If you frequent Americana or Bluegrass festivals across the country, then it’s likely you’ve heard and seen the performances of East Tennessee’s own Alex Leach Band. While he is only in his 30s, Alex has actually been working in the industry for nearly two decades. I caught up with Alex recently to learn a little bit more about his entry into the industry and how the band came to be.
Chris Blue: What inspired you to start playing music?
Alex Leach: Growing up, as far as I can remember back a lot of my family had different influences all over. My dad always listened to more of the 1980s Guns and Roses, Motley Crue style of music—and my mom was a big country music fan. And then every time I would go over to my grandparents house, I would hear the Beach Boys and a lot of the old style of music, old r&b. So I’ve got a lot of that inside me for sure. Then when I was about six years old, for the first time—it was about 1995 or so—we got our first computer at my grandparents house. I started looking through a CD ROM encyclopedia, just listening to different kinds of music and different clips. I heard bluegrass for the first time, and it was a Bill Monroe song that came on. When I heard that, it really struck me. I thought wow, I’d like to play some mandolin or guitar or something like that. And that’s kind of how it all started there.
CB: Were your mom or dad instrumentalists as well?
AL: My grandfather played a little bit of guitar, but none of them really played at all. So I was kind of just starting from scratch. I didn’t pick an instrument up for a few years, but I just started listening to music and collecting CDs and tapes. Then I discovered WDVX out of Knoxville. They were in Clinton at the time in the 14-foot camper. At that time, I really wanted to be a DJ, so my grandfather took me down to meet the general manager at WDVX, Tony Lawson. I was probably about nine years old at that time. And lo and behold, Tony invites me to guest DJ. A few months go by and right before I turned 10, he said, ‘Do you want to do your own show?’ And that’s kind of how that all began. By the time I was about 11 years old, I said, ‘Well, my goodness, I’ve got to try to pick up a guitar or banjo or mandolin or something and start trying to play it,’ because the bug finally bit me.
CB: This was the 90s so YouTube wasn’t around. So how did you learn?
AL: I really loved listening to records and CDs, and so I would sit for hours at a time listening to one of my favorite albums and just trying to play along with it and learn what I could do. My papaw would also take me up to a little jam that happened up on Red Oak Mountain, near New River, Tennessee. And a lot of the old time musicians would get together up there about once a month, cook venison and deer chili, and have a little picking out at this little log cabin. They were all kind enough to let me sit in and watch and kind of take some mental notes, and join in with them. And that’s how I learned to play the guitar and other instruments.
CB: So how many instruments can you play, and which is your favorite?
AL: Mainly, guitar, mandolin, banjo, and bass. And I would say probably either the guitar or the banjo would be my favorite to play. Of course, I play guitar in my band now.
CB: Is there an instrument you wish you knew how to play?
AL: I would give anything to be able to play a fiddle. But if you’ve ever seen fiddle, you better run the other way.
CB: When does James Randolph come into picture?
AL: I was probably about 12 or 13. I used to go down to Roy’s Record Shop in Maryville. My papaw a lot of times would take me down there on the weekends. A lot of times they were kind enough to give me some vinyl records. So I would go down into my grandparents basement when I was there and put them on the turntable and listen to them. One day, I came across a Bluegrass Tarheels record. Randolph played with the Bluegrass Tarheels and wrote a lot of great songs. So I became a big fan of theirs. The song “Golden Rule” was one of my favorites. Several of their original songs were just awesome and struck my attention. I wish I could have met James. We try to do some of their songs from time to time and carry on their tradition.
CB: You guys had a lot of success with one of his songs, didn’t you?
AL: The song “Golden Rule” was one of my favorites. So we decided to record that. After we put it out on the Mountain Home Music label—our record label—they released that as a single. Lo and behold it stayed 19 weeks at number one on the Bluegrass Gospel Charts. It was an honor to get to record that song and keep their music alive.
CB: Did your wife Miranda meet you signing and playing instruments?
AL: It was back in 2016. And one of my friends that I’ve played music with on and off, Donnie, lives up in Pennsylvania. And he called me up and said, ‘I’ve got a little show here. It’s just a town festival. And I’d love for you to come up and sit in with me.’ And I was playing with Ralph Stanley II at the time, and we were in Indiana playing at the Bill Monroe Festival. Me and a good friend of mine that plays with the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys ended up driving all the way to Pennsylvania and meeting up with Donnie and playing the show with him. And it just so happened my wife came to that town festival. She was living in New York at the time, grew up there in Pennsylvania. She hadn’t had her driver’s license, but just a few months. That was her first trip driving, and I see her in the crowd. We ended up having a little after party and we got to talking and realized how much we had in common. About three weeks after that, she flew down here to East Tennessee, stayed a week with me and she said that she was really wanting to become an East Tennessee mountain gal. So that was pretty much history.
CB: What do Jon Weisberger and Jim Lauderdale mean to you?
AL: I met Jim for the first time when I was first starting DJing at WDVX. He’s been a great friend of the radio station. So I thought, when I decide to start my own band, I think the first person I want to call is Jim Lauderdale and see if he might be able to steer us in the right direction. I called him, and sure enough, he said, ‘I would love to get you set up with a good record label and produce your first album.’ And so he did all of that and really helped us out so much. And, of course with Mountain Home Music, Jon Weisberger, I’ve known about him for a long time because he played with Chris Jones for many years and several other bands. And he’s a mighty famous songwriter as well. The second album that we released was produced by Jon.
CB: What can we look forward to with the Alex Leach Band, aside from the recent release of your album?
AL: It was a little bit tricky, you know, starting the band in 2019. And of course the pandemic hits. So all of our shows for 2020 got canceled. Now we’re just getting everything back up and rolling and we’re so excited to have released a new album. It’s the first album I’ve released where 10 out of the 12 songs are original songs.
You can learn more about Alex and follow the band’s journey at thealexleachband.com.