We arrived in Milan about 9am on Independence Day. Bobby and Holly Keys were on the same flight as us, and it was great to see them. We claimed our luggage and found the vans that awaited us….loaded up and headed to the Principe De Savoia hotel. The flight had been fine, but still we were pretty tired…and hungry. So we checked in to our room and decided to go see about some food. We had made it just in time for the breakfast buffet. They were about to close it down. So we hit the buffet and had a nice breakfast. But I was shocked at the bill…90 Euros! Whew, that’s more than $50 each. It’s going to be a very expensive European tour! After that we went back to the room to take a nap, and got up around 3pm. The rehearsals were supposed to begin the next day, on the 5th…but Arnold Dunn had called and said that Mick and Keith wouldn’t be coming in until the 6th and we’d have the rest of the day and the next day off. Rose Lane and I went out for a walk that afternoon, exploring the famous Duomo (church) in the main square of Milan, as well as window shopping around the area. After returning to the hotel we inquired at the Concierge desk about a restaurant for dinner….somewhere out and away from the overly expensive hotel restaurants. He told us about a family run place nearby called the Plaza De Republica restaurant, and we made the reservations. It was a great little place, and not crowded due to the semifinal match for the World Cup between Germany and Italy. It seemed that most all of the country had stopped to watch the match, and even in the restaurant they had a small tv that most of the staff were watching. We had a really nice meal there, which was much more reasonably priced than our breakfast was, with a nice Italian Chardonnay. Afterwards we watched the rest of the first half of the match with the patrons and staff, then went back to the hotel to watch the second half. Italy won, and afterwards you could hear the celebrations outside….honking horns, people shouting. Great fun. We called it a day and slid into our dreams.
July 23, 2006
July 12, 2006
In the morning…or more accurately the mid morning, as we’ve been sleeping pretty late this whole week….we made our coffee (I had saved a coffee maker I had bought in Europe on the last tour and brought it out for this leg) and took our time doing our computer things and usual routines. Afterwards we went out and had lunch in a nice cafe near the Duomo in the main square of town, then mostly window shopped. We looked at some clothing and shoe stores…after all, Milan is the fashion capitol of Italy…but again, the prices were sky high and we didn’t really see anything that we couldn’t live without anyway, so it was mostly just looking. Earlier in the day we had a call from Ronnie Wood inviting us to dinner that evening. Of course we accepted, and it was lined up for eight thirty to meet in the lobby. Ronnie has been doing so great, and it’s public knowledge that he had a short stint in a rehab facility prior to this leg of the tour. He’s trying very hard this time around, and so far he’s just fantastic. I’ve offered him my support several times, and it was most flattering to have him call us up and invite us out with he and Jo. So after some down time in our room, we met at the appointed hour and went out to a very nice place that he and Jo had been to earlier in our stay there. It was really great to have the one on one time with them and share a good meal together. They are such fine people, and it’s nice to sort of re-connect with them.
When Ronnie went to pay the bill, the owner refused to take any money….as he had the last time they were there. Fun to get a comp meal every now and then!
Back at the hotel we did our ritual packing…ugh….and left our bags by the door for Spin to pick up in the morning. Then we wound down, finishing up our last night in Milan. It had been a great week and a successful new beginning for our European tour!
July 11, 2006
Monday the 10th was an off day. The principals were doing a press conference, but that didn’t include us, so we had the day mostly to ourselves. Of course I did my usual routine of email communications and a workout in the hotel fitness center. News from home was that the drought is persisting…not good. But nothing to be done about it, just keep praying for rain. A couple of days prior, Fabio had invited me to come do his radio show which he does every Monday around 4pm or so. I had accepted the invitation, so he met me in the hotel lobby to take me there. It was only about two blocks away, so we walked there. With Fabio was Alex “Kid” Gariazzo, who plays bass with Fabio in his band and also plays in other situations. Alex speaks excellent English, and would help with the translation for the radio show. So we went on the air with the three of us. Fabio had selected an “all Chuck” set of music, ranging from the Fabulous Thunderbirds to Eric Clapton to Fabio’s record I did with him to Stones and even Southscape. We had a great time with it all, and had lots of phone calls and emails into the station. I was grateful to Fabio for giving me the exposure.
Fabio invited us to dinner later…with Maurizio, Jasmine, Alex, and Rose Lane and me, and we accepted, making plans to meet about eight o’clock. Rosie and I killed some time with a short walk and watching tv, then met Fabio and company down in the lobby at the appointed time. We walked to a nice bistro nearby that he knew about and had a great meal and a great time just talking and sharing stories. The mood was high all over Milan and Italy with the World Cup victory, and we got caught up in the festive feeling.
Fabio insisted that we all go to an Italian Ice Cream parlor afterwards, and we wound up at Bottego de Gelatto. We all had some of the best Italian ice cream ever…truly amazing stuff. I had two doses of the “melon” flavor, which was unbelievable, as was the lemon flavor. Wonderful stuff! That capped off a great day, and Maurizio and Jasmine took us back to the hotel to retire for the night.
The next night, the 11th, we were finally on the real stage for a real show…after all this time! Yea! It was a great “re-starter” of a show, all things considered. Maybe not one of our great ones, but we were all so glad to just get through it without incident. Keith played better than any of us expected, even if he had a bit of trouble here and there. We put in “Under My Thumb” on the B stage…but much to my surprise, the audience didn’t react to it much…almost as if they didn’t know the song. That was a disappointment, as I had thought it would work really well out there. We also tried doing two ballads instead of our usual one…putting in “Streets of Love” for the first time, followed immediately by “As Tears Go By”. That seemed to work well. The rest of the set was pretty standard fare, but we all have to realize that while we’ve been playing a lot of these same songs in the US, in Europe they have not heard them.
