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Is the third time the charm for Danni Leigh?

By Brian Baker, November 2001

Page 2...

Leigh began fine tuning the songs that she'd written, and Anderson helped with an archived 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.

In a lot of ways, with the incredible amount of thought and rework and practice that went into creating "Divide and Conquer," the album almost feels like Leigh's debut all over again.

The irony of the situation is not lost on Leigh, who has endured more than her share of ironically bad breaks in her career.

Leigh grew up in a small town in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, not exactly a hotbed of musical opportunity, to 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 counselor tried to dissuade her from her fantasy singing career and follow her peers into college, a trade or the service.

Although she was slightly intimidated by the fact that her friends were all embarking on their careers and she was merely talking about hers, she remained steadfast in her determination to sing for a living. Leigh learned carpentry and put that to good use after high school, detouring into an office job which she hated and finally returning to carpentry.

Leigh was also making the beauty pageant rounds at this point, with her construction crew buddies making up a vocal and rowdy cheering section when she competed. Eventually, she moved to Florida where she waitressed, bartended and became a bungee jumpmaster all while she sang in small bars and clubs.

A position at FedEx in Florida led to a transfer to Nashville, where Leigh abandoned package delivery for a waitressing job at the legendary 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.

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."

With all of the ups and downs and back and forth that Danni Leigh has experienced in her turbulent career to date, her concept of success has changed pretty drastically. She knows now what is important in her career and in her life.

"Prior to getting to Nashville, I always said that all I wanted was a record deal," says Leigh. "When I signed the first deal, I thought that was it. I'm going to be famous. Then all hell broke loose. That rug got yanked out from underneath me so many times, I walk around rugs now."

"But success has changed for me. The way my career has gone, I know that I'm successful, and nobody can take that away from me. I don't need to be Garth Brooks. I need to be happy. I need to be able to make my music, and write songs and play guitar and make a living at it. Charlie Daniels told me that if you want a lifelong career at it, you've got to go out there and get the fans. They're not going to come to you, you've got to go get them. That's my focus this year. I want my songs played on small-town radio, and I want to got to my fans and touch their hands and play my music and make sure that I'm able to do this the rest of my life."

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