leaving the group in 1975, he founded his own group, Sea Level. After that band broke apart, he found himself as a session player in recording studios and backing up different musicians like Eric Clapton, the late George Harrison, Gov’t Mule, Train, the Black Crowes and Montgomery Gentry.
In 1982, he started touring with the Rolling Stones.
When he’s not touring or recording, he’s at his home in Georgia. He’s a tree farmer in Twiggs County, near Macon. He has twice won the title of Georgia Tree Farmer of the Year.
We asked him last week about his life and what he’ll do when he appears at the Columbus Museum Tuesday night.
This interview, conducted via email, has been edited for length and clarity.
What got you into tree farming? It’s all my wife’s fault. Rose Lane’s family has been connected to the land for generations as farmers, tending cattle, tending forestland and generally being good stewards of the land. In 1981, her grandmother passed away and left her about 1,000 acres of land ... and it then became our responsibility to carry on this heritage of stewardship. I investigated several options and found an interest in forestry. For one thing, I reminded myself where my instrument comes from -- the resource of wood. I entered into a correspondence course while touring with The Fabulous Thunderbirds in the early ’80s, and after that we began to actively manage our land for forestry.
How often are you away from home? That totally depends on the year, what’s going on and if I’m touring or not. With the Stones, the touring commitments are usually a year and a half to two years. The last tour, the Bigger Bang Tour, was two years, from 2005-07. Between that tour and other things I had going on, I’d guess I was home about four or five months out of that time. Since then I’ve had more time at home, but between recording sessions, my work with the Mother Nature Network (www.mnn.com), promoting my new book (“Growing a Better America”) and other activities, I still have traveled quite a lot. This year I’ll be touring with John Mayer, so I’ll be burnin’ up the ol’ road again.
How many tours have you been on with the Rolling Stones? Since I joined in 1982, we’ve done seven tours.
Are there other bands that you go on tour with besides the Stones? Oh, sure. I’ve mentioned that I’ll be working with John this year ... and I do my own shows from time to time, and also throw in speaking engagements here and there. In recent years I’ve toured with Gov’t Mule and occasionally sat in with my old pals, the Allman Brothers Band
How old were you when you started playing the piano? Very young ... my mother played, and I started learning from her when I was around 6 or 7. I didn’t just do it constantly, but when I got serious and started playing in my first bands, I was 13. Since then I’ve been pretty well committed to it.
Are the piano/keyboards the only instrument you play? I fool around a bit with the guitar and mandolin, but I wouldn’t say I’m all that good at it. But I enjoy those instruments and occasionally pull them out to play.
What kinds of stories will you be telling during your Columbus Museum appearance? All kinds of things ... from my early experiences working with the Allmans, Stones, (Eric) Clapton, George Harrison and others. And also a bit about my commitment to environmental issues.
Will you also be performing some tunes that night? Absolutely!