At the end of the set we all heaved a collective sigh of relief. Back at the hotel, the band and Michael Cohl hosted a little party. We all talked about how great it was to get this show under our belt, and how good we thought it had gone. As Michael said to me….”…we’re BIB… back in business”!!
July 9, 2006
Today is the World Cup final, and Italy will play France for the title. The whole country is all abuzz with excitement, and we’ll watch the match tonight in a big room at our hotel that has been set up by our tour personnel. But before we were to get to that, we went down to the San Suro stadium to have some time to rehearse on the big stage. Mick didn’t want to do too much, as it was hot. I went down early and made a short list of songs I thought we should go through and checked out the stage and my gear. All was in good order, and when the rest of the band arrived we breezed through about six or seven numbers. Keith wanted to get “Slipping Away” and “Before They Make Me Run” into the set, so after Mick left we went over those. Everything went smoothly and we all headed back to the hotel.
The big match was at 8pm. There was to be food and drink in the “game room” that had been set up, so Rosie and I went down about five minutes before game time. It was a crowded room, with all the band members there except Charlie, and all the staff as well as some family and friends hanging out. We all shouted at the huge screen from time to time when something significant would happen…most all of us pulling for Italy as we were there in their country. France was favored, though…and seemed to control most of the game as it progressed. But Italy fought hard, and after France had scored the first goal when their most famous player Zidane make a penalty kick, Italy countered with a brilliant header goal by Matarazzi from a corner kick. The game continued to the end of the second half with a 1-1 draw. Then in the overtime, neither team scored…which put it into penalty kicks. But before it got to the penalty kicks, Zidane did a strange thing…he head butted Matarazzi in the chest with a severe blow, sending him crashing down to the ground. He was ejected by the referee with a “Red Card”. It was a sad way to see him go out of the game…and as he was retiring it was a sad way to see him end his career. In any case, when it got to the penalties, France missed on their third kick….and Italy made all five of theirs, making them the World Champions. It was so much fun to watch the game and then to hear all the celebration afterwards….the whole town was going crazy! Rosie and I walked outside to listen to all the hoopla for a while. Horns honking, folks walking out in the streets waving the Italian flag…lots of cheering and shouting. Just like the way it was a few days before when they beat Germany, only amplified about 10 times! We enjoyed watching it all for a half hour or so, then went to our room and listened from there for another couple of hours before we shut the windows and went to bed.
July 8, 2006
7/6, 7 and 8
Now we finally get to play music again! Our rehearsals began on the 6th. I had not seen any of the principal members of the band since our arrival, and I went down to the rehearsal hall early to do some more “homework”, and to check out my equipment. It was great to see all the crew folks again, and when the rest of the band arrived, it made for a great reunion for all of us. Of course everyone had Keith on their minds…and when he came in we all went to greet him and ask how he felt, how he was fairing. He looked fine…just like Keith Richards! I didn’t bother with asking about details of his accident…and as I said earlier, it’s up to him to decide about discussing any of that with the public. The main thing for all of us was that he seemed fine, healthy and ready to work.
We all set our minds to the business at hand over the next three days. I suggested several tunes to try out…like “Monkey Man”, “Under My Thumb”, “The Last Time”, “Undercover”, “Let Me Go”, “Harlem Shuffle” and many more. We got to some of them and others we didn’t get to. Mick and I had talked about “Streets Of Love” as well…because it had done pretty well here as a single. We also went over lots of tunes that we’ve already done on the tour but needed to refresh to make sure we were comfortable playing them. On the last day in the rehearsal hall Mick and I devised a set list to try out and go through all the way. We did this and everything was feeling good. I was somewhat disappointed not to get to some of the songs I thought would work well, but during the course of the tour we can still make some changes.
July 8th was Ashley’s 24th birthday. I sent her some flowers and of course we got a call into her. Rose Lane had suggested a new microwave for her as a present…she doesn’t have one in her Boston apartment. We miss her, and hope we will be able to get her out here during this leg of the tour. She’s taking some chemistry courses in anticipation of going into some pre-med courses. She’s aced them all so far, making in the upper 90s on her tests and exams. We’re very proud of our girl and it’s hard to believe she’s 24 now!
July 5, 2006
Today we went to the gym to shake off the travel from across the ocean, and after that we had another walkabout. I had contacted my friend Maurizio Gliemo, whom we’ve known for many years and who lives near Milan in Pavia. We had been emailing back and forth about getting together, and he invited us out to dinner. Maurizio is an excellent guitar player, and I met him in 1988 when I was on tour with the Fabulous Thunderbirds in Europe. A fellow named Claudio Trotta had contacted me about playing on a recording session with his artist Fabio Treves while we were in Milan at that time. I had accepted the invitation, and we had a great session, recording 6 or so songs for Fabio. Fabio is a blues harmonica player and singer, and is also involved in music promotions, radio shows and other projects. Maurizio played guitar on those sessions and we all became great friends. Years later, Maurizio visited us at Charlane Plantation. I think it was in ‘93. We had a very unusual weather event while he was there…a big ice storm. It caused all the power to go out, and lots of tree limbs were breaking, blocking the roads and creating a mess….although it was a beautiful sight to see. Anyway, we’ve stayed in touch all these years and we looked forward to having diner with him. During the day I worked a little on song suggestions for this leg of the tour. I had a look at some of the shows we did on the Forty Licks tour and some of the sets we’ve been doing on this tour and came up with some ideas to go over with Mick and the band.
