By: Malcolm Mayhew
| photography by Alex Lepe | Like a scene from an era that has long since passed, Leon transports listeners to something reminiscent of the time when music made you happy and style was all about class. The Fort Worth singer is known for his signature 1950s look (most of which is original to the period) and a cool Sam Cooke-esque sound. You wouldn’t know it, but this humble local is primed and ready for stardom. With major accolades already to his name and his first major album release with Columbia Records in June, this Southern soul singer is set to put Fort Worth on the map for a new kind of talent, and it’s going to be major.
Where does the passion come from for your music? It’s an inner passion that I have always had from birth. When I first picked up the guitar, I was determined to be great at what I was doing.
When did you start singing? I’ve been singing since I was a kid and always been fascinated with a lot of the R&B groups that were out at the time, like Usher, Ginuwine, 112 and Drew Hill, but I didn’t start taking it seriously until I was in college. I met a guy that would bring his keyboard to school, and we would sit around the cafeteria of Tarrant County College and sing songs. That is where the desire to sing and write was born. That’s when I realized I could sing. That has been a fast progression – less than five years.
How did you get here? It has been hard, but every year from when I first started playing guitar, I got better and better. Doors opened. Even when I only knew two chords, I was determined to sing in front of people. That drive is what really has helped toward my growth.
Who influences the kind of music you make? The obvious is the 1950s and 1960s R&B blues and pop sounds. Two years ago is when I realized that is where my voice was. I have always wanted to do something alternative to what is out and popular. I first thought that something like neo-soul was what would be that alternative because I have always wanted to write good lyrics and not accept anything less than that. The first song I ever wrote was to a hip-hop instrumental track because I was very fascinated with hip-hop around that time, and I would have to say that played a big part in my song writing even though it is totally different than what I do now. I took a lot from the phrasing and storytelling.
How do you define your signature music style? When people hear my music, I want them to identify with the past. I want them to think back to when they first heard the sound with their grandparents when they see me play. That’s why I wanted to make the way I dress consistent, so when they see me play, they are immediately brought back to that time, and it makes them feel good. I’m passionate about being consistent. I call my sound a Southern soul. I blend blues and soul with gospel undertones. I like the sound of the 1950s because when you boil it down, it just sounds good and is still the best era for R&B that has ever been done. It’s a sound that everybody loves. When I started writing, I wanted to see how well I could write a song and if it could stand up to a song from that time. Then you achieve it in some way, and it feels good.
When will your first record be released, and will you have something special for your Fort Worth family for the release? My first record, Coming Home, will be released worldwide on June 23, 2015, in stores and online, but we are going to have a record release party on June 20 at Scat Jazz Lounge in Fort Worth. People will be able to buy a record there before it hits the world.
What is your favorite element about Fort Worth? One thing I love about Fort Worth is the Fairmount community. There’s nothing like it. It’s the best neighborhood in all of Texas in my opinion. It’s a very close, supportive and loving community. All of musicians here are all rooting for each other, and no one is trying to step on you. I love Avoca coffee shop. I used to come here before this all happened. I would go there and sit outside and play my guitar. I’ve even written a number of songs there. I am able to really be creative there, which makes it one of my favorite places.
Will you always call Fort Worth home? I will stay here for as long as I can. There is no temptation or reason to move right now. My musical mentor, Austin Jenkins, and I have a studio called Now City Sound (in Fort Worth’s Shipping and Receiving) that is a very special place where I recorded my first record. And now I can get off tour and go record. I love Fort Worth because it is good to be all over the world and be able to come home to something familiar like friends and family.
Want to connect with Leon now? Listen now on Spotify, Youtube and iTunes. Or if you want to see the day in the life of Leon, follow him on Instagram @leonbridgesofficial.
We caught some footage of Leon "unplugged" while he was in our studio.
By: Malcolm Mayhew