On a January day in 2019 I met Chuck Leavell in Georgia’s geographic center. We met to write a magazine cover story. Our story would lead to a feature on his wife, Rose Lane, and later Chuck’s profile-interview for the James Dickey Review. Earlier, Chuck had written back-cover praise for my book on the Carolina bays. Two writers had come together. Now two sons of the American South are co-writing Chuck Leavell’s story of music, trees, and family.
Chuck Leavell’s keyboards and vocals grace the works of Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, John Mayer, The Black Crowes, George Harrison, The Indigo Girls, Blues Traveler, Train, Montgomery-Gentry, Lee Ann Womack, and many other artists. His work with the Allman Brothers Band is legendary. His piano feature on “Jessica” and Gregg Allman’s “Laid Back’s” “Multicolored Lady” endure as classics.
In 1982, Chuck began touring as keyboardist, vocalist, and musical director for the Rolling Stones. He tours with them to this day. “Without the continuity Chuck brings to us, the Stones would not be the Stones,” said Keith Richards.
Chuck’s history with the Stones goes back a ways. Chuck’s favorite Stones song to play with the band is “Honky Tonk Women.” He first heard the song while living in Nashville. “Man, I was riding down a road and a new Stones song came on the radio and blew me away. I pulled over to listen to it and went straight to the record store.” Today, he plays the song with the band. Life’s come full circle and within that circle is Chuck’s role as a noted environmentalist.
While riding a tour bus with the Fabulous Thunderbirds in the mid 1980s, Chuck studied forestry by correspondence. He and Rose Lane turned their 4,000-acre Charlane Woodlands & Reserve into a textbook tree farm. Conservation organizations recognize their work, praising them. Chuck is as comfortable on a tractor as on a piano bench. He’s the only two-time recipient of the Georgia Tree Farmer of the Year award.
In 1999, the American Tree Farm System selected Chuck and Rose Lane as National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year. The National Arbor Day Foundation, Georgia Conservancy, FFA, and other conservation organizations praise Chuck for his work. He sponsors a scholarship at the University of Georgia and sits on conservation boards and committees. Chuck’s book, Forever Green: The History and Hope of the American Forest earned praise acclaimed by the forestry and conservation communities.
PBS’s documentary series, “America’s Forests with Chuck Leavell,” illustrates how vital public and private forest habitats are to our communities’ well-being and economic health. Chuck co-founded the Mother Nature Network, at one time the world’s most visited online network for news and information about the environment and responsible living.
The writing’s underway. This spring Chuck and I plan a walk through the iconic Capricorn Records in Macon. Music historians credit Macon’s Capricorn Records for creating the Southern Rock genre. Consider it hallowed ground.
Musicians and writers, artists each, harbor passions. It’s what makes them tick. Chuck’s passions include family, trees and music. Mine include family, writing, rock history, nature, nostalgia, and the American South. Wayne Ford of the Athens Banner Herald wrote, “Tom Poland is an inquisitive man who keeps an eye out for extravagant chunks of nature, disappearing cultures, and people who are salt of the earth. He has ridden those so-called back roads for years chewing foods, sipping drinks, absorbing stories and documenting his finds. Change is what Poland touches upon frequently.”
In 2018, Governor Henry McMaster conferred the Order of the Palmetto upon Tom noting that, “His work is exceptional to the state.” The Order of the Palmetto is South Carolina’s highest civilian honor.
Together, Chuck and I will document the life and career trajectory of a Southern musician and conservationist. Chuck Leavell is from Birmingham, Alabama. Tom Poland is from Lincolnton, Georgia.