When evening came, Maurizio came and picked us up at the hotel at about 8 for dinner. He took us to the oldest restaurant in Milan, called Trattoria Monlue. We had a fine time together, and the food and drink were typically great Italian fare. It was great to catch up with him…he told us of his new girlfriend Jasmine, and we were to meet her a few days later. After dinner he suggested we go by a park not far away from the restaurant to see the tail end of a little blues festival that our mutual friend Fabio was involved in. We got there for the last couple of songs by a band called the Mandolin Brothers. Fabio greeted us warmly, and his wife Susi was there as well. He had never met Rose Lane, so warm introductions were made between some of us. After a few minutes, Fabio had to go to the stage to act as MC and finish out the night’s festival. He graciously introduced me to the crowd of about 200 or so people, and as the heads of the audience turned our way I was greeted with a round of applause and cheers. Very nice of Fabio to do that, and of the folks to show me such a warm reception!
Afterwards, a few of the folks came up for autographs or just to say hello, and I also met some of the performers. We hung around for about 15 or 20 minutes, then said goodnight to them and Maurizio took us back to the hotel.
July 3, 2006
>Well, as we all know by now, we had a longer break than planned due to a little incident with one of our guitarists and a tree in Fiji. The good news is that he’s fine, but it certainly gave all of us a good scare! I won’t go into details…that would be up to Keith to explain. Like I said, the good news is that he’s looking great and ready to play!
Now…a synopsis of what we did with the two and a half months we had off from the tour. Whew, there is a lot to tell, but I’ll try not to ramble too much and hit the highlights. We got to Atlanta from New Zealand after a very long flight…some 28 hours or so of traveling…on April 19. Instead of trying to make it home from there, Rose Lane and I decided to stay with Amy and Steve at their place in Atlanta. Of course we were anxious to see them and to see Miles, our new grandson. It was a wonderful reunion, and even with cobwebs in our heads from the excruciatingly long travel, we were energized to be with them. Miles had grown (as babies are prone to do!) quite a lot, and it’s great to see him in these different stages of his infancy. We all had fun talking about our adventures and catching up on things, and the next day Rosie and I headed home. Amy and Steve had been down to Charlane a few days before and drove our Ford Expedition up to their place so we could drive it back with our entire luggage. Of course getting home after such a long run is always a relief and a joy, and we were really happy to get there and to see Lilly (our Jack Russell “Terrorist”), Maggie and Molly (our border collies) and our cats…Booker, Jazzbeau and Alberta. It was also great to see our Charlane staff…Mike Hattaway, Jacque Bryant, Herman Robertson and Marc Smith.
We unloaded all our bags and settled in to our “nest”. We were still burned out from all the traveling, and it took us several days to get over it. I’m usually not affected very much by jet lag…but coming back from “Down Under” has always given me a challenge, and this would be no exception. In the coming days we got back into our home routine. For me, it meant getting up early and checking out the status of the Plantation, deciding on what the priorities would be for work. Mike, Jacque and all had done a superb job of running things while we were gone.
Marc’s dad had passed away around the time we had gone out on the Asian tour, and in his will had left him a house up in Macon. After considering his situation, he announced to us that he wanted to fix up that house and move into it. Marc has been with us for quite a long time…five or six years. He’s been a valuable part of Charlane Plantation, using his carpentry skills to keep things up, and looking after our grounds and performing various other duties. We hated
to lose him, but we understood his wanting to move on to the next phase of his life. This will obviously create some changes….he’s been living in one of our houses on the Plantation, and now we’ll be looking for someone to come in and replace him. But we decided not to rush into that situation and will wait until we have time to focus on what and who would be best. Back before we left for the Asian tour, I had agreed to do an event related to my new children’s book, The Tree Farmer, after we’d been home about a week. This event was down in Gulfport, Ms. at the DeLisle/Pass Christian Elementary School there. I flew down there on April 25th, and the event was the following day. We were giving away 10,000 copies of The Tree Farmer to an organization called First Book. They are a wonderful group that are dedicated to helping children learn to read and would be distributing most of the books to schools and libraries in the Gulf Coast region where Katrina and Rita caused the loss of so many books along with all the other damage done. The First Lady of Mississippi, Marsha Barbour, was there to participate, and I was most impressed with her sincerity. It all went very well, and the kids at the school were just amazing. Very bright and fun, and they seemed to love talking about trees and the environment. We read from the book to them, had a great discussion, and then I played some songs for them, which they responded enthusiastically to. Afterwards we planted some trees around the school. Great fun, and hopefully we did some good. One thing that struck me during that trip was all the visible damage to the area. I stayed at a hotel on the Gulf Coast and the drive to the school was about 20 miles. So we rode on the coastal highway…and during all those miles the devastation I witnessed was just unreal. Brick churches with big holes knocked in them…roofs completely blown off…. buildings taken off of their foundations and floated down the coast, smashing into other structures…most all of the casinos that were attached to the hotels were torn apart and lying in the water…home after home totally “blown up”. It was really graphic, disturbing and moving to see. They have a huge challenge just to clean up all of the debris, not to mention rebuilding. I hope that our government will do all it can to help those people down there. They are going to need it. Returning home, I focused on Charlane and what the priorities would be. Mike had managed to get quite a lot done while we were away, but there is always more to be do and on a place like Charlane there is no such thing as “catching up”. He was able to get a lot of the prescribed burns done, but I wanted to get a couple of late burns in some areas that needed it, so I started thinking about that. I knew I couldn’t get too much at Charlane on my plate, as I had booked some session in Nashville and I only have a few days at home before going up there to work. We did manage to get one area burned…what we call the “Blue Pines” area. It