Michelle Leigh: Lead Singer & Songwriter

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.

Q&A Session

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:

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 Photo

Since 2012, Frank Iacono has served as the President and CEO of The Creative Spotlight, the ultimate destination for unearthing a wealth of undiscovered musical talent, reading exciting interviews, releasing new music and sharing exclusive videos.

Every good story needs a good storyteller. And, The Creative Spotlight has truly provided a quality forum for revealing those great stories. Through the years, the online publication has featured national and local musicians such as Screaming For Silence, Ages Apart, Roxy Petrucci, Peter Beckett, We The Kings, Everything Falls, Rod Black, Derek Crider, Daniel Mason Band, Michelle Leigh, Jessie G., Karen Mansfield and Hillbilly Vegas. Additionally, we’ve also focused on historic Pennsylvania-based paranormal venues, well-known actors and actresses, published authors, professional artists, local businesses, consultants, trainers, speakers and more…

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he earned his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Rod Black: Country Rock Singer-Songwriter

Written by: Francesco Vincenzo Iacono

Canadian country singer-songwriter Rod Black is no stranger to the country music scene. Rod was born in Langley British Columbia with country music in his veins. He grew up listening to classic country stars such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings as well as Southern Rock pioneers Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Rod’s soulful lyrics and melodic writing style come together to craft songs with a lot of energy and have the depth to withstand the test of time. His music has been described as explosive and passionate rock’n’roll that is straight to the point with songs about life and everything that it offers.

In 2014, Black launched a solo career with the release of his initial single “Keepin’ On” which made the top 20 on the Canadian country billboards. In 2015, he was nominated at the Canadian Radio Music Awards for his second solo single, “Long Gone”. His time spent touring the US and Canada has surely given him the opportunity to hone his craft as a lead vocalist.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing country singer-songwriter Rod Black and asking him a few questions about his musical influences, his struggles as a performer in the music industry, his career in both Jet Black Stare and as a solo performer, plus his short and long-term future plans.

Q&A Session

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?

Rod Black: I was just six years old when I first performed in a Christmas play and I was hooked from that moment on. My dad played guitar so we always had various instruments in the house.

I, however, didn’t learn to play an instrument until a later age due to my stubbornness and selfish desire for wanting to be a front man. One day when my songwriting partner got a record deal, I was forced to learn how to play guitar and write my own music and that was when I learned to play an instrument. It truly was one of the best decisions I ever made in my career.

TCS: What famous musical artists and/or bands were among your early influences and describe for us how they impacted and shaped your musical style?

RB: I grew up in a rodeo family where country music was predominantly played in our household so listening to Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Elvis among many others was an asset in my overall musical development and career. As I got older, I was introduced to classic rock acts like AC/DC, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and etc.

At a young age, I always felt that if I could combine the two musical styles I possibly could be onto something big. Each performer and their music held a very special connection with me. As I listened, I felt a true connection and the energy truly resonated with me…it’s very hard to explain. Knowing that they all went through the trenches and at the end of the day they truly believed in themselves kept my dreams alive.

TCS: For the benefit of those who may not be too familiar with Rod Black or your musical career, please describe for us how you started out and eventually ended up being the lead singer in the hard rock band Jet Black Stare and now as a country performer?

RB: Oddly enough, Jet Black Stare actually started off as a country rock project. I was playing around the Vancouver, British Columbia area with an acoustic guitar accompanied by my best friend Mike McHolm, a very talented bass player and overall musician.

During this time, a very close friend of mine named Jeff Johnson, who was with 604 records co-owned by Chad Kroger lead singer from Nickelback, heard a couple of the songs that I was working on. Jeff was interested and we got together and started working on the catalogue.

 

Gordon Saran, a very close friend of ours who also works with Nickelback, was interested in what we were creating so he started introducing us to industry types. To that extent, the three of us worked on shopping our demo and within three months there was a major label bidding war in North America.

Island Records was the first to come to the table and I went with my heart and signed with them on September 7, 2007. Due to the economy in 2009, we parted ways with the label. However, I took this is a major blessing because my dad was very sick and I was able to spend time with him before he unfortunately passed away after a battle with cancer. From there, I took some much needed time off but the words of my late father still lingering in my head saying, “it’s time to continue where it all started” so I soon returned to the studio and began writing with Jeff Johnson and continuing on our country rock project.

