Rolling Stones keyboardist talks passion for environmental causes


The little-known Ray Charles tune "Losing Hand" is on Leavell's new CD of old blues classics "Back to the Woods" for good reason.

"I went to a Ray Charles concert when I was 12 years old and it literally changed my life," Leavell said. "It made me want to be a musician."

We met at the Gold Dust Lounge at Fisherman's Wharf to talk about his three-decades with the Stones making music and making the world a better place.

"We have these discussions and sometimes they go, 'What's he doing talking about these trees,' but they get it," Leavell said. "We're talking about people who are parents and have families and have concerns about the future."

These days, the pianist who played with the Allman Brothers Band and now the Rolling Stones is as comfortable on a tractor as he is on a piano stool. In fact, when he's not on the road, the music man can be found living on Charlane Plantation -- his 2,200-acre tree farm in Georgia with his wife of 40 years. It's a connection to the land from which sprouted his desire to protect it.

"We're growing exponentially; I guess it was 2011, we saw the birth of the 7-billionth person on the planet," Leavell said. "My heavens, that's just a lot of pressure on our natural resources and our natural lands. My concern is that we wake up to this problem and that we face it."

As an active conservationist, Leavell is a lecturer and published author on the subject. He is also a founding partner of the Mother Nature Network -- the most visited environmental news and information website in the world.

"When we launched this in 2009, we started getting a good number of hits on environmental issues including global warming," Leavell said. "Dan, that's escalated now to almost 10 million unique visits a month. It's extraordinary. And while it's great to talk about the success, what it says to me is that people care deeply about these issues."

But while Leavell finds enormous "satisfaction," pun intended, in his conservation work, he's not giving up his day job -- 800 plus shows with the Rolling Stones and counting.

"Being on stage and doing the shows, I think we all have this feeling of, man, how fortunate are we that we still get to do this," he said. "They're celebrating 50 years and I'm celebrating 30 years now and it's just incredible."

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