was about 25 or so acres, and we found a good day with the wind out of the west at about 8 miles per hour. We lit the fire on the east side, allowing it to creep slowly as a back burn. The purpose of doing this is multi-fold. One reason is to help to discourage undesirable growth such as scrub oaks, sweet gum sprouts and such. Another is to help to encourage the growth of natural grasses, weeds and legumes that wildlife prefers. It turned out to be a very successful burn and the results were positive. Then I headed up to Nashville on the 30th. But before I did, we celebrated my 54th birthday on the 28th. It was a nice quiet day…I did all the things I love to do…. had a nice workout in the morning, played the piano some afterwards, worked out in the woods on my tractor for a few hours and spent time with family and friends later in the evening. Wonderful! Around this time Mike Hattaway told me about a tractor he had heard about for sale. We’ve been running the same tractors for over a dozen years now, and I’ve never owned one with an enclosed cab and air conditioning & heat. We had discussed keeping an eye open for a good deal on one. This one was in the Atlanta area and was a John Deere 6420, which is about a 90 horsepower model and had four-wheel drive to boot. It was a ‘03 model with only about 720 hours on it and was at a Caterpillar dealership, a company called Yancey Brothers. I was somewhat reluctant to get into it, as I knew it would be expensive even though it was used, but I told Mike to try to get some more information on it while I was going to be in Nashville. I decided to drive up to Nashville rather than fly…in the end it takes about as much time. The drive was pleasant and I listened to music the whole way up, which is about five and a half hours. I drove to my manager and good friend Buck William’s house where I usually
stay when I’m up there. He and his wife Patti were not there, though…but graciously allowed me to stay. I always enjoy being in their beautiful place out in the country. I think it was this day that I first heard of Keith’s accident. The press had released a short blurb about it, but not
much more. The next day was a session at Omni studios for Miranda Lambert, whose first record (released in ‘05) sold about a million copies. My friend Frank Liddell was producing, and this was an overdub session as they had already recorded the basic tracks. I worked all day, recording about 8 or 9 tracks…all sounding really great. There were no other musicians overdubbing, so I just dove in and cranked out all my parts. The tunes sounded great, and I think Miranda will have another winner on her hands. Not sure when it will come out or the title of the CD, but I’m proud to be on it. The next day was another session at Omni for Frank’s new artist, David Nail. David doesn’t have any CD’s out yet, but we are all hoping that this will be picked up soon by one of the major labels in Nashville. Frank is working on that and is acting as David’s manager as well as co-producing the project. For this session, Frank had asked me to contact Waddy Wachtel in California to see if he would be willing to play on the project, and we indeed worked that out. Even though I’ve known Waddy for many years, it would be the first time we played together. He did a superb job, and the sessions went smoothly. The complete lineup for the sessions was:
Glenn Worf- Bass
Nir Z- Drums
Waddy Wachtel- Guitars
Dan Dugmore- Guitars, mandolin, pedal steel
Chuck Leavell- Keys
Mike Wruke- Engineer/Co-Producer
Eric Tonkin- Assistant Engineer
Then on the following day I had accepted a session for my old friend Colin James, a Canadian singer/songwriter and great guitar player. Colin is very well known in Canada, and those that pay attention know him in the US as well. This would be the third CD in a series that he calls “The Little Big Band”. It’s all swing music with a great horn section (Room Full of Blues Horns) and recorded live in the studio. I played on the first one of the series many years ago, but had missed the second one due to scheduling. I was fortunate enough to be available this time, and with Colin Linden producing, we arranged the sessions at Sound Emporium studios in Nashville. It was wonderful to see Colin again, and to get to play with him. It was my
first meeting and work with Colin Linden, and I was most impressed with his expertise and personality. We recorded about 8 or 9 tracks that first day, which is quite a lot to get done with a big band live in the studio like that. They were all cover songs…. by artists like Ray Charles, Professor Longhair and others. Great music, great fun. They were to record the rest of the week, but I could only make half of the next day as I had promised our daughter Ashley that I would meet her in Atlanta for dinner. So the next day I worked with the two Colins again up to about 1pm…and we must have recorded another 5 tracks or so. My old friend Reese Wynans, who played keyboard with Stevie Ray Vaughn for many years was to come in and do the rest of the recording…and before I left we got to do a couple of tracks together. He’s a fabulous player, and it was a real groove to play with him…he handled the organ parts and I played the piano on the songs we did together. After that I had to hit the road to meet Ashley and said my goodbyes to all the guys. But before I left, I checked my emails and someone had sent me a link about Keith having problems after his accident and having to go for surgery. Of course this was very disconcerting, and I had no solid information. Ashley was doing an event for the company she works for, Invisalign, in Atlanta. She would be through with her work by early evening, so I met her around 7pm and we went to dinner together. Of course, I was very excited to see her, and we had a great time with just the two of us, catching up on things. After that I decided to drive on home, getting there a little before midnight. The driving made for a long day, and I had no problems sleeping this night!
The next couple of days were filled with work on Charlane. But we had a wonderful event on Sunday, May 7th at Charlane. This would be the day we Christened Miles. It all worked out well, as Ashley came down the day after our dinner together and Amy, Steve and Miles come down on the Saturday prior to the Christening. The Christening itself was just an amazing affair…our friend Rick Lansford, who is a Methodist priest in Macon and the head of the Methodist Children’s Home (who we affectionately call “Daddy Rick”) performed the ceremony. We held it outdoors down at our Water Garden. It was the perfect setting. Most all our family was there…my sister Judy and her daughter Leslie made it, and most all the Whites (Rose Lane’s family) from our area. Steve’s mom Ave and his brother Jeff were there, as well. Daddy Rick did a fantastic job, and the whole thing was very spiritual and moving. Little Miles handled it in perfect stride and seemed to be having a great time. We were all very pleased and it made for a day we’ll never forget.
