It’s been a busy few days for Chuck Leavell — or make that a busy few decades. The longtime touring keyboardist for the Rolling Stones and dedicated environmentalist is not only prepping for a new tour (and album and TV show), but is also trying to convince official Washington that the trees need their help. We caught up with Leavell, 66, after a packed D.C. trip — meeting with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment Jim Hubbard — to talk about balancing rock and roll with climate change recommendations.
You did a whole lot this week.
Where do I begin? The first event was a reception for the Capitol Christmas Tree at the National Press Club. There were a lot of dignitaries there and I played a couple songs and helped be a co-host. Then [Tuesday] was the bigger day where we had meetings with Secretary Perdue and some of the upper echelon from the U.S. Forest Service. We talked about Hurricane Michael damage, recovery efforts and the price of lumber.
How does one prepare for these types of big policy meetings?
I talk to constituents that are in a similar boat. I take notes, I do a bit of reading on recent research and then I put it in black and white and print it out. I try not to overburden. I gave [Perdue] probably four articles and bullet points.
What’s the best-case scenario coming out of a meeting with a Cabinet member?
To carry the conversation forward. We were there for nearly an hour. The secretary seemed quite sympathetic to points that we brought up. What we do hope for is that they take a serious look at these things. There’ll be follow-up for sure. The secretary and I have been friends for a long time.
You played two receptions while in town. Compare the Washington crowd to your stadium scene.
Obviously they are more intimate, but I love doing it. I looked out there and there were tons of smiles. They weren’t exactly dancing in the aisles, but they were loose and fun. It’s not some stiff audience by any means.
Your White House Correspondents' Jam has been a mainstay during the dinner weekend for years. What can we expect for 2019?
It’s a little up in the air this year because of the Stones tour. So we may have to skip it which kind of breaks my heart. It’s gotten better and better every year.
Even as the dinner itself has gone through its own, shall we say, changes?
I think you’re referring to Trump not attending for the past two years. I think it only adds to our audience because people still want to celebrate. It’s turned our event into one of the more important ones. We had Billy Bob Thornton and Kevin Bacon. It’s a lot of fun to see who shows up. Last time we had Sarah Huckabee Sanders. It’s fun to see Washington insiders kick up their heels a little bit.
And that’s something we don’t see a lot of these days?
It’s hard to bridge that divide but I do believe our event helps toward that effort.
There’s no doubt that during the 2020 presidential election, artists will once again be up in arms about a candidate using their music without permission. What are your thoughts on that?
I think it’s very disrespectful. They should clear it every time. There’s either a yes or a no. I feel very strongly about that. Look, we don’t like people using our work without our permission. It should be 100 percent or nothing.