by Walter Price The other day I unleashed this: Where has this man making the old-school honky tonk country music sounds with all the flavors of rockabilly been hiding? The answer, nowhere. Well, I reached out to Chris Leighto find out who this man is. The man with looks reminiscent of Johnny Cash, a hint of Elvis’ swagger and the voice and song writing in the styles of Lyle Lovett, Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, Elvis & Cash (and even a bit of Mojo Nixon). That sounds like a ton of comparisons and it is. That is who Chris seems to be. An artist making music the only way he knows how. Following in the footsteps of these great names and telling honest stories for real people living their real lives all documented in his verses. Verses that would have made Hank Cochran wish he’d written them.
“I don’t know what you mean by country music. I just make music the way I know how.” – Hank Williams
I truly recommend Leigh’s album Broken Hearted Friends, it will take you back to the future of country music. Perhaps, it transcends the country music genre altogether. Maybe Chris Leigh & The Broken Hearts have taken the old style of music making and created their very own sub-genre that will find a home in any record collection.
Whatever he is doing, there are a few things very certain His sounds are cool, fresh and definitely need to be heard.
Here is our conversation…
First off, thanks for making the music you’re making. A true breath of fresh air considering what is being passed off as ‘country music’ these days.
Thank you so much for listening and liking my music Walter! That means a lot to me!
Chris Leigh is your name and Kentucky is your home state…But who are you Chris Leigh?
Yes. I love Kentucky. I was born here. I grew up number eight of ten kids, in a small red brick house. It’s gone now but we had a lot of great memories there. I lived in San Francisco for a few years as well but Kentucky will always be home for me. Even though I grew up listening to a lot of country, I was more interested in Rock when I was younger. It took a bit of growing up before I could really relate to Country music. As Hank Jr. said, “Country music is the white man’s blues”. It took me a while to learn what it really meant to have the blues. Though now, I like to think of myself as a Country/Rock A Billy singer/songwriter. I hope I make my hero’s and of course my fans proud though. That’s my goal.
When and how did you get into this crazy thing we call the music business?
I started singing in a band when I was about twelve years old. I was already singing in the church choir but singing in a Rock band was more exciting to me. I spent a lot of time trying to immolate my hero’s. I wrote my first song when I was about sixteen. I recorded some songs at eighteen and hitch hiked across the country to California when I was about nineteen to try and get a record deal. Little did I know how tough that would be! LOL.
I settled in San Francisco for about five years, working in restaurants and playing the local bar scene until I finally gave up and moved back to Kentucky. I spent a couple more years trying to make it in the music business but finally gave up my dream of being a Rock Star. I got a job as a chef and settled down with a family. I spent years working my way up in the food industry.
Then about five years ago my marriage ended in heartbreak. I was crushed! I picked my guitar back up and started writing and singing again. This music just kind of came out. It’s just how I felt at the time. I guess I’m a little country after all or maybe I just didn’t want to fight my roots anymore. I wasn’t really trying to make it in the music business this time, I was writing for me. Writing and singing were kind of like therapy for me.
My buddies encouraged me to take it to the next level and release my songs on a full album. I wasn’t sure if anyone would really like my music in the Country world. Country has changed so much and I have a hard time relating to the new Country. So much of it just seems insincere to me. I released my album in February of this year through AMA (Americana) and was surprised when CMA (Country) picked me out as “someone to watch in 2013”. I was also very proud though! Since the album release, my music has been played in over (15) countries. I have a lot of fans around the world now who seem to really like my tunes. I’m so thankful!! It gave me a lot of hope, so I started writing more songs. Now I’m back in the studio again working on my next album.
How did you go about getting your band put together? Oh, who is in your band of Broken Hearts?
When I first started it was just me and my guitar. I formed a small band with my local musician friends. I called us The Broken Hearts after one of the first songs I wrote for this project. It seemed only fitting. All of us seemed to have either be going through a divorce or heading towards one. Unfortunately that band ended very quickly after we attempted to record some songs in a local studio. Things did not go well in the studio and I realized I needed a better studio environment. I suggested we looked at recording in Nashville but my buddies didn’t want to go that route.
Let’s talk about “Broken Hearted Friends”, this album packed with country & rockabilly songs that hark back to music being made in the late 50’s and into the 60’s…Is this the kind of music you grew up on?
Yes. Even though I wasn’t a big fan of Country music or Rock A Billy when I was young I heard a lot of it. You just couldn’t grow up in a place like Kentucky and not be influenced by Bluegrass or Country music or it’s little brother “Rock A Billy”.
When I was a young boy, my dad and I spent a lot of time working our family farm (even though we lived in the city, we had a farm in Western Kentucky). We raised a lot of vegetables and hay, which we delivered to the horse farms. I spent a lot of time hunting squirrels and rabbits there too. On the way back and forth to the farm my dad would sing and play the country music radio in our old Ford truck. He taught me a lot of old family folk songs and loved to sing along with the old school country songs. My dad loved songs by folks like Charlie Pride and Glen Campbell. My dad was also very religious though so he would change the station if any Country Blues songs came on from Johnny Cash or the likes. of course, secretly those were the ones I wanted to listen to most. We had a lot of good times in that old truck though! We’d both sing along to the radio from time to time.
