On New Year’s Eve Day, Leroy kicked off the Northeast tour here in NYC. Rico, his lap steel player since the early days, was not on this jaunt so I got to jump in the rental car and see what it’s like to be on the road for four shows. He’s known by many names and projects—Hellbound Glory, The eXcavators, Leon Virgil Bowers, and Leroy Virgil. I’ve created a Smart Playlist in iTunes to encompass all his work. Having listened to little else since Thanksgiving, I was ready to kick off 2016 with the chance to see things from his side of the stage.
Gig 1: New Year’s Eve in Queens, at our beloved Strand Smokehouse with JD Patch and his band killing it to a packed house. The Strand pulls in such a great crowd from everywhere as the BBQ joint in the borough. JD was gracious enough to sing and lend his band for accompaniment.
With the show over, we hit the road, taking the back way through Vermont listening to Rossini as we wove through a thin blanket of snow covered trees on unpaved mountain roads. Driving with Leroy is a trip as a fan. He uses the time to critique his own work; he’ll then release different versions of the same song because he found a new perspective. We listened to the upcoming releases of The Excavators, “Going Poaching +2” and Hellbound Glory, “3 USA Country Classics”.
The eXcavators features Going Poaching on the surface sounds like a cheating song, but has many layers and meanings; it will show you a new face at each listen. Third World County sounds like a follow-up to The Feud, where his imagery of the law of the land is a line in the sand continues, and the music is deliciously scummy. Live in a Honky-Tonk captures Leroy sitting on a kick drum with a guitar and Rico smoking the lap steel in some little bar in some little town where those who get it go.
3 USA Country Classics are as formulaic as you’re going to get from him as it paints our youth:
Rusted up old pickup trucks
Cruising on a country road
Shootin signs, killing time
Way out by where the cops don’t roll
Blasting glass bottles and cans
Watching watermelons explode
In a rusted up old pickup truck
Crusing on a country road
–Rusted Up Old Pick-Up Trucks
I don’t think he wants to censor himself for radio play, nor tone down any image he styles. Yet, with an unforgettable voice and lyrical skills best compared to Kristofferson, Cash, Nelson, and Jennings, it’s shocking that his work hasn’t brought greater notoriety. He exemplifies the culture of the new breed of good ol’ boys who haven’t fallen far from the family tree. His performance captured in the song Hellbound Glory Live in Detroit nails it.
Gig 2: Pawlet, Vermont, The Barn. Leroy’s performance at the White Trash Bash music festival blew off everybody’s doors, so they all came to this gig and packed it wall-to-wall. It was great to finally meet the crowds north as I’m always looking to expand the Hellbetty Highway and meet Facebook buddies I’ve communicated with for years.
Gig 3: McKinley Tavern Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, with the whaling Jake Morelli on guitar. The bar was packed with fans. We joined many friends and met new fans such as the inventor of Living Dead Dolls super nice guy brought his family to the show. The cool part of this gig was how close in everybody got. The best thing about this genre is you can experience live music while almost nose-to-nose with your favorite bands.
Everywhere we went there were fans willing to host us. I had a sweet situation all lined up 30-minutes away when a couple from down the street offered to host. Leroy accepted, and I ordered a whiskey while we listened for our choices on the jukebox. The couple had one of those chill spots in the basement with vintage lamps and furniture and a Pollock-esque painting on the wall. We talked music and the art of living into the wee hours of the morning.
Gig 4: The next day we headed to Frederick, Maryland, to the Blue Side Tavern The gig was a great reunion of fellow fans I’ve known throughout the years at the Muddy Roots Music Festival, and many local shows. That night fellow artist Mason D. Tinsley of Rickett Pass and banjoist of Taylor Swift with his lovely gal, Natasha of By the Graveyard Tree hosted and we had fun chilling in another basement talking smack and playing music. Later that morning, Leroy serenaded us with Delta Dawn during breakfast.
He drove me up to Philadelphia Amtrak and I collapsed into my notes and photos and mementos as headphones fed me the LVB playlist of new memories.
Live in a Honky-Tonk: