Born on February 9, 1970, in Strasburg, VA. Addresses: Record company--Audium Entertainment, 20 Academy Place, Nashville, TN 37210. Website--Danni Leigh Official Website: http://www.dannileigh.com.
The up-and-down career of country singer Danni Leigh provides a vivid testament to the powers of perseverance. After years of laboring in relative obscurity, the blonde-tressed beauty seemed to have finally arrived with not one, but two different major label offerings. When those respective opportunities didn't pan out, she quickly resurfaced at the hottest independent label in Nashville.
Industry wags often refer to Leigh as the "female Dwight Yoakam" because of her independent attitude and determination. Although she hasn't achieved Yoakam's commercial success, she does share the elder star's penchant for wearing hats and blending honky-tonk heartache with snarling rock accents. Talking with Sherry Anderson of the Take Country Back website, Leigh felt her style could be best described as "hillbilly country," explaining, "Hillbilly country likes to rock a little bit." Onstage, this hybrid of rock and roots translates into a provocative, high-energy show brimming with crowd-pleasing movement.
Born on February 9, 1970, in Strasburg, Virginia, Leigh grew up 15 minutes away from the legendary Patsy Cline's birthplace in Winchester; there she absorbed the influences of Cline, Kitty Wells, and Buck Owens. As a small child she first began singing in her Shenandoah Valley church's preschool choir and grew up singing at as many school and church functions as she could.
Leigh's first job in the music industry was as entry level as it gets--she worked in a record store, which allowed her to hear a wide variety of sounds. "I found British music, world music, ska, rock, blues," she recalled in a biography included in Audium Entertainment press materials. After high school, the aspiring vocalist studied carpentry, in the process earning the loyalty of fellow construction workers who would often cheer her on at beauty pageants and the occasional singing gig. Always seeking opportunities, Leigh worked with several country bar-bands up and down the eastern seaboard before moving to Orlando, Florida, at the age of 19.
Upon settling in Orlando, Leigh's initial goal was to get work singing on one of the many stage shows that run daily at Disney World. When that didn't happen, the never-say-die songstress made her living waiting tables, bartending, and as a bungee-jump instructor. Gigs in small clubs fronting both country and rock bands led to work as a back-up vocalist on tours with Foreigner, the Fenwicks, and APB, the latter an eclectic ensemble created by Artimus Pyle, Lynyrd Skynyrd's former percussionist. Although these stints provided valuable show-biz experience, Leigh still had to support herself with a day job, and she found a pretty good one at Federal Express. Eventually, the package delivery specialists helped further her artistic aspirations by giving her a transfer to the home of country music--Nashville, Tennessee.
Once in Music City, Leigh resigned her position at FedEx in favor of a series of odd jobs, among them an animal caretaker for veteran country singer-songwriter Tom T. Hall. However, her big break came when she began waitressing at the renowned songwriter hangout, the Bluebird Café. She did more at the Bluebird than serve food; the feisty waitress had a plan, as she explained in a biography included in Audium Entertainment press materials: "Everyone goes to the Bluebird--artists, songwriters, people who head up record and publishing companies, the people who'd been to hell and back in that town. I really kept my ears open and just shut up and listened."
The strategy paid off when she caught the eye and ear of frequent Bluebird patron Michael Knox, vice-president of creative services at Warner Chappell Publishing. "We started harassing each other immediately. But I never asked what he did and he never asked me," she told CountryStars.com. "After months of picking at each other, we ended up talking. He asked me, 'Are you here to do the music thing like everybody else?' I said, 'Yeah I am.'" Knox then dared the would-be artist to show him some of her song material. Liking what he heard, the canny executive began producing Leigh's songwriter demos and set her up with a publishing deal. The arrangement proved mutually beneficial when Leigh co-wrote Tracy Byrd's 1998 hit "I Want to Feel That Way Again." That same year she realized her lifelong dream of recording for a major label.