The coming week would be a busy one… I had an interview with the Financial Times on Monday with a very nice Englishman named Andrew Ward. We had a great talk and rode around Charlane together. The article was to focus
mostly on my work as a conservationist and Tree Farmer, and to discuss the state of forestry in general as it applies to our environment and to the economy as well. Andrew turned out a great piece, which was released about a month or so later, on June 9th. The article read:
Rock ‘n’ Roll and Trees Have a Keyboardist in Common
By Andrew Ward
Published: June 9 2006
Four months ago, Chuck Leavell stepped out in front of 1.5m people on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro and performed live with the world’s most famous rock and roll band. The free concert was one of the highlights of his
20-year career as keyboardist for the Rolling Stones. Although not an official band member, the 54-year-old American has become such a fixture that he helps choose the play list for concerts and sets the tempo on stage.
He has also performed with Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Aretha Franklin. But there is another side to Leavell’s life that could hardly be further removed from his exploits with Mick, Keith, Ron and Charlie. The week before
the Rio concert he was at home in rural Georgia tending to his 2,000-acre tree farm. He has grown timber at Charlane Plantation, near Macon, since he and his wife, Rose Lane, inherited the land from her grandmother 25 years ago. Instead of expensive cars and luxury homes he invests the wealth from his musical career in white oaks, black walnuts and loblolly pines. Many investors have come to appreciate the safe long-term returns offered by timber. But for Leavell, his small forest which teems with wild turkey, deer and even brown bears is more a way of life than a livelihood. There is something about living with nature that helps you keep your priorities in order,”± he says, sitting in the rustic-style living room of his wooden plantation home. You see the forest growing an inch at a time and it helps put the rock and roll lifestyle into perspective. Putting down roots in the countryside is nothing new for a rock musician. All of the Rolling Stones, for example, have sprawling country estates. But few get their hands as dirty as Leavell. Driving around the orange clay tracks that crisscross the plantation, he proudly points out trees that he and Rose Lane planted and charred earth where he has set off controlled fires to thin the undergrowth. “There is nothing phony about his commitment.” says Larry Wiseman,
President of the American Forest Foundation, which represents independent forest owners. “Whenever he is home, he works like any other tree farmer. I’ve called him at 6.30am and found him out on his tractor.” Leavell’s passion for timber does not stop at the gates of Charlane.
He has used his dash of celebrity to become an unofficial lobbyist for family-owned tree farmers in the US and sustainable forestry around the world. He has written a children’s book about trees, spoken at a White House conservation conference, testified before Congress, attended dinner with Prince Charles and sung the national anthem in front of President George W. Bush at a signing ceremony for forestry legislation. While in Puerto Rico with the Rolling Stones recently, he spent the day before the concert with the island’s Secretary of Natural Resources to discuss forest restoration projects. He was rewarded for his efforts in 1999 with the title National Tree Farmer of the Year. Mick Jagger and the band were initially bemused by their keyboardist’s extra-curricular activities but Leavell says they have grown to respect his enthusiasm. He has become a source of information for green-fingered members of the band’s entourage, recently taking a call from a staff member in the UK worried about a sickly tree in his garden. “The tree survived.” he says. It was only after inheriting the plantation in 1981 that Leavell discovered the joy of forestry. He needed to find a use for the land that would earn enough to pay a big inheritance tax bill but also allow him to continue playing music. “Farming was out because we couldn’t afford to pay anyone to run the place when I was touring,” he says. “Suddenly, a light bulb went off in my head: forestry.” He enrolled in a correspondence course about trees while touring with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, a blues-rock band, shortly before being hired by the Rolling Stones. “People would scratch their heads when they saw me reading this stuff on the tour bus,” he says. “But I’m a child of the 60s, so the idea of getting close to nature and doing something good for the environment was appealing. ”That was the early 1980s, when rock stars were still supposed to trash hotel rooms and take drugs in their spare time. Two decades later, Leavell is no longer such an odd man out. So many green-minded celebrities now profess interest in trees that it is tempting to declare forestry the new rock and roll. Leonardo DiCaprio, the Hollywood actor, and pop acts including Coldplay, Dido and Mel C, a former Spice Girl, are among those backing a campaign to tackle climate change by planting trees. Coldplay paid for 10,000 mango trees in India to offset the carbon emissions generated by the making of their CDs and DiCaprio has his own forest in Mexico. Leavell applauds their embrace of the cause. But he is skeptical about measured by the length of the photo opportunity. “I wanted to be someone who was really connected to the land rather than just talking about it,” he says. While recent reports suggest most of Coldplay’s mango trees have died from drought and neglect, Leavell is in it for the long term. The first pines that he and
Rose Lane planted in 1985 is still several years from maturity. Some trees are logged early to sell for pulp. But most will not produce a dividend until he reaches his 70s.
