Leon Bridges At Somebody’s House In Venice

Actually, it was Scott Powell’s place, just by the beach, he used to be in Sha Na Na, now he’s an orthopedic surgeon, he operates on players, and this was a benefit for Musicares.

And the highlights of the performance were a new song and a rousing rendition of “Mississippi Kisses” but what intrigued me most was Leon’s story.

He’s from Fort Worth.

Not a hotbed of the music industry. And he didn’t start out as a child star. Hell, he didn’t even begin playing, performing and writing until his twenties. He was washing dishes and he was analyzing the music scene and was confounded there was no old school soul, he decided that would be his genre.

So he starts writing songs in his bedroom. And when he’s ready he goes out to open mic nights. Just him and his guitar. Playing to five people. Night after night.

So, you’ve got inspiration and perseverance. But if you think that’s enough to make it these days you’re wet behind the ears. We’re inundated with a plethora of music, nothing breaks through, how did this guy?

Well, he caught the ear of White Denim guitarist Austin Jenkins, who said he wanted to make an album, and Bridges said WHY NOT?

This was not a stab at stardom, part of a superstar plan, just a lark, the next step in a nascent career.

So they set up in a warehouse and spend $2500 to record an LP and all hell breaks loose.

Well, not exactly. The album’s finished and the guys at Mick Management hear it, they’re intrigued, they’re believers, they’re in.

But you’re not always sure, they decide to test it out. They post an unmastered track on the music blog Gorilla Vs. Bear and there’s a reaction.

So they post it to another blog and the same thing happens.

And then fifty four labels want to make a deal and Bridges does a showcase in Nashville and ultimately signs with Columbia and CAA.


Exactly this way, which stuns me.

Michael McDonald thought it might be the Norah Jones effect, producing something in an ignored niche people are clamoring for but don’t realize it.

Still, I haven’t met a musician who hasn’t been a hustler, a master manipulator, someone who knows how to climb the ladder. That’s right, most are more Madonna than Leon Bridges.

But Bridges made it. He’s sold 120,000 albums. He’s doing two Fondas this week, he’s burgeoning when everybody else is fading.

And he’s not a cool, charismatic cat, not someone you meet and feel inferior to, someone who was destined to make it. Rather, he seems to be a guy who had the music in him, and decided to jump on the train and see where it took him.

Which was to international recognition.

Which proves there’s hope.

I can listen to the country playlist on Spotify and every track sounds the same. I pull up the Top 40 and laugh, it’s so assembly-line, done by the same people, there’s no originality, no spark, no wonder most people don’t care.

But then someone comes up with something original and it cuts through all the clutter. Bridges is just one hit away from ubiquity.

So there’s hope, for both makers and listeners.

Proving once again it’s less about facility than conception. Berklee will teach you how to shred, but that won’t put you on the chart. There’s nothing wrong with knowing how to play, never mind read, but too many people get the originality squeezed right out of them, they end up repeating what everybody else does, when the truth is we appreciate originality. Which can come from anywhere, even a bedroom in Fort Worth.

And none of the rigid rules apply if the music works. Bridges wasn’t sold by sponsorship, he didn’t have guest rappers on his album, never mind song doctors. He just let the music flow. And it was enough.

It’s almost too much to believe. In 2015. When everybody’s working the angles and looking for an edge. That it can be completely old school, that you can lead with the music and it’s enough.

Originality and execution. Humanity and honesty. You’re buying insurance and comping, making it perfect to the point no one can relate. But listening to Bridges you definitely hear someone’s home, you get drawn in, this is something you want to be a part of.

And that’s the essence of music.

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