Mic Check: Chuck Leavell spending time as ‘The Tree Man’ during summer off from touring

Chuck Leavell has played with The Allman Brothers Band and The Rolling Stones during his storied career.

Editor’s note: With live music and concert reviews on hold due to COVID-19, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is focusing on how Georgia musicians are spending their time in our feature, Mic Check.

The last major appearance by Chuck Leavell before the coronavirus shut down the entertainment industry happened, fittingly, at The Allman Brothers Band 50th anniversary celebration at Madison Square Garden in March.

A musical titan who played with ABB during its influential ’70s period, as well as his own Sea Level and, for nearly four decades, as the touring keyboardist with The Rolling Stones, Leavell isn’t used to having a summer — and likely longer — to spend at Charlane Plantation, his treasured tree farm outside of Macon.

But, with his wife of 47 years, Rose Lane, always nearby, the opportunity to take a breath has been gratifying for the genial pianist.

Leavell fans who miss seeing him on the road with the Stones this year will soon be able to catch him in the upcoming documentary about Jimmy Carter’s intersection with the music industry (“Rock & Roll President,” which has been acquired by CNN Films and will air in September) as well as his own documentary, “The Tree Man,” that Leavell hopes to release in November.

Here is what he had to say during a recent chat as he drove around Macon.

A documentary about Chuck Leavell's life as a musician and tree farmer is in the works for release in 2020.

Q: The last time we spoke was the morning after The Allman Brothers anniversary show in New York (March 11). I went to the airport, you went to do an interview with CNN and by that night, the entire country had turned upside down and a few weeks later, the Stones tour was off.

A: That’s right. And what a great night that was. (Singer/guitarist) Warren (Haynes) was on fire. Yes, what a drag it is to lose the Stones tour. Everybody hopes for the same time next year, but we just don’t know. I hate to say it, but I kinda have my doubts with shows of that scale (stadiums) happening any time soon. I know the guys want to stay busy, and it seems like they’re making the best of it.

ExploreChuck Leavell on his joy of playing with The Allman Brothers at 50th anniversary show

Q: I assume you’ve been spending time on the tree farm these past few months?

A: (Rose Lane) and I have, yes. I tell people I almost feel guilty because if you have to shelter in place, I have a very good place to do it with lots of open air. It is my other life, my other profession. I’ve been dedicating myself to the land. I’ve been planting trees, doing a lot of maintenance. I’m loving every minute of it. It’s a lot of physical work. I would have been on tour right now and left some of this work in the capable hands of our small staff, but to be able to be here…I secretly wished I could take a year off and work on the place. I never imagined it would be like this, but let’s go with the flow. I’ve just gone crazy with bird feeders and bird watching, and that’s very relaxing and soothing, and it’s helped to keep the mentality factor in a good place. I do remind myself what my profession is (laughs). I have been sitting behind a piano and practicing and a little more lately since the Georgia heat has come in.

Musician Chuck Leavell and wife Rose Lane recently celebrated their 47th anniversary. Leavell is known for his keyboard prowess with The Allman Brothers Band and The Rolling Stones' touring outfit.

Credit: Lucy Hewitt

Credit: Lucy Hewitt

Q: Have you been listening to or watching anything in particular?

A: I just watched a documentary about George Martin on AXS, and in terms of listening, to be honest, it’s mostly in my truck when I’m riding around and will tune into the SiriusXM classic rock channel.

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Q: What do you miss about life right now?

A: I miss the travel, and I miss my Stones family. We’ve communicated a bit between us and the difficult thing for most of us is that normally if a tour got canceled for some other reason, you could fill the time with session work or other gigs. But this (coronavirus) has shut everything down. I’ve done some virtual appearances, and with Capricorn (Sound Studios) open, I’ve been giving some thought to some studio work. I’m starting to think about another solo project and get some kind of plan for that.

Q: What’s the latest on your documentary (“The Tree Man”)?

A: It took the People’s Choice Award at the Sedona International Film Festival, and we’ve entered in some others, like the Macon Film Festival. I’m very pleased with the results and especially pleased with Allen Farst, our filmmaker, who did a marvelous job. We worked together on the thing for more than three years, shot it around the world, and we tried to blend three elements: music, forestry and the most important is a love story. I think he balanced it very well.

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