Chuck Leavell finds harmony in music and nature

Chuck Leavell attends an Earth Day Eve cocktail party at the Algonquin Hotel on April 21, 2010 in New York City.
Getty Images/Neilson Barnard

(CBS News) For fans of the Rolling Stones, the classics never get old - even after 50 years. It turns out, it's the same for the so-called "sixth" member of the band Chuck Leavell.

"It's a thrill to be up there working with those guys," Leavell said. "But I think the real joy of my career has been that I've been able to work with so many different artists."

Leavell's career began with the Allman Brothers in 1971, when he was barely 20 years old. Ten years later he joined the Stones. Over the last few decades, Leavell's talents have made him one of the most sought-after musicians in the business.

"You always learn something from one artist that you can apply to another," he said. "That is really been the great experience of my career - is having this diversity, always learning something. Being in these different settings."

But music, he'll tell you, is only one of his three passions. There's his family - his wife of 38 years, Rose Lane and their daughters and grandsons. There's also his beloved home, Charlane Plantation: - 3,000 sprawling acres in rural Georgia which has been in his wife's family for generations.

"In 1981, her grandmother passed on, leaving her this plot of land, and this house we're in now," Leavell said. "And it became our responsibility to carry on this generational heritage of stewardship of the lands."

What Leavell thought might be an adventure as a gentleman farmer, quickly became a calling to forestry and conservation. Now he's an honorary forest ranger. "I've got a hat and everything," Leavell said.

Among his many efforts is helping to restore the American chestnut population. The trees were nearly wiped out by a blight from China in the early 1900s.

In 2009, Leavell took on another project as co-founder of the Mother Nature Network, now the number-one visited environmental website.

"We're getting over five million hits a month now, which is just remarkable," Leavell said. "It's nice to talk about the success, but for me, more importantly, it says that people do care about these issues."

Leavell said Mother Nature Network doesn't practice politics. But you will find him in Washington - sometimes to play, like he did last week for the 150th anniversary of the Department of Agriculture. Though more often, he's there to spur lawmakers into action.

"They seem genuinely interested. But you know, when it comes time to pass a law, the laws aren't getting passed," Leavell said. "And we don't have an energy policy in this country right now. Why don't we have an energy policy?"

Leavell's latest solo album, "Back to the Woods"- a tribute to the blues - was also inspired by his conservation efforts and by the undeniable harmony he's found among the trees.

"I reminded myself where that marvelous thing called a piano comes from, from the resource of wood. That piano's given me my career, my livelihood, and so much joy."