Talking Trees with Davey Tree

Tree Stewards ft. The Rolling Stones' Chuck Leavell

October 14, 2021 The Davey Tree Expert Company Season 1 Episode 40
Talking Trees with Davey Tree
Tree Stewards ft. The Rolling Stones' Chuck Leavell
Show Notes Transcript

Chuck Leavell, keyboardist and musical director for The Rolling Stones, is also an environmentalist focused on sustainable forestry, and he sits down to talk about how he came to love trees and why they're important. Listen to learn about a fellow tree steward who loves trees as much as us!

In this episode we cover:

  • How Chuck found his way to forestry (1:03)
  • Feeling a connection to the woods (4:58)
  • Why he started the "The Tree Man" documentary (5:54)
  • Gardening (7:09)
  • Visiting Paris, The City of Trees (8:03)
  • How Chuck came to realize sustainable forestry is important (9:01)
  • Advocacy (10:22)
  • How to make a difference (11:41)
  • How to watch the documentary (12:29)

To find your local Davey office, check out our find a local office page to search by zip code.

To learn more about Chuck Leavell and his tree work, check out his website
Connect with Davey Tree on social media:
Twitter: @DaveyTree
Facebook: @DaveyTree
Instagram: @daveytree
YouTube: The Davey Tree Expert Company
LinkedIn: The Davey Tree Expert Company

Have topics you'd like us to cover on the podcast? Email us at We want to hear from you!


Doug Oster: Welcome to the Davey Tree Expert Company's podcast Talking Trees. I'm your host Doug Oster. Each episode showcases one of Davey's certified arborists sharing advice with everyone about caring for your trees and landscapes. We'll talk about everything from introduced pests, seasonal tree care, deer damage, how to make your trees thrive, and much, much more. Tune in every Thursday to learn more because here's the Talking Trees podcast, we know trees are the answer. We've got a special show for you today. That's for sure.

We all know the Rolling Stones but did you know their keyboardist and musical director Chuck Leavell is also a tree steward himself? Chuck has written three books about trees, manages a tree farm in Georgia, and is an environmentalist focused on sustainable forestry. While the Stones toured the US he sat down for an interview about his love of trees, and his passion for spreading the word about growing them the right way. It's all chronicled in the documentary film Chuck Leavell: The Tree Man. Chuck, welcome to the show. Let's get right to it. How did you find your way to forestry?

Chuck Leavell: Well, back in 1981, Rose Lane's grandmother passed away, leaving her a nice sizable piece of land about 1,000 acres, which was a diversified farm. It had row crops, it had some cattle on it, and it did also have some forestry components. We had to think about what we were going to do with this land. We knew it was family land. We certainly didn't want to sell it. This was back in the early '80s and the estate tax situation was much different than it is today. The exemption was something like $300,000. We were saddled with a huge bill from the IRS for estate taxes.

It actually caused Rose Lane and her brother Alton to sell some property that they had inherited from their father to make the initial payment to the IRS. Then we had a 15-year schedule of payments to finish the rest of the money that was owed for the estate taxes. I like to say that we didn't inherit anything. The US government and the IRS inherited our land, and they gave us the opportunity to buy it back from them, which is pretty much the way it was. It's much different now. We don't have such a challenge with the exemption being what it is. I think it's something like $10 million now before you have to pay anything in the state taxes.

As we pondered what to do, of course, I wanted to follow my career in music. It looked like row cropping, and cattle farming and some of the other things we looked at like peach trees, or pecan trees, or nursery stock would be a whole lot of day-to-day requirement. Then we thought about forestry. First of all, there was a personal connection for me, where does that instrument that's given me such joy and such a great career come from. Of course, it comes from the resource of wood, as does most musical instruments. There was a personal feeling of if I could plant trees and take care of them, they do so many good things.

Now, I'm not going to use pine trees to make a piano or a guitar but nevertheless, many good things are made from pine trees, such as materials to make books and magazines and newspapers and materials to build our home, schools, churches. Of course, they clean our air, they clean our water, provide home and shelter to all manner of wildlife. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Also, because it was long-term, it wouldn't require so much day-to-day that made sense for us. We moved forward with that. We started managing the forest that did exist on the acreage and then we began to plant trees and open fields.

I began to study forestry and learn as much as I could about it and I still consider myself a student of forestry. Between what I made as a musician and what we received from the proceeds of the sale of the land that Alton, my brother-in-law and Rose Lane sold, and then also using some timber harvest funds we finally paid off the IRS and were able to move forward.

Doug: Before you started working on Charlane converting the property did you feel a connection to the woods or did it come later?

Chuck: Well, as I mentioned, there was a personal connection concerning music and wood. As I learn more and more about forestry, there were so many other connections. I like to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, "In the woods, we return to reason and faith" and that means a lot to me. In the crazy world of rock and roll, you need something to balance it. For me, the work I do in forestry is that balance, and also just taking a walk in the woods and enjoying it aesthetically provides an incredible balance for me. Those are the personal connections that I have.

Doug: What was the genesis of Chuck Leavell: The Tree Man documentary?