Signed to Decca, Leigh wrote several of the songs that appeared on her first album, 29 Nights. Produced by Knox and studio wizard Mark Wright, the 11-song disc features a mix of retro-twang, rockabilly, and slicker pop sounds. Although reviews of the album were largely positive, its heavily promoted debut single, "If the Jukebox Took Teardrops," bombed. According to Leigh, the CD's title track was to be her second single and the company even shot a "29 Nights" video, but then disaster struck. Decca's parent company, MCA/Universal, folded the label and only retained its more commercially successful acts. As a result, Leigh's contract was dropped and the singer was devastated.
Fortunately for Leigh, former Decca executive Shelia Shipley Biddy took over the singer's management and quickly got her signed to Monument, a Sony Music subsidiary. Leigh's two singles for Monument stiffed in the United States--although the video for "Honey I Do" was a strong favorite in Brazil--and the label dropped her. However, Sony's Fan Demand program inspired them to release Leigh's second album, A Shot of Whiskey & A Prayer. Featuring three of her songs, the album displays a strong traditional flavor with a Countrypolitan veneer. Later Leigh told Beverly Keel of Country Music magazine that some of the songs on the disc "weren't really me," but her chief frustration came from dealing with Sony's promotion department once her album encountered what she described to Keel as "radio resistance." "I went out on the road, and asked the label to set up interviews with radio stations and press, but I never got any response," she told Keel. "I kept calling the label and asking people to tell me the truth because something was wrong. But nobody would." When Leigh and Sony mutually agreed to part company, it came as a surprise to no one.
The same month Leigh's Monument album was released, she signed with Nashville-based independent Audium Records. Home of such established names as Loretta Lynn, Charlie Daniels, Ricky Van Shelton, Rhett Atkins, and Darryl Singletary, Audium has specialized in signing major label cast-offs that still have a significant fan base. Moreover, as Leigh told Brian Baker of Country Standard Time, they allow a generous amount of creative freedom. "Before I said a word, I asked them what their practices were on production, and they said, 'You go out, and pick your producer, make the record, bring it to us, and we figure out what the hell to do with it.'"
The subsequent album, Divide & Conquer, featured two of Leigh's compositions as well as the tasteful invention of producer Pete Anderson, Dwight Yoakam's producer and lead guitarist. Mixing honky-tonk sentiment with sultry come-ons and a dash of romantic introspection, it proved among her strongest work. Positive reviews from sources as disparate as Entertainment Weekly and CDNOW have since buoyed Leigh's career, though she has scaled back some of her earlier expectations. "I am determined to make this work," she told Keel of Country Music. "Nothing is going to stop me from making it happen. Whether that includes radio success or not, I don't know. But success to me comes in many different fashions. Getting radio airplay is not going to make or break me."
by Ken Burke
Danni Leigh's Career
First sang in public, 1973; moved to Orlando, FL, sang back-up for various rock, ska, and funk bands, 1989; moved to Nashville, TN, 1994; signed with Decca, released 29 Nights, 1998; released A Shot of Whiskey & A Prayer on Sony/Monument, 2001; signed with Audium Entertainment, released Divide & Conquer, 2001.
- Selected discography
- 29 Nights , Decca Nashville, 1998.
- A Shot of Whiskey & A Prayer , Sony/Monument, 2001.
- Divide & Conquer , Audium Entertainment, 2001.
- Country Music, August/September 2001.
- Country Standard Time, November 2001.
- People, October 12, 1998.
- "Danni Leigh," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (July 7, 2002).
- "Danni Leigh," CountryStars.com, http://www.countrystars.com/index.html?/artists/dleigh.html (September 5, 2002).
- "Danni Leigh," Star Music, http://starmusic.no/danni_leigh.htm (July 7, 2002).
- "Danni Leigh: Divide And Conquer," CountryReview.com, http://www.countryreview.com/DanniLeigh/ (July 7, 2002).
- Danni Leigh Official Website, http://www.dannileigh.com (June 18, 2002).
- "Take Country Back Presents ... " Take Country Back, http://takecountryback.com/reviews/dl0401.html (July 7, 2002).
- Additional information was provided by Audium publicity materials, 2002.