We worked hard but we had a lot of good times too! That’s how I picked up a lot of the country. I also learned to square dance when I was young. My parents kind of forced us in to it but we had fun! My little sister was often my dance partner. I learned to appreciate the fast pace of Bluegrass music square-dancing. It was my older sisters on the other hand who introduced me to Rock A Billy and Rock. They loved to listen to singers like, Elvis and The Beatles. They would sit me on the couch and I would watch them dance to the radio for hours. Later in life it would be my older brothers who introduced me to Rock and the Blues. I loved the Blues. I was even in a Rock band with my older brother in my early twenties in California. That’s all probably more then you wanted to know LOL! But I would say my family was the biggest influence on the music I grew up listening too!
The album is full of great commentary, humor but one the most intriguing elements is the good ole fashioned story telling à la Johnny Cash, Bobbie Gentry, Marty Robbins or even Porter Wagoner. What drew you to this style of writing?
Thank You!! I really appreciate you noticing! I think one of the things missing in modern Pop Country is the story telling. The Country and Folk music that I grew up listening to was all about the story. That’s what made the song memorable. All the artist you mentioned are (in my mind) great story tellers. They also understand the importance of a good performance; they are the “real deal”. Real people, with real songs and all the scars of life on their faces and in their voices to prove it, not just simply a model with a microphone.
I’m not trying to point any fingers or hurt anyone and I know the music business is after all a business but some producers these days seem to have forgotten that their are still humans on the other end listening to all of their music. I just hope at the end of the day, that my music will stand the test of time, that I am able to make people stop and think and feel something. That is my goal as an artist. It doesn’t matter if we are laughing or crying together, it only matters if we can still feel something together! It’s all about reaching into people’s hearts.
Who do you think is really killing it (in a good way) musically these days?
Wow! That’s a big question! Many of the great Country artist I listen to are all dead now sadly, but their music still influences me. I am of course a big fan of Hank Sr. and Johnny Cash as well as Elvis and Roy Orbison. Their music is on my iPhone and I still listen to it all the time. As far as modern artist, I don’t know, I like so many artists and there is a lot of great music out there these days in all genre’s.
I guess one person who comes to mind and that I have a huge amount of respect for is, Bob Dylan. He’s an incredible story teller, even to this day! Also he is not afraid to change and try new things. He’s a true American icon! I am also a big fan of both Dwight Yoakam and Lyle Lovett both of these guys are unique and have forged their own path. They deserve a lot of respect. My dream would be to open a live show for either of these guys! That would be awesome!
You worked with some heavy hitters on making “Broken Hearted Friends”, can you get into that with me?
A good friend of mine, comedian, Tom Mabe recommended, Jim “Moose” Brown to me. I met with Moose at his studio in Nashville last year. We set about putting together a band for my recording who we thought could capture the “old school Country vibe” that I was shooting for. Jim “Moose” Brown is probably best known for writing the song “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” for Jimmy Buffet and Alan Jackson but he has also worked with a ton of other musical greats as well like Willie Nelson, Bob Segar, Brad Paisley and more recently, Jamie Johnson just to name a few. He and I became friends right away! He understood what it was that I was trying to do with my music.
I think he kind of refers to me as that “Rock A Billy Kid from Kentucky”. LOL! Moose brought together some of the best players Country music has to offer. All of these guys bio’s can be found on the internet but we had Troy Lancaster on guitar, Scotty Sanders on pedal steel and dobro, Kevin “Swine” Grantt on Upright Bass, Tommy Hardin on drums and of course, Moose played all the other instruments including piano and B3 organ. I’ll be honest, I was nervous as hell when we first got started but it was truly awesome to work with these guys. They were so enthusiastic about my style and sound! It made me feel like I could “hold my own” with them! It was as if we had always been playing together. I knew we were on to something after that recording session.
The truth is my studio band are probably the real Broken Hearts. They were the guys that really helped to craft the sounds around my songs. My live band also does an awesome job performing these songs. They are all local Kentucky music veterans as well. It’s so much fun to play your songs live and see the audience singing along with you! You just can’t buy that type of happiness!
Who would you like to work with in the future (recording wise, singing or touring)?
Well, there are so many great artist that I would love to have the opportunity to work with. I recently spoke to my friend, Sam Bush to see if he might be interested in working with me in the future on some Bluegrass tunes I would like to record. I was also recently lucky enough to work with, Marty Stuart’s guitarist, Kenny Vaughan. He will appear along with the Broken Hearts on the next album in fact, along with some other famous artist.
We are also about to release a video of the song, “If You Make It To Heaven” with the help of Cyber PR and Celebrity Cafe on October 31st which I am really excited about! This film was directed by my friend and promotions manager, David Williamson and edited by my friend and Hollywood great, Wayne Shepherd from At The Post. It was a big under taking for all of us but it should be a lot of fun to see how folks react to it! Depending on how things go, I hope to be touring outside the Kentucky region by next year.
Hey, did you just say that you are already working on another album?
Yes! Moose and I just started working on the next album! I am really excited about it! I hope to add a little Gospel and Bluegrass into the mix this time! Of course I still have a few Country Ballads and Rock A Billy tunes that will go down as well. It will probably be late 2014 though before it will be ready to launch. I sure hope you like it when we do though!!
That is going to be the swell deal treat for senses man!
Thanks for talking with us Chris, we are now lifelong fans and friends to boot!
Thanks again for reaching out to me and for the opportunity to tell you my story!