The crop promises him a steady income even after the Rolling Stones retire. “But,” he says, ”his main wish is to leave a healthy plantation for his two daughters and newly born grandson. “I can create a legacy through music that is going to survive long after I’m gone, but I can create another legacy through trees,” he says. “Rose Lane’s family has farmed here for more than 200 years. It’s about preserving our family’s heritage.” Most species at Charlane reach maturity within 35 years, their growth aided by Georgia’s climate. A stand of trees is thinned after about 16
years to sell juvenile wood for pulp but by far the most valuable harvest comes from fully grown trees for lumber. For that patient enough to wait, the returns are appealing. It costs $90-$250 to plant an acre of trees. Once
harvested, that acre would typically yield $3,500$4,000.”It’s not a piece of paper you put in a safety deposit box,” says Leavell. “It’s an investment you see growing every day. It’s more fun than owning stocks and it is better for the
environment.” Analysts say timber prices should remain robust as growth in the global economy increases demand for wood. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that consumption of industrial roundwood will rise by 60 per coming from China. “Wood derivatives are used in 5,000 different products from toothpaste and shampoo to salad dressing,” says Leavell. “What other product is so versatile and indispensable yet entirely renewable?” But there are risks. Imports of cheap timber from low-cost South American countries such as Brazil and Venezuela are putting pressure on prices; the shift in manufacturing of wood-based products, such as furniture, away from
the US is weakening domestic demand; slowdown in the US housing market threatens to soften sales of wooden building material; and consolidation in the forest products industry is reducing the number of potential buyers of timber, making auctions less competitive. Fires, disease and pests are other dangers, each with the potential to wipe out entire forests. The southern pine beetle, for example, has destroyed nearly $1bn of US timberland since the 1960s. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing family-owned tree farmers such as Leavell is the surge in land values after several years of strong growth in real estate prices. This can be a blessing for those who sell to developers but for the industry as a whole the increasing cost of land makes investment in forestry less attractive. The situation is most acute in the US south-east, including Georgia, where population growth is pushing cities such as Atlanta further into surrounding Overall, the US has kept its acreage of forestland stable for the past 100 years but small family-owned tree farms, which face the greatest pressure to sell, are disappearing at a rate of 2m acres a year. Leavell says he is no fan of subsidies but believes more government support is needed to keep small tree farms viable, pointing out that forestry receives only 0.6 per cent of US funding for agriculture. “We are not being paid properly for the services we provide to society, ”he says. “As well as producing wood, forests provide habitat for wildlife and help produce clean air and water. None of this is reflected in the price we are paid for wood.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
The next three days would be taken up with a photo/video shoot for my partners, the Stihl Company. But it was also about this time that we were contacted from the Stones office about a delay in the tour. Keith had indeed undergone surgery for a subdural hematoma, and they now had decided to hold back at least some of the dates. There was not much more info than that…but they indicated it would not start before mid June. Of course
later we found out that it was more serious and that we wouldn’t start until July 11 in Milan. We were all very worried about Keith, but were told that the procedure had gone well and that he would recover fine in time. More
than that we were not told. Actually, I learned more about what was happening by watching reports on CNN than was given to me by the band. In any case, all we could do was to wait for further news and take what was given to us…so I went about my business at hand, and had the Stihl folks
coming and would focus on that. I have had a very special relationship with Stihl for many years now, and they had approached me about doing an updated photo/video shoot for them to promote some of their new products as well as to do some public service announcements on chain saw safety. Jackson D’Armond, Anita Gambil, Jim Riley and several others involved with the shoot came down to Charlane with all the necessary video equipment and we set to work. It was quite a lot of fun, and great to see my Stihl friends again. We wound up with some fantastic shots and video…one, which will be an ad for their “Farm Boss” line of chain saws with a picture of me and our trusted and loyal employee, Herman Robertson, that will appear in some forestry related magazines in the near future. Great fun and great results. The next event of the week would really be a great one for me, a true honor and a day that I shall never forget. About two weeks prior, I had a call from my friend Kirby Godsey, who has been the President of Mercer University in Macon, Ga. for 27 years. I’ve served on some committees with Kirby through the years and have been a great admirer of his. During his tenure he has taken Mercer to great heights, adding some 12 Colleges to the University during his term and raising the endowments to their highest in the history of Mercer. He surprised me by telling me he had submitted to the Board that Mercer bestow an Honorary Doctorate of Music to me during their graduation ceremony this year. The Board had approved it, and he wanted to follow through. Wow, what a wonderful surprise! His only concern had been if I would be there to accept it, and as it turned out, the break from the tour was such that indeed I would be there. So on Saturday, May 13, I accepted my Doctorate from Mercer. Rose Lane, Amy, Steve and Miles, as well as my mother in law Rosaline and our Aunt Mary were there, and a few other friends and family members. It was a great day for me, and in addition to accepting my Doctorate; I played “Georgia On My Mind” for the assembly and was also able to say a few words to the attendees about how much I admire Kirby. Kirby had decided to retire this year, and it was
true honor to be able to tout him at his retirement commencement. He was also the keynote speaker, and gave a very inspiring address with the theme of “The Power of One”. I can’t say enough about how great this man
Is, and to have a Doctorate from Mercer is an honor beyond words for me. I thought a lot about my mom and dad that day……I wish they could have been there, but I know they were smiling down on me!