“The Universe will always bring us back to the road we’re meant to travel on”.

The song “Keepin’ On” was the first song of many I would write with Jeff Johnson as I pursued my solo country career.

 

TCS: Personally, one of my favorite songs from the 2008 Jet Black Stare debut album is the title track “In This Life,” so can you share with us the meaning and background behind this song?

RB: One of the first songs I started writing was “In This Life”. It’s a song about bringing the soldiers home safe and giving strength and comfort to their families who are missing them while they’re away.

 

TCS: Tell us about how exciting it was supporting Jet Black Stare’s In This Life album by touring US and Canada as the opening act for established bands like 3 Doors Down, Staind, Hinder, Puddle Of Mudd, Shinedown, Drowning Pool, Theory Of A Deadman, Saliva and Seether?

RB: It’s very ironic how the universe works. Literally a year and a half previous to these tours I was in my room writing and listening to these bands as inspiration.

I remember listening to Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” practically on repeat envisioning myself on stage with these guys and the energy coming over me like it was actually possible etc.

Ironically, I was working on “In This Life” and “Fly” at the time, which are the two songs that got me signed to Island Records, so being on stage with them years later was almost very surreal. I am truly thankful for the experience. They all are incredibly gifted artists and very down to earth.

 

TCS: Explain how your song “Ready to Roll” came to be used by the National Hockey League Detroit Red Wings as their theme song of the 2009 NHL playoffs, as well as for WWE’s 2008 SummerSlam pay per view and in the opening theme of “Bad Movie Beatdown”?

RB: “Ready to Roll” was actually not deemed as the first single. It was written practically last for the album and when the record label heard the track it just made sense that it had the possibility of a sports theme type of track. As soon as it hit the sports community along with “Bad Movie Beatdown,” I believe that helped the song just take off like wildfire. I felt truly thankful and blessed.


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 “Go Big Or Go Home” from the album Keepin’ On?

RB: One of my close friends Jovan and I started writing “Go Big or Go Home” I then brought it to Jeff Johnson and he produced it and helped us put the finishing touches on the song, etc.

Gene Greenwood came into the studio with this camera and it started off as just getting live footage but he surprised us by putting a full-length music video together which gave the song extra life, as well as a raw insight of the recording process, etc.

”Go Big Or Go Home” is about believing in yourself where anything and everything is possible. If you set your mind to it and truly work hard every day you can make your goals come true.

 

TCS: Describe for us the meaning and background behind your music as well as the making of the song lyric video for the catchy title track “Keepin’ On” which peaked at number 22 on the Billboard Canada Country chart?

RB:”Keepin’ On” is about the heroes journey. It is a song about going through struggles and always having faith in yourself especially when difficult obstacles are placed in front of you.

The song lyric video was created by a very talented friend of mine named Bryan Chamberland. The one thing I truly wanted Bryan to convey through the video was that it stayed true to its real message that everybody can believe that anything is possible when on a hard road. Even though you might find yourself going through struggles we all have the ability to get through anything if we truly believe in ourselves.

TCS: Can you share the meaning and background behind the track called “Miles To Go” as well as the video concept?

RB: Once again, the very talented director and producer Gene Greenwood was behind the camera on this video and his vision was absolutely incredible. Additionally, Lori Watson, who also has incredible insight, had a lot to do with making this all come together. We can’t thank her enough. When Gene first heard the songs, he knew how we would approach them from a visual perspective instantly.

 

I guess it’s best to say there’s a bit of a commonality in the three tracks you asked about. They are all about having faith when in this life it can sometimes be difficult. We all go through our own struggles and life can appear to be like a roller coaster. It’s very important to note that we are capable of getting through anything.

TCS: How do you market your songs, albums, merchandise, and appearances?

RB: These days, without a record label it can be a little overwhelming at times, fortunately for me with the help of the Internet it makes anything possible. Additionally, Ethereal Promotions out of Nashville has really helped me get my name out there too. They truly believe in their artists. I’m thankful to be on their roster.

To stay connected, please join me on the following:

Equally, I love being on the road meeting people along the way. I find myself being inspired in every small town, city, etc. that I travel. I’ve met some amazing souls and continue to do so on this journey. I appreciate anybody that takes the time to listen to my songs it means the world to me.

