Jon Friedman's Media Web
Chuck Leavell: Rolling Stones, web, nature6/6/12 6/6/2012 (MarketWatch)
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- If you're one of the millions of people, from Rome to Rio, who has attended a Rolling Stones concert since 1982, then you've seen Chuck Leavall perform on stage. He has played keyboards with "The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band" for three decades.
But you might not know that the Georgia-based Leavell is, off stage, a dedicated environmentalist and an Internet maven. His vehicle is the Mother Nature Network (MNN), a website he co-founded three years ago. It now attracts more than 4 million unique visitors a month.
MNN's mission is to provide primarily original content to educate non-environmentalists about the subject as it also relates to health, technology, nature and family.
The site's lead story on Tuesday morning proclaimed: "Environmental Injustice in California" and it also had such disparate items as how police killed a bear after a bizarre hot tub attack and the warming Arctic turning shrubs into forests.
Leavell, 60, says unabashedly that his goal is to improve the world through MNN. He readily recognizes that by uttering such an idealistic sentiment, people half-expect him to be wearing tie-dye all the time.
"As a child of the Sixties," Leavell smiled, "I believe in these values. The environment was a big part of the protests in the 1960s."
Leavell and his business partner, Atlanta advertising veteran Joel Babbit, launched MNN in 2009 with the goal of making these subjects easy to digest without having to dumb them down to the masses..
"Our model is WebMD," Leavell told me. "We want to provide comprehensive information in one place."
Added Babbit: "We discuss green issues, like recycling and energy, and also personal finance and pregnancies. These are not strictly 'green,' but but are components of living a responsible life. Our visitors are looking for information that will help them improve their lifestyles and families. We try and put it in a language that is easy to understand."
MNN has an interesting advertising model as well. "We're quite different from the sites out there," Babbit said. MNN addresses more than 30 content categories, and each one is sponsored for a year by a sole marketing presence. For example, Mercedes in Transportation, All-State for protection and safety, Miller and Coors beer for beverages, and
The other aspect of Leavell's life, of course, is his music. He said he keeps in shape -- "like an athlete" -- by playing the piano often and working on solo projects when the Stones are taking a break. He recently worked with pop singer John Mayer and released a solo album called "Back to the Woods."
Media and fan speculation has been rampant that Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie will go on the road again to celebrate their 50th anniversary milestone, much like the Beach Boys are doing to commemorate their half-century anniversary.
So, Chuck, what's the scoop with the band? I, a die-hard Stones fan, asked him semi-breathlessly.
Leavell laughed knowingly, as if he was asking me, "What took you so long to ask, Jon?"
Leavell said nothing was decided in Weehawken, but he is rather hopeful that the guys will soon play on stage.
"It would be a tragedy if they didn't do anything," Leavell said. "It's 50 years! They know how important this is."
Leavell broke into big-time rock and roll playing with the Allman Brothers Band in 1972, when the band decided to replace lead guitarist and co-founder Duane Allman, who had died in a motorcycle wreck in 1971, with a keyboard player and not a guitarist.
During the recent Stones sessions, Leavell cheerfully reported, there was a great spirit among the band mates. Everyone looked healthy and happy to be there. While there had been rumor-mongering that the band would accompany Mick Jagger on his appearance on "Saturday Night Live," he ended up playing with other musicians. "It was Mick's show," Leavell said.
Leavell smiled when I suggested that he doesn't come across as the stereotypical rock star. When the guys on the tour bus are entertaining themselves, he can often be found in the back, by himself, reading a book about forestry.
""They kid me and say, 'Why is Chuck always talking about trees?'"
But he says his colleagues respect his devotion to the environmental cause, too.
"These guys have children and grandchildren," he said. "They understand what's important."
Michael J. Casey's timely new book
On a unrelated note, veteran Dow Jones Newswire journalist Michael J. Casey has written an engrossing new book called "The Unfair Trade" (Crown Business).
It clarifies much of the muddle surrounding the effects of the damaged global financial system on the beleaguered middle class.
Casey, a managing editor and columnist covering global financial markets, offers a valuable perspective. His book comes at an opportune time, as the economic conundrum in America is likely to be Topic A in the presidential election.
To get a perspective on what has gone wrong all over the world, check out Mike Casey's new book.
MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: Do you read specialized websites, such as Mother Nature Network, or do you prefer general news sites to stay informed?
What do you think? Feel free to post your comment below.