It was somewhere during this week that Mike got back to me about the John Deere 6420. It turned out that Jeff Foxworthy had owned the tractor, the famous comedian, and he had traded it in on a larger model. A fellow at the Yancey Brothers dealership had it sent down to Macon from Atlanta as they felt it would sell more easily in the Middle Georgia area. So, I made arrangements to go have a look. Steve Bransford, Mike and I went on a Sunday to check it out. It was incredibly clean, had obviously not been used for heavy work and hardly any of the paint was even dulled. I had called a friend at a John Deere dealership and given him the serial number of the tractor, which Mike had obtained a few days before. Through a computer check my friend told me that it was one of the top models of it’s kind. I had looked up the same models on the Internet to check prices, and found that they had a very fair price on it. I drove it around the parking lot of the dealership and checked out all the functions, and I couldn’t find anything wrong with it. I guess Jeff had taken excellent care of it…he must love his tractors, too! So after seeing it at the dealership I called the salesman the next day and made him an offer on it, pending a successful demo at Charlane. I wanted to hook something heavy up to it and make sure it pulled, as it should. He agreed to the terms and they brought it out a couple of days later. We hooked up our largest “cross cut” harrow and Mike took it into a field to give it a go. He reported that it pulled better than he expected, and so the deal was made. I can’t say what a big thing this is…we’ve been working all these years on Charlane…over 20 years now…with tractors that were made in the 70’s. Don’t get me wrong…. I love my classic John Deere 4020 and my 4240. Both are great tractors. But they are “open air”, and
when you’re out there in the freezing cold or in the steaming heat, or kicking up dust when it’s dry like it is now, breathing all that stuff…well, it makes for hard work in tough circumstances. Now we have at least one tractor that offers some comfort from all of that, and is an
excellent model that with care should last us many years. Boy, I love a tractor!! On Sunday, May 21st I made another trip up to Nashville for more sessions. This time it was for an artist named Cole Degges, produced by Mark Wright and Rivers Rutherford. We recorded at the Sound Kitchen, my in Nashville, and the same studio where I recorded “Southscape”. They have a fine Yamaha C7 piano there and the staff and facilities are excellent. We recorded tracks and overdubs for two full days. We had recorded a good
bit of material about six months prior, and Mark and Rivers wanted the same musicians as before on the sessions. So along with me on the keys, we lined up the sessions with the following cats:
Russ Pahl - steel guitar
Kenny Greenberg - electric guitar
John Willis - acoustic guitar
Matt Chamberlain - drums
Eric Darken- percussion
Mark Hill - bass
It all went fine, and to play with those great musicians again was a real treat. I feel like it will do really well and get good airplay on the country stations. I went from Nashville down to Athens, Georgia to rehearse with my long time friend Randall Bramblett and his band for a show we were to do the coming weekend. The show was for the Blind Willie McTell Festival in Thomson, Georgia where McTell was born. This was the 13th year of the festival
And it was my first time playing it. Randall and his band were also doing a set earlier in the day, and then I was to play a set in the early evening with them backing me up. So we needed to have a rehearsal to work out the details, and it was best for me to go to Athens where Randall and some of the other members of the band live to get it done. I spent the night with Randall, and then in the morning went to see my friend Jewett Tucker who also lives in the Athens area and has a beautiful place out in the country…in Cuthbert, Georgia. We toured Jewett’s place and he showed me all the incredible work he’s done and is doing at Tucker Plantation (www.tuckerplantation.com). He started out there a few years ago buying some property from Kenny Rogers, the famous country singer. He’s renovated some old barns on the place and now holds special events there…weddings, receptions and such. He also has some beautiful quarter horses that he breeds and raises there, as well as a new area of about a thousand acres that he’s developing for quail, deer, turkey and duck hunting. He’s done an amazing job, and I really enjoyed spending time with him. Then, we got together with Randall and the band in the late afternoon to rehearse. It went well, but I wished for more time to get it all a bit tighter and to try more songs. Still, it was a smooth rehearsal and the guys played great. After that I headed back home for a day before the gig. During this time my friend Tom Knudson, a writer for the Sacramento Bee, contacted me. We’ve known each other for a few years now and he’s talked about trying to do an article on me for the Bee at some point. It turned out that he was going to be in New York to accept a very prestigious award, the Sydney Hillman award. Tom is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner as well…and is without a doubt one of the best environmental journalists of our times. So it was a great honor for me to have him seek me out to do something on Charlane Plantation. The timing was great, and I suggested he fly down to Atlanta and rent a car to drive to the Blind Willie Fest and see the show, then follow us down to Charlane afterwards and spend the night with us. Then we could do the interview and tour the next day .
That worked out and plans were made. So the next day, on May 20, Rose Lane and I drove up to Thomson for the gig .We got there as Randall was finishing his set, and there were a couple of other acts on before I did my set. My friend Skoots Lyndon had graciously agreed to help me with my equipment and between him and Randall’s tech, Stewart Collins, they set everything up. Tom showed up about an hour before the set, and we had a nice reunion. There was a great crowd of about 1500 people, the largest ever for the event, I was told. Finally, it was time to take the stage, and it went incredibly well.
The crowd was with us the whole way, and we all had a blast. I hope to be able to do more of this kind of thing in the future…either with Randall’s band or on my own…or even perhaps with some other guys that I could put together. It really was fun and went over like gangbusters! After the show I hung around and signed autographs for a while in a booth that they had set up, and then, we headed home. Tom followed us. By the time we got to Charlane it was late…around 1am or so. We had a short talk and a glass or two of wine and called it a night.
