Leigh Gibson is a modern day bluegrass soul. A keeper of stories sung and spoken, Leigh can turn summer roasted festival grounds into your grandparent’s cool screened backporch with avuncular qualities of a past age.
The Gibson Brothers robust but nuanced sound is accompanied by Leigh’s script-less narration during shows. Guiding the audience through paroxysms of laughter and tears, the band’s impeccable improvisation on originals and covers is occasionally beaten out by the unrehearsed banter of its lead entertainer. Like Jimmy Driftwood or Woody Guthrie, Leigh is authentic and free of camp. Arlo Guthrie embodies this self-effacing humor for his generation. Leigh follows suit for his. In this post I divide Leigh’s work into solo singing, guitar picking, duet singing and songwriting.
Fellow GB fan, Phil Wells, has commented that Leigh has one of the “big voices.” I concur and list some of his actual and potential influences.
- Mac Wiseman, Lester Flatt, Jimmy Martin, Charlie Waller, and Keith Whitley.
- Jimmie Rodgers, Jimmy Martin, Leigh Gibson (“Blue Yodel #3”).
- Pat Enright of the Nashville Bluegrass Band (mentioned during Leigh’s interview with Katy Daley) specifically on “Walking West to Memphis“.
- Levon Helm would be proud to hear the GB cover of “Ophelia” at the Midnight Ramble or Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.
- Ray Charles for the GB cover of “I Got A Woman“.
- Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers sang every note with dignity and pride. Eric and Leigh share their baritone to tenor range and unison emphasis annunciation. The integrity of the GB sound is peerless. I had to go back the Clancy/Makem combo to find an equal.
Leigh has recently switched to a Bluechip TD40 pick for usage with his Martin D18A and Henderson D28. I divide Leigh’s guitar picking into four parts:
- Cross-picking and flat picking: Charles Sawtelle, Tim O’Brien, Doc Watson, George Shuffler-style (played here by James Alan Shelton);
- Rhythm: Jimmy Martin, Del McCoury, Tony Rice, Lynn Morris and Lester Flatt.
- Travis–Chet–Gibson: I like to think of Leigh as the band’s conductor and his guitar as “the baton” regardless of guitar styling.
Songwriting: Geographical and biographical references frequently tilt towards a post-agrarian and post-industrialization North in Leigh’s songs. Examples include: “Sam Smith“, “Bottomland“, “The Barn Song“, “Railroad Line“, “Iron and Diamonds” and “Safe Passage“. “Borders and Time” and “Gillis Mountain” by the Rankin Family are also rich with imagery of the North Country (albeit Nova Scotia’s rather than New York’s) and challenge the notion that Southern Country Music is the sole holder of these musical themes and sensibilities.
Duet Singing: Leigh’s tenor always “swings for the fences”. Resonance in his chest and throat supported by a Dylan-esque set of power lungs define him. Some comparisons to classic duets include: Louvins “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby” to GB “Picture in the Moonlight”; NBB “Home” to GB “One Raindrop”; Louvins “He Can Be Found” to GB “He Can Be Found“; Blue Sky Boys “Happy Sunnyside of Life” to GB “Happy Sunnyside of Life“.
This is my final installment about the Gibson Brothers band members. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read the previous posts about Eric Gibson, Clayton Campbell, Mike Barber, and Joe Walsh. Visit the Leigh Gibson playlist on YouTube.
The Gibson Brothers perform at the Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival in Brunswick, Maine on Sunday September 2nd. Visit the festival website for details.
Leigh Gibson with his Henderson D28, June 2012