TCS: Name a band or musician, past or present, who you flat-out LOVE and think more people should be listening to. What’s one of your all-time favorite recordings by this band/musician?

RB: I think everybody should be listening to Elvis, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Marvin Gaye. in order to really appreciate the soul of music also where country is routed from Hank Williams Patsy Cline the list goes on and on.

I also have many rock albums that I love listening to too. At the gym, AC/DC is always cranked in my headphones along with Guns and Roses and of course my country favorites.

TCS: Can you describe what specifically happened when you were pronounced dead yet came back to life and then walked out of the hospital within hours? Equally, please share with us the details concerning the horrific car accident you experienced?

RB: This truly changed my life forever. In short, I drank 190 proof moonshine at a party let’s just say enough that I shouldn’t ever have walked away. Under my mom’s orders, I was rushed to the emergency. I call my mother my angel because she insisted that I be rushed to the hospital. My mom saw something in my eyes and made the decision instantly to get to emergency.

As soon as I was there chaos ensued. I heard the words echo “everyone out of the room, we’re going to lose him!” Soon to follow was the most unexplainable situation that I’ve ever come across. It was an unbelievable feeling and energy coursing through my body. I heard a long beeping sound and soon I saw and felt things that were very unexplainable.

I wake up in the morning thinking it was all a dream with a doctor telling me he’s never seen anything like that in his entire life. I would be released a couple hours later and ironically go to work the following night like nothing had ever happened.

Shortly after that, I was involved in a horrific car accident. I was in the backseat of a car that flipped 7 times into a farmer’s field. I was not wearing a seatbelt, and it is a long story as to why I made that decision, that’s story for another day. Ironically, I stayed in the car through the whole duration of the rolling while the driver and passenger were both ejected immediately. Again, it was a very surreal situation that is very unexplainable at times.

I would find myself under the care of the same doctor that treated me for my flat line, with no bruises cuts or anything to show. In this situation, I would leave the hospital that night once again. The next day I would make a decision to move instantly to another city and start my journey in a whole new direction with a different outlook on life which I continue to live every day.

“We are on this earth to love and learn it’s not about material possessions or how much money we have in our bank account.” #BeGood2OneAnother.

TCS: Can you Please share with us your involvement with The Children’s Charity of BC and the work you and other performers like country musicians like Todd Richard and Jeff Johnson on the song Follow Your Heart?

RB: The Children’s Charity event was very special to me. I was contacted by Todd & Jeff to come in and be a part of it. I joined a handful of other country artists from the BC area. I was fortunate to sing a verse on the track and be a part of the experience. It was for an amazing cause.


TCS: What does the short and long-term future look like for Rod Black?

RB: I’m truly blessed and thankful for every day that I’m still on this earth. Time will certainly tell where this journey takes me but no matter the twists or turns, I remain dedicated to the memory of my dad who always wore black and did what he could to help others along the way. Equally, I am committed to my mom and sisters for believing in me as I continue to move forward.

Once again, I am just appreciative of anybody who will listen to my music and attend the shows. I’ve played in front of 20,000 people and I’ve played in front of 5. I will always put the same energy into every show no matter the numbers placed in front of me.

About Francesco Vincenzo Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Since 2012, Francesco Vincenzo Iacono has served as the President and CEO of The Creative Spotlight, the ultimate destination for unearthing a wealth of undiscovered musical talent, reading exciting interviews, releasing new music and sharing exclusive videos.

Every good story needs a good storyteller. And, The Creative Spotlight has truly provided a quality forum for revealing those great stories. Through the years, the online publication has featured national and local musicians such as Ash Costello from New Years Day, Williams Honor, Stacey David Blades, Screaming For Silence, Ages Apart, Roxy Petrucci, Peter Beckett, We The Kings, Everything Falls, Rod Black, Derek Crider, Daniel Mason Band, The Rockin’ Krolik, Michelle Leigh, Jessie G., Karen Mansfield and Hillbilly Vegas.

Additionally, The Creative Spotlight has also focused on historic Pennsylvania-based paranormal venues such as the Eastern State Penitentiary, Pennhurst State School and Hospital, Paranormal investigator Kitsie Duncan, Spirit Medium Tiffany Rice, the Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride, well-known actors and actresses, published authors, professional artists, local businesses, consultants, trainers, speakers and more…

Francesco earned a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he also received a Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.