Danni Leigh

Danni Leigh may have been destined to be a country singer.

She was born in Strasburg - a small town in the Shenandoah Valley, 15 minutes from where the late Patsy Cline first drew breath.

Leigh grew up in a family that was naturally musically inclined.

She sang at every possible school and church function as a child, remarking to her parents at the age of three, after a particularly successful appearance, that she wanted to be a star.

The dream remained through Leigh's high school days, continuing into her senior year when a guidance counsellor tried to dissuade her from her singing career and follow peers into college, a trade or the service.

Leigh learned carpentry, detoured into an office job that she hated and finally returning to carpentry.

Danni was also making the beauty pageant rounds before she took jobs in Florida at a theme park and FedEx.

She was transferred to Nashville in 1994 and quit package delivery for a job as animal keeper for legendary singer and storyteller Tom T Hall before a waitress job at famed Bluebird Cafe.

There she met music publisher Michael Knox, which led to a publishing deal, demos and eventually her contract with Decca and her first album 29 Nights in 1998.


After she finished 29 Nights, Leigh returned to Virginia to do a small hometown show. Her high school guidance counselor was in attendance that evening and offered a very special message to Leigh.

"He came up to me and said, 'Forgive an old fool,'" Leigh remembers. "I said, 'you're crazy.

There's nothing for me to forgive. I was never discouraged by what you'd said. It just kind of encouraged me to make it happen even more.' No one ever dissuaded me from singing, they were just in fear of something they didn't understand."

Knox and Mark Wright produced her 1994 disc on which she co-wrote seven songs.

The long tall temptress was promoted as a gender bending Dwight Yoakam with black hat, tight jeans and penchant for Bakersfield honky-tonk.

She kicked off her disc with Michael Henderson-Mark Wright's If The Jukebox Took Teardrops and also Teardrops, Teardrops - one of two songs penned with Austin writer Monte Warden of Wagoneers fame.

The only covers were Shotgun Willie Nelson's historic Touch Me, Merle Haggard-Tommy Collins tune Mixed Up Mess Of A Heart and Harlan Howard-Kostas song I Feel A Heartache.

But after a corporate merger Danni was left in the cold.

Fortunately, she signed a new deal with Sony's Monument division a few months later.


Believing that the record company was committed to her success, Danni went into the studio and recorded her second album, A Shot Of Whiskey And A Prayer with producers Emory Gordy Jr and Richard Bennett.

But, after a year of hard work, recording, touring and promoting, Monument pulled the plug after her first two releases from the album, Honey I Do and I Don't Feel That Way Anymore, failed to impact on radio programmers.

"We were guaranteed it would be a big hit by several Sony staffers," says Danni.

"They told me they were in it for the long haul. What was so frustrating is that we planned everything with Sony every step of the way. I can't say it was all Sony's fault.

Maybe I should have stood up a little more. But with that much money on the table, it's hard to say 'No, I'm not going to do that' to a powerhouse like Sony."

Monument wasn't even going to release the album, but fan demand prompted release in February 2001 with no promotion effort whatsoever.

The album gained #10 Internet success in the U.S., Great Britain, Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland.

Leigh only wrote two songs on the disc - finale Cruel Heart with Andy Byrd.

And the catchy Longnecks, Cigarettes with Guy Clark sidekick Richard Leigh, writer of Crystal Gayle hit Don't It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue.


But it featured Charlie Robison tune I Don't Feel That Way Anymore, Leslie Satcher's Shiver Of Lonesome, Kevin Welch's oft recorded What'cha Gonna Do, Max D Barnes Can't Build A Better Love and Paul Kennerly song Trying to Get Over You.

Leigh felt that to appease major labels she was obliged to play along.

In doing so, she sacrificed much of the creative decision making process, from song selections to arrangements to actual style.

Leigh admits they could have been far better and more satisfying but is philosophical about her first attempts at recording.

"I'm one of those people that believes that everything happens for a reason, and the universe is so much smarter than we are, and I think there's always reasons for what happens," says Leigh.

"Obviously, I had to make these two records, and everything had to fall in place like it did in order for me to get to the point musically to be able to make this album."

Audium Records - then home of Loretta Lynn, Dale Watson, Confederate Railroad, The Kentucky Headhunters, and Charlie Daniels - came to the rescue for Leigh's third album Divide And Conquer.

It was released on November 6, 2001.


Danni had several opportunities with Divide And Conquer she didn't get with previous labels.
She finally got to work with producer Pete Anderson, best known for his production and guitar playing with Dwight Yoakam.

She had been in contact with him since before her first album and he was eager to work with her.

But each time he initiated conversations with Leigh's labels, he rejected their visions of her work and declined any further involvement.

"Working with Pete was a wonderful experience," says Danni. "He cares about the country format and he cares about artists who love country music."

Leigh maintains that despite the Anderson production she is no Yoakam clone.

"I do honky-tonk hillbilly music, but vocally I sound nothing like Dwight, and I never have," Leigh says.

"Influences, yeah, definitely. They come from Bakersfield. I'm lucky if I get a nasal sound out. And that's where he lives."

But she draws deep on Anderson's work with Yoakam for her sound.

"You know, I've searched my memory bank in search of words to explain what it was like to finally get to work with him," says Leigh. "I've waited my whole musical career. I've been a fan of Pete's all the way across the board. I've already told Pete he's going to have to tell me to go the hell away if he ever wants to get rid of me. He's pretty much going to be working with me for the rest of my life, as far as I'm concerned. It was worth the wait."
Leigh was confident she had assembled a killer collection of songs to bring to the table.

She scoured Nashville publishing companies for good material, assisted by a call from Anderson, and she had written a few of her own, all of which seemed like pure winners to her.

"I got this fantastic collection of music together and went to L.A. for pre-production with Pete, and everything that I had in my bag taking out there for the first time with Pete I really liked," says Leigh.


"And I sat down with Pete, and all of a sudden he's going, Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.' His standards for a great song are much higher than most. And he played no favourites on my music. He said 'you needed to try harder there. You dropped the ball lyrically right there.' And he was right. Lots of time, you'll just choose the word that rhymes the easiest and stick it in there, instead of exploring a little bit. So, when we started going through songs, I realised I didn't have near as many as I thought, and that it was going to take pretty special songs to please both of us."

Buck Owens, Danni Leigh & Dwight Yoakam

Leigh began fine-tuning the songs she'd written, and Anderson helped with a wealth of hillbilly music that he'd held onto for himself or for his various production projects.
The songs that Leigh arrived with presented a problem of their own.

"The songs that I took out there were a batch of Jim Lauderdale songs," says Leigh. "And Pete was like, we can't just cut a tribute to Jim Lauderdale record on you. Let's get into some of the stuff I've got out here.' We found some great songs that fit me perfectly, in some of the most obscure places that I never would have looked."

Songwriting wasn't the only area where Anderson exercised his creative will. Leigh was constantly challenged by Anderson in all facets of the recording process to bring the intensity up a notch or two.


"I practiced acoustic guitar with Pete," says Leigh. "I'd be thinking I'm doing pretty good, and he'd come in and go, what is that note? That's not how that goes, do it like this.' He doesn't let you get away with stuff. He'll push you to your limit and then push your limit even further. You end up becoming a lot more diverse than when you got there. I always felt like I had more inside me, but I never ran into anyone that wanted to stretch the boundaries like that."

The other unfamiliar process that Anderson made Leigh adhere to was rehearsal. Leigh's band on Divide and Conquer is essentially the band that records and tours with Yoakam, and Anderson wanted to make sure that both Leigh and the band were well acquainted with the material before they entered the studio.

Danni also had the creative freedom to record songs she wrote five and six years ago that did not fit the mold of what Decca and Monument wanted for her.

Danni co-wrote Yesterday with Michael Lunn and Michael Noble five years before.

"I've written a lot with Michael and Michael, and this one was created by its melody first.

The lyric is significant of what I was going through at the time - knowing your past and having to crawl out of it."

Last Train To San Antone is one of Danni's favourites - she says that this is the first opportunity that she's truly had to record it.

Written about nine years ago, Danni confides that this is a song that "just kept falling out - I couldn't stop writing it, the verses just kept coming." This track is definitely one of the highlights of the album.


Jim Lauderdale penned the title track - one of his three songs on this album and lent his voice to the background vocals as well.

The others are He Used To Say That To Me - and Sometimes.

Danni describes it as the strength she feels about the whole project, hence becoming the album's title.

He Used To Say That To Me was a song Danni says she was able to immediately relate to.

"This song is pretty typical of the way it goes for me. The song made perfect sense the first time I heard it."

Vocally, Danni shows her true country roots on House Of Pain.

"This is country, country, like a George Jones song," Leigh revealed, "I love the words to this song. Lyrically and melodically it's perfect. I knew it needed to be on the album."



"I live in the house of pain, it always seems to rain/ the rooms are dark and plain, now that he's gone/ and no-one ever calls, and I climbed every wall/ my life is a crying shame, here in the house of pain." - House Of Pain - Brett Beavers.

Danni Leigh is the mistress of paradox - she hired Dwight Yoakam producer-guitarist Pete Anderson to mastermind her third CD Divide And Conquer (Audium-Shock.)

That was after being dubbed a Dwight gender-bending clone in image and music on her first two discs.

Oh, she also chose songs by Dwight protégé Jim Lauderdale to bookend her new disc which features two of her own compositions - five less than on her debut 29 Nights.

But Ms Leigh proves once again she is a free spirit mining the rich motherlode of roots country that has almost disappeared from the radio landscape.


"I do honky-tonk hillbilly music, but vocally I sound nothing like Dwight, and I never have," Leigh, 34, says, "influences, yeah, definitely. They come from Bakersfield."

But the singer doesn't reach for fiction to prime the pathos pump to refuel her song catalogue.

Leigh, born 15 miles from Patsy Cline in Strasburg, Virginia, suffered her own career nose dive after ascending from being Tom T Hall's animal keeper to cutting seven of her own songs on her debut disc 29 Nights.

Leigh's label Decca closed midway through promotion and second label Monument dumped her after two singles and belatedly released her album A Shot Of Whiskey And A Prayer.

This time the peaks and troughs are less pronounced with the morose mood set early with He Used To Say That To Me and My Last Chance Is Gone.

Leigh picks up the tempo and assertion with her spirited reading of Phil Lee's Somebody Ought To Do Something About That Girl before she's trapped in Brett Beaver's House Of Pain.

Its here, drenched with lachrymose lava, that Leigh drowns in despair.

"I live in the house of pain, it always seems to rain/ the rooms are dark and plain, now that he's gone/ and no-one ever calls, and I climbed every wall/ my life is a crying shame, here in the house of pain."

Melancholia reigns in A Far Cry From Here and Abra Moore's Don't Feel Like Crying before a mood swing energises the vibrance of Yesterday - a Leigh co-write with the Michaels, Lunn and Noble.

Last Train To San Antone, penned with her regular co-writer Doug Swander, is one of those dreamy existential exits that free the artist.

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