Written by: Frank Iacono
Michelle Leigh, touted as “The New Queen of Southern Rock”, hails from Bakersville, North Carolina; a small Appalachian town steeped in the tradition of mountain music and gospel hymns. Michelle grew up in what she calls a “Norman Rockwell” setting, where doors were never locked, neighbors were always quick to lend a hand and no matter how old you were, manners were always in style.
Edgy and honest, Ms. Leigh’s songwriting style amplifies real-life situations, real-life problems and real-life solutions. Her music says out loud what everyone else is already thinking. Her country rock sound has been described as Sugarland soaked in Janis Joplin and Tina Turner overtones, with a healthy mix of Dolly for inspiration. Her smoky vocals and driving rhythms, will break your heart with a ballad, and then heal it with a hard shot of whiskey.
In 2012, Michelle was listed in the Top 25 out of over 2,200 entries in GAC/ Music City Songwriter’s Competition for her ballad “Babydoll”, and Honorable Mention in the Smoky Mountain Songwriter’s Competition for the rock-infused song “Black Ink”. The following year, she was named the winner of the Charlotte Music Awards 2013 Women in Rock Showcase.
In both 2015 and 2016, she was presented with the prestigious Josie Music Awards Southern Rock Artist of the Year. Equally, she was awarded the highly-respected 2016 JMA Southern Rock Song of the Year for “Somebody’s Someone”. During 2017, she was honored with the People’s Choice Award-Jacksonville for Country’Southern Rock and the JMA Southern Rock Video of the Year for “Devil Music”. In September, JMA awarded her with the 2018 JMA Entertainer of the Year Southern Rock and 2018 JMA Video of the Year for the hard-hitting “Blood Water”.
In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Leigh and asking her a few questions about her musical influences, her songwriting and recording process, her new smash hit single and award-winning video “Blood Water” and her short and long-term future plans.
The Creative Spotlight: At what age did you first realize that you wanted to be a musician and what was the first instrument that you learned how to play?
Michelle Leigh: At a young age, I taught myself how to play a little piano on an old player piano my family had in our back bedroom. I have ALWAYS loved music and singing-far back as I can remember.
TCS: Could you tell us in your own words how you would describe your overall sound and musical genre? And, what famous musical artists and/or bands were among your early influences and describe for us how they impacted and/or shaped your musical style?
ML: I would describe my overall sound and musical genre as Country flavored Southern Rock! I love all kinds of music, but 70’s & 80’s Country artists like Molly Hatchet, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Travis Tritt…I LOVE the sound of all those guys! My influences? I admire so many, but I love Tina Turner, Dolly Parton, Ann Wilson…gosh, the list goes on and on. I think anyone an artist admires ends up being somewhat of an influence.
TCS: Can you introduce us to your band lineup and tell us what each person does?
ML: The band lineup consists of:
- Michelle Leigh – Lead Vocals
- Stewart Dalrymple – Bass, Vocals & Acoustic Guitar
- Doug Green – Lead Guitar
- Andy Orth – Keys
- Robb Williamson – Drums
- Barry Lee Harwood – Special Guest Guitarist on occasion (formerly of Rossington Collins)
TCS: For the benefit of those who may not be too familiar with Michelle Leigh or your musical career, please describe for us how you started out from Bakersville, North Carolina, a small Appalachian town steeped in the tradition of mountain music and gospel hymns, and eventually ended up being a southern rock lead singer?
ML: I was very active in my high school chorus, college tour choirs and beauty pageants. That lead to acoustic performances with my brother Mark, then onto performing with my own bands. My style of singing and certainly my writing style has always been on the edgier side. Southern Rock gave me a much-needed home when Nashville didn’t really want anything to do with me.
TCS: Michelle, could you tell us a little bit about your experience competing in the 2018 Josie Music Awards and how excited you were to win Entertainer of the Year (Southern Rock) and Music Video of the Year for the song “Blood Water.”
ML: I am VERY PROUD to be a six-time Josie Music Awards (JMA) winner! The JMA’s are the largest independent music award organization, part of The Josie Network, LLC of Brands. This year, I won a JMA for Music Video of the Year for “Blood Water,” a hard-hitting video dealing with sexual abuse. It’s a very difficult topic, and I felt strongly about it being addressed head-on and no punches pulled. The gamble paid off.
In 2018, I was honored to be nominated for 6 Josie Music Awards. Although with this year’s STIFF competition, I honestly believed that I might receive only one of the awards. I truly didn’t think I was even going to get anywhere NEAR the Entertainer of the Year…So, I’m sitting their drinking water, ready to hear anyone’s name but mine! Then Miss Heidi Parton and Josie Passantino called my name for Southern Rock Entertainer of the Year. It didn’t really register at first, but I tell you, I was SO blown away! I am NOT a “tears” person, but I was boo-hooing like a baby when I accepted the Entertainer of the Year! It is my most treasured award, to date!
TCS: How would you describe your overall songwriting style?
ML: Raw and honest. I do not shy away from hard topics. I do have some softer songs, but I prefer to write about real life topics. Music really helps people, you know? Music heals.