Chuck: Well, my motivation was simply to have a document for future generations of our family. We have four grandchildren now and I can see in the future, maybe some great-grandchildren. I wanted them to have some type of document not just me as a musician, but as our family and the love story that Rose Lane and I have together and the work in the environmental arena. That was my motivation. I was so proud of the way it turned out. Our filmmaker, Allen Farst just did a wonderful job of weaving those three themes together, the music, the conservation, and the love story. Now I'm very proud to have that.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that it also tells my story to the public and hopefully, lets people that have heard songs that I've played on, or have seen me live and in concert, know a little bit more about my career and what I've been doing for the last 50 years.

Doug: I couldn't help but notice that beautiful raised bed vegetable garden at Charlane featured in the film. Is that a Rose Lane thing or something you enjoy too?

Chuck: Well, Rose Lane is definitely more of the gardener than I am, but I do love going out there and helping every now and then. We also have staff at Charlane that help with the garden. As you know Doug, and as your listeners know, there's just such joy that you get out of putting that seed in the ground and looking after it, watering it, nurturing it as it grows, and then seeing those vegetables come to be. Then taking them and putting them in the kitchen and rinsing them off and enjoying fresh tomatoes, or cucumbers or carrots or celery or whatever it may be. It's really mostly Rose Lane that looks after our garden.

Doug: Also in the film, you talk about Paris as not only the City of Lights, but the city of trees, and they let you drive a boat through Paris?

Chuck: Yes, that was an incredible segment. It really was. Our filmmaker Allen arranged for that boat trip and it really was so special. I can't tell you. It was a beautiful late afternoon into evening and it was a really cool little boat. It was a very romantic setting. You're in Paris for heaven's sake, doesn't get much more romantic than that up and down the Seine River. Not many people knew that about Paris that every tree in Paris is documented. They have an incredible urban forest in Paris. I think it stands as a model that many other cities could follow.

Doug: When did you realize not only that sustainable forestry was so important, but that spreading the word about this type of work was equally as critical?

Chuck: Well, once we made the decision to primarily focus on forestry at Charlane, then it began a process of studying and educating myself and ourselves Rose Lane of course, involved as well. I went to government sources, the NRCS, which I think back then was called the conservation service or something. They had great pamphlets and information. I went to the library and checked out books on forestry and land use. I went to meetings and seminars that were put on by forest organizations. I just tried to talk to other people that were doing this, to talk to foresters and just educate myself as best I could on the process of managing forest land. I still consider myself a student of forestry.

I've always wished I could take enough time off to go take some Dendrology courses and learn more about tree identification and such. I guess it was somewhere along the mid '80s, that I realized it was beyond just the work itself but, the advocacy that was important to let other people know how important trees and forest are in so many different ways. That brought the first book called Forever Green: The History and Hope of the American Forest. After that I realized the importance of educating young people about these issues, and that's when the children's book, The Tree Farmer, came to be.

Later on, I started thinking about the challenges we have with the population of our own country and population of the world, and the pressure on our natural resources. That's when I came up with Growing a Better America, Smart Strong and Sustainable. I enjoy the advocacy, I enjoy giving speeches from time to time to various groups, I enjoy going to schools and interacting with young people on these subjects. I think music gives me a little bit of an interesting platform to make these outreach efforts.

Doug: How do you think people concerned about the environment can make a difference or can they?

Chuck: Well of course. I mean, I always tell people first thing, go plant a tree. It will make you feel good. It's easy to do, you get to watch it grow. Plant a lot of trees, plant trees in your yard, plant trees in your neighborhood, plant trees in parks, or at your children's schools. Beyond that, of course you can get involved with organizations that are doing their best. You have to be careful. You want to make sure that if you're contributing money, that the money's actually going for the effort and not just to administrative costs. That requires a little digging. Again, planting a tree is a very good feeling.

Doug: What do you hope that people will get out of watching The Tree Man, and how can people see the documentary?

Chuck: Well, again I think the impetus for me was just to have a document for my family, and I guess also for a clip of a period of time. I guess we're looking mostly at the '70s through the present day in this documentary, but I think it is a very interesting period of time. Hopefully it serves that purpose as well. As far as how people can see it, at present it is available on most all streaming services and that includes Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Tubi, all of those services with the exception of Netflix. We are not on Netflix yet, we may be in the future but right now it's all the other ones. It's very easy to find if you just Google, Chuck Leavell: The Tree Man, it pops up all over the place.

It's also available in hard copy form on Amazon or on my website, It's available in Blu-ray and in DVD, so there's all kinds of options for people to view and I hope they will.

Doug: I hope they will too, Chuck it's truly a wonderful documentary. Always great to talk with you. Now tune in every Thursday to the Talking Trees podcast from the Davey Tree Expert Company. I'm your host Doug Oster, and do me a favor. Subscribe to the podcast, we're having fun here. Heck we had somebody from The Rolling Stones on. Next week, Chelsi Abbott returns to the show to tell us about healing gardens, which are very popular right now. You can find out how to create your own healing garden too. As always, we like to remind you on the Talking Trees podcast, trees are the answer.


[00:14:31] [END OF AUDIO]