The next day Tom and I had an extensive discussion and toured the plantation. He’s a very thorough writer and took tons of notes and recorded our conversations. I know he’ll do a great job on the article and look forward to when he finishes it and gets it out. Not sure when that
Will be…. but he wants to take his time to get it all done. He’s a fine man and it was wonderful that he took the time to come down and see Charlane first hand and to study what we do as landowners and tree farmers. Tom left Charlane in the late afternoon, near evening. We’d managed to get a lot in a day and a half. From there, knowing that we had an extended break, I began to focus on more work on Charlane. The coming days and weeks were spent largely in the woods, mowing, planting, and even getting another late season prescribed burn in. I had one more trip to Nashville on June 4th and 5th for a couple more sessions. I drove up again, and upon arrival I did a quick session for my friend Dr. Jim Coleman. I grew up with Jim in Tuscaloosa, and he’s now a doctor with a good practice in Nashville, but he still plays great guitar and writes great songs. This is a song called “Feed The Children”, for a charity of the same name. If the charity likes the song, then it will become the theme song for them and will be played quite a lot on various television programs. The session went quickly and it was great to see my old pal and to play on his song. The next day I was to work all day on a session produced by Blake Chancey (who produced the incredibly successful early Dixie Chicks records) for a group called Jypsi. This is an unusual band made up of family members ranging from about age 15 to 24. Three sisters (Lillie Mae, Amber Dawn and Scarlett) and a brother (Frank) make up the group. Lillie Mae, the youngest, is the primary singer, Scarlett, 22, plays the mandolin and also sings as does older sister Amber-Dawn who plays the fiddle. Brother Frank is great on guitar and also has a strong voice. The harmonies that they do together are nothing less than stunning…and the fact that they are all siblings and have played all their lives gives them a certain “oneness” that is exciting and awe-inspiring. Great stuff. Blake Chancey worked his magic on the song selection, arrangements and special touches. It was all there for me, and all I did was overdub my bits. It was fun and I was grateful that Blake called me in for the session. I decided to drive down to Atlanta after the sessions and stay with Amy and Steve and Miles. But the sessions went on a bit longer than I had expected, so I got a late start on the drive. I didn’t get to Atlanta until about 2am and was totally wasted. They had left a key out for me, and I snuck in and hit the sack. A few days before, I had a call from Jeff Deizel from Canada. Jeff was the producer on the Cindy Gomez sessions I did up in Toronto during the Stones rehearsals there last year. A very talented and creative guy, he asked me about playing piano on one song that he was producing for a Canadian artist. So I arranged a studio in Atlanta and did the session for him there after I got up and spent some time with the Bransfords. Amy accompanied me to the studio and then left me to the work. I did several takes of the song, leaving the final choices to Jeff. He wasn’t there, and had asked me to just play what I wanted to on the tune. But I called him up after we’d finished and played him a couple of the takes just to be sure I was on the right track. He was very happy, so I wound it up and headed back down to Bullard and home. Having finished those sessions, I put my focus back on Charlane. We were now in a pretty serious drought…being some 12 inches under for rainfall for the year. Temperatures were in the upper 90s just about every day and a few days even topped 100. But still I wanted to get as much work done as I could, so I went back to mowing in some of the areas that we had done prescribed burns. Also, there were some large pines that had become stressed due to the drought or that had been struck by lightning in previous weeks, and I wanted to cut them down and have them sawn up for lumber for future building and renovation projects. The areas we were mowing we
looking really great…getting a “park like” look with beautiful mature over story pines and a clean under story look with natural grasses, weeds and legumes beginning to come in, even in the drought. So it was encouraging to see some good results from the work, and I knew that when the fall
comes and the under story has grown through the summer to about knee height, it would really be beautiful.
Our wedding anniversary was approaching. The date is June 26th, and we would be celebrating our 33rd. In the original schedule, the Stones were to be in Cologne, Germany and would be going to Paris for a six-day break.
Rose Lane and I had made plans to sneak away to Venice for those days for a quiet romantic getaway. We’d found a hotel we’d liked and made all the travel arrangements and reservations. Of course all of that had been nixed because of our unexpected extended break…. so I had told her that I’d try to make it up by taking her on a trip somewhere in the US and asked her to decide where she would like to go for a one week vacation. The previous year we had gone to St. Augustine Beach and had a great time, and she
suggested we go there again…. and take Amy, Steve and Miles. She checked with them and with Ashley, and as it happened, Ash had a job in Orlando during that time and would be able to rent a car and join us for a couple of
days. So Rosie made the arrangements. But, before the date came, I had two other jobs to do. The first was a
Video taping of a new program that will be available on the Apple iTunes site. It’s called iVideoTunes, and is a concept that a fellow named Tim Huffman came up with. The idea is that he would get notable musicians to tape instructional versions of songs they are known for, and this would be
available on the iTunes website to download. A very clever idea. So I had arranged for Tim to come down on June 13 to tape my segment. It went smoothly, and I did “Jessica”, “Alberta, Alberta” and one of my songs, “Southscape”, in addition to some other tidbits. Tim was very pleased,
and he’ll be working on this and many other segments by other musicians…including Darryl Jones. I’m not sure when they will be available, but probably within the next four to six months. The other commitment was that I had agreed to do an interview for a documentary on the late great piano player, Johnnie Johnson. The director of the documentary, Art Holliday, had emailed me for several months to try and set something up, and we had booked June 14 to do it. Art drove all the way from St. Louis by himself, and we taped the interview at our Lodge
at Charlane with me sitting at my Young Chang piano. He was very well prepared and we spent a couple of hours on camera. He’s a great guy, and I think it’s wonderful that he is doing this tribute to Johnnie, one of the true unsung piano heroes of our time. He’s working very hard on the project, and it will probably take him another year to get it finished. He promised to keep me up to date on it. More on this can be seen on the website www.johnniebegood.net
On June 17 we loaded up our SUV and headed to St. Augustine. The Bransfords were flying down and would meet us there. Ashley had a rent a car and was driving from Orlando. We all got there safe and sound in the late afternoon and even managed to get a beach walk in before dinnertime. The whole week was just great…relaxing, spending time with all the family, bike riding, and all the things you do at the beach. We grilled out a couple of times and went out to dinner occasionally. Little Miles seemed to really enjoy himself, and pulled a couple of new tricks…. rolling over for the first time, cutting a couple of teeth, eating solid food for the first time. We all bonded and at the end of the week it was tough to have to pack back up and head home..
Back on the plantation, we were in the final days before we had to report for “duty” in Milan. Again I concentrated on Charlane, getting as much done as possible. The word from the Stones camp was that all was going according to schedule now, and that we would begin rehearsals on July 5th. Rose Lane and I prepared to fly out on July 3rd, getting all our bags packed up. We said our goodbyes to family and friends and I took my last drive around the place with Lilly and the Collies. Everything looked great, except for the fact that the drought was persisting. Nothing more to do but pray for rain. One other thing had come up in the final days before our departure, and that was the opportunity to add a little bit more land to Charlane. One of our neighbors had approached us about selling us an 18-acre tract that adjoins us on the north side, and we made an arrangement to purchase it. It’s a relatively small piece, but fits nicely into our scenario and we were grateful that they came to us with the offer. With all of that done, we put things in order for a two-month absence and Mike drove us up to the Atlanta airport on July 3rd. Goodbye Charlane, hello Milan and our Stones family.