TCS: Personally, one of my favorite tracks off your Redemption album is a song called “Devil Music” which you co-wrote with Charlie Kelley. Can you share with us some of the background behind your hit and the video produced by Built to Fall Productions?
ML: “Devil Music” started out being a tribute song for the late Popcorn Sutton, his widow had asked me to write a song for him. The song took a turn away from Popcorn’s story and wasn’t fitting what I wanted to convey about him. So, I initially scrapped it and wrote another one called “The Legend” for Popcorn. However, I felt “Devil Music” was too good to throw away, so I gave it another go. I fixed a few things and the rest is history.
Doug Green, my guitar player, heard the song and instantly came up with the video’s storyline. I called Michael Spears, the owner of Built to Fall Productions who handles all of my music videos and told him the storyline and he loved it. We were able to film the video at a buddy’s house down in Black Creek community in Middleburg, Florida. Gene Rogers and his wife Christy opened their home and property up to us for the weekend. Two days later, the raw footage was completed! I do want to mention that Doug’s girlfriend Renee Closson, built MANY of the props, as well as handled costuming and makeup. She was awesome!
TCS: I can’t imagine what it felt like to walk out on stage to perform for the very first time. Could you tell us about the experience and how it compares to your performances today?
ML: My very first solo performance was for the Miss Mitchell High School pageant. My mother made my outfit and I sang “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”. I was really terrified! Today, I still get butterflies, but the good kind! The excitement gives me an electric feeling. There is truly nothing like performing live.
TCS: Could you describe the song writing process and video concept behind the single entitled “Lightning in a Bottle”? And, please tell us a little bit about your experience competing in the 2019 Josie Music Awards and how excited you were to win Music Video of the Year for this song?
ML: The song title “Lightning in a Bottle” came from a person I used to know who once used that phrase. Over the years, it stuck with me – the meaning of catching such a rarity and doing the impossible, if only for a short amount of time. Everything has a shelf life, love is no exception.
The video was definitely challenging. The Sr. Manager and Owner of B2F Production had this fantastic Wizard of Oz meets Mad Max apocalypse vision. Personally, I think they did a great job of capturing that vision. I loved winning the 2019 JMA award for Video of the Year for “Lightning in a Bottle, although I must admit it was TOTALLY unexpected, as was my Entertainer of the Year win too. I’m truly very blessed.
TCS: Could you tell us one of the strangest places that you played during the course of your career?
ML: I once played at a bar that had those awful, snappy rat traps all over in the bathrooms and seating areas! That wasn’t much fun!
TCS: How do you market your songs, albums, merchandise and appearances?
ML: To stay connected, please join us on the following:
- Michelle Leigh Website
- Michelle Leigh Facebook
- Michelle Leigh ReverbNation
- Michelle Leigh Twitter
- Michelle Leigh YouTube
TCS: In the YouTube description of your official music video for “Black Ink” you say, “the smoldering vocals and steely lyrics of this song remind us that it is unwise to tick off a songwriter.” Can you provide the source of inspiration for this track?
ML: Ha! No. I’ll just say that it came from a betrayal by a very close friend.
TCS: How much fun did you have with the official video for your song “Triple J” back in your hometown of Bakersville and at Mack Kell’s Pub and Grill in Asheville, NC?
ML: That was such a great day! Thomas Delmer “Artimus” Pyle, the drummer from Lynyrd Skynyrd and 2006 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, played my “leading man” in the music video. We also had some AWESOME special guest appearances from Charlie Kelley, my producer and his wife Nan. However, my favorite part of the video is the special footage of California Chrome, one of the most famous racehorses in history, which was provided by Sherman Racing. I must say THAT was incredible to me. It is something that I will always treasure.
TCS: Can you share with us your involvement with The Salvation Army and Brother Wolf Animal Rescue charities?
ML: I am a huge supporter of The Angel Tree program by The Salvation Army. And as far as animals go, I will support and donate to about any charity that helps all furbabies!
TCS: From a song writing, studio recording and accompanying music video perspective, can you share with us some of the details surrounding the single entitled “Somebody’s Someone?”
ML: “Somebody’s Someone” was a result of me being totally disgusted with the actions of those Westborough Church cowards. I was watching their ignorance on the news one day and said, “Don’t they realize that the soldier in that casket is somebody’s father, son…somebody’s someone?” When I sat down to write the song, I decided to use several scenarios of bullying as examples of things we see happening in our own daily lives.
TCS: If you weren’t in music industry what would you see yourself doing instead?
ML: I actually own my own decor business. I design, build and install commercial holiday decor for malls, hotels, casinos and amusement parks. I love everything about my music, but I also love doing custom holiday decor too!
TCS: What does the short and long-term future look like for Michelle Leigh?
ML: I have a brand-new CD in the works including 4 music videos and I’m booking now for a 2019 Tour. Additionally, I will be doing ANYTHING and EVERYTHING possible to keep that Entertainer of the Year award!
About Frank Iacono
Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.
Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.