Current Home: Houston
Age: Who's Asking? (wink)
Musical Influences: Connie Smith, Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs, Patsy Cline, Ray Price, George Jones, Johnny Paycheck
Artist Bio: Leslie Ann Sloan - or Miss Leslie on album covers and show posters - began a dual training program at the age of five. The more official part of the program consisted of Suzuki violin lessons; the other half of the training involved absorbing the sounds made by her bluegrass-playing parents. From there, the path went like this: playing fiddle in the family band, studying classic violin and opera in college, and then detouring to the corporate world where the financial rewards were tempting, but the ladder-climbing dispiriting. She returned to music full on in 2004 as the leader of Miss Leslie & the Juke Jointers - a covers-leaning septet with, in Sloan's words, "a big band honky tonk sound" - and these days she can be found fronting a more compact outfit clearly centered on her expressive voice and her own songs. "Do what you love," advises Miss Leslie. "Leading a country band is 10 times harder than working in the corporate world and pays 100 times less. But country music is my passion. It's in my heart and soul."
CST's Take: Vintage country sounds and stories - in other words, from-the-heart writing and plenty of pedal steel guitar, just as Webb Pierce intended.
Country Standard Time: Start with a tough one: what do you think is the best country song ever written? Not necessarily your favorite, but the one you think is the best. And why?
Miss Leslie: There's no way that I could pick a favorite. There's so many great country songs, both classic and modern. Don't You Believe Her by Harlan Howard is a favorite of mine. My Heart's Been Cheating on Me by James Hand is another one. I love Honky Tonk Haze by Jim Lauderdale. What echoes through these songs and any song that appeals to me is songwriting from a genuine place inside the songwriter and a great melody. Some songwriters seem to think that country music is all cliches and catchy hooks stuck together in notes and chords. They miss what country music is all about. When you hear He Stopped Loving Her Today or When the Grass Grows Over Me - why does that song make you catch your breath? Because you have experienced that. You understand the feelings in the song and the songwriter has found a melody that captures that spirit. And even better if you can have a singer deliver the song as it was meant to be sung.
CST: On a similar note, what do you think is the best country song that you've written? What is it about the song that makes you think it is your best?
ML: This is probably a tougher question than the first. But I would probably have to say In the Matter of Me and You. It is the most genuine and most sad song I've ever written. But I love it because I believe that it captures those feelings that exist with the end of a relationship. You've divided all of your belongings. You have a game plan for going on with your life. But what about all of those feelings from that relationship that seem to continue on? How do you separate those feelings? What do you do with those feelings?
CST: Can you describe how it felt, with "Between the Whiskey and the Wine," to release an album of all original songs? I would think that any time you release a record you're putting yourself out there, but this would seem to represent yet another layer or level, if that makes sense...
ML: Back when I believed that I was not a songwriter, I would tell people that I did not have that level of courage that it took to be a songwriter. I completely agree that it is one thing to release an album of your vocals, arrangements and instrumental tracks. And it is an entirely different thing to present to the world your songs. If you are a songwriter like I am, you write from the heart. I'm not just giving you some words that I've written with no meaning. This is a collection of my personal writing about my life and feelings...But my journey prior to recording this album was coming to terms with accepting myself and having the confidence to live who I truly was - instead of being the way other people wanted me to be. Once I gained that confidence, recording the album was just that next step of living that person. The album is a part of me. I love it. I'd love it if everyone loved it and accepted it. But I love it for myself and that's truly all that matters to me.
CST: Have you ever had a - well, argument is too strong a word, so how about discussion - with someone at one of your shows who's convinced that one of your songs is an obscure country nugget and not an original?
ML: (laughs) That would be great! What a huge compliment that would be! No, it hasn't happened yet - although the opposite has happened. I do a lot of obscure covers from the '60s at my shows. Before I started songwriting, I only did a few original tunes that Jake Jenkins wrote. I'd have people come up to me at shows and say I needed to do more cover tunes. That's funny, when you just finished playing a couple of George Jones' tunes...What seems a little odd to me is to be put in the same category as traditional country bands that play all covers. I had a discussion with a DJ about that just last weekend. Until that discussion, I hadn't thought about that people hear the sound of what we're playing. Even though we're playing original music, it is still very much a "classic" country band.
CST: Growing up you lived in South Carolina, Kentucky and Texas - three pretty good country music states. (What, you couldn't arrange any time in Bakersfield, Cal.?) What effect on your musical tastes and your songwriting did those locales have?
ML: I have a strong belief that the music you listen to as a young child has a profound influence on you and affects your musical foundation. I've had parents ask me if they will play Mozart to their kids, will it make them musically talented? My advice is to play the music that you love to listen to. If there's a lot of music going on (and genetics helps quite a bit as well), they'll latch on if that's what they're meant to do. All genres of music stimulate our brain cells to think creatively.
For me, I believe that bluegrass was a huge influence on me. My parents would frequently jam with their friends or play bluegrass shows around town when we lived in Kentucky. I remember falling asleep at night to the sounds of my parents playing bluegrass in the basement. Every year we'd go to the bluegrass festival at the Belvedere in Louisville. I saw Vince Gill onstage when he was 18. I heard acts like Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers and Jim and Jesse McReynolds live. That was my musical foundation. Of course, my Dad also listened to classic country: Ray Price, Melba Montgomery, etc. I moved to Texas when I was nine, and just a few years later, George Strait and Ricky Skaggs started a traditional country music revival. If you'll recall, George Strait covered a lot of Bob Wills tunes and Ricky Skaggs covered a lot of bluegrass (in a country way). That really resounded with me. It was the music I'd grown up listening to, but they were doing it in a fresh way. I fell in love and my love affair with country music has not ended.
CST: When does a violin become a fiddle and vice versa?
ML: The funny thing is my violin teacher in high school was the co-concertmaster of the Houston Symphony. He was from the UK, and he called the violin a fiddle. But most people refer to the instrument as a violin when they're talking about classical music. And then call it a fiddle when you're playing pretty much everything else.
CST: I've seen Ricky Davis on pedal steel for Dale Watson, and I know what a fine player he is. Can you talk about the importance of pedal steel in a country band?
ML: In my opinion, the steel guitar is crucial to country music. I won't limit it to pedal steel guitar. I certainly consider the non-pedal steel guitar as a great fit in a country band, especially for that Hank Williams Sr. sound. But I have a big problem with a country band without the steel guitar. Think about it: you can probably think of a lot of country music that does not have fiddle. But steel guitar? Since the recording of Slowly I'm Falling by Webb Pierce, it has been the signature instrument in country music. Which is why I'm not into the modern "country" sound and do not consider it to be "country" music. Even when the steel guitar is utilized on tracks, it is recorded and mixed in a way that makes it sound like an electric guitar. Huh? What is the point of that? I'm a huge steel guitar advocate and could go on for days, but I think that it is a shame that this instrument is disappearing from country music. It is one of the most beautiful instruments to hear, and we are losing players and potential players because "country" bands are not using steel guitar. It breaks my heart.