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Morning Profile: Chuck Leavell, from Trees to Stones

Chuck Leavell feels more at home in the back woods of Bullard, Ga. than anywhere. As a tree farmer, that’s only fitting.

But he steps easily into other settings.  Like Tryst Coffeehouse-Bar for a lengthy interview on a low to the floor mustard velour couch. Well-dressed with a thick wavy mane of white hair and a southern drawl, he has toured with the Rolling Stones, playing piano and keyboards. It has taken him all over the world to locales like exotic Copacabana Beach in Rio. But being a tree hugger has also lured him to Washington to lobby his cause, testify on two Senate farm bills, meet two presidents and attend a black-tie White House dinner for Prince Charles and wife, Camilla.

Those trees are as close as his business cards. His are varying shades of sand and made of two-ply southern pine.

This week Leavell rolled into town to speak at the National Press Club about his newly released book, Growing a Better America, slum it with the Second Amendments, a congressional rock band, and meet with politicians like Sens. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). “They can play,” he said firmly, when pressed on whether the congressional band was any good. “I just think it’s really cool that we have musicians in Congress.” While impressing them with his music, he chats them up on things just as close to this heart like the daily loss of forest and natural lands to growth and development. “The country loses 2500 acres a day,” he says, reeling off a host of statistics.

When lobbying Congress he’s often asked, “When are the Stones going to tour again?” Likely next year. But he says only that next year’s the 50th anniversary of the band and wouldn’t that be a fine time to celebrate? “I think it’s a shame if we don’t celebrate that,” he says with a smile. “Of course it’s up to Mick and Keith.”

Leavell (above second from right) is well-versed in media, both from an insider’s perspective and from an outsider’s, counting on his shrewd PR rep in tow to sometimes nix material that might bring trouble…

He’s Director of Environmental Affairs for an environmental blog, Mother Nature Network, in Atlanta. With 22 million page views a month, it has 25 employee and recently reached number two status on Alexa for all environmental sites. Fox News’ Neil Cavuto has interviewed him.  But he’s not a Fox News fan, really. “I find them to be skewed and that makes it difficult for me to enjoy.” Hands down, he watches CNN (his favorites are Fareed Zakaria and Candy Crowley) and reads Politico, Roll Call and, he stresses, FishbowlDC. Something else: “I love NPR,” he says, openly gushing. “I listen when I’m riding around the plantation.”

As well as he navigates the media world, he sifts seamlessly into music. He recently recorded with John Mayer.  He downplays Mayer’s relationship scandals, such as his on again off again issues with actresses such as Jennifer Anisten, and says Mayer is one of the best guitar players maybe anywhere. “Man, he’s an outstanding guitar player,” he said. “I was amazed with how he could come up with songs on spot.” He’d tell Leavell, give him 20 minutes and come up with something brand new.

Music. Politics. The forest. Leavell says life is all about balance.  “If you hold my hand to the fire, yes, I prefer the forest. When I’m back home in the woods I can hear the wind of the pines.”

Politico also had a story on him this week. Read it here.

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