Old school cool: Leon Bridges freshens up classic sound
Leon Bridges is on the phone from Atlanta, where in a few hours he’ll perform a concert for an audience that may include one of his idols, OutKast’s Andre 3000.
Bridges ran into the rapper recently after a performance at the Austin City Limits festival, and was shocked to learn that Andre not only knew who he was, but was a fan. They exchanged numbers, and Bridges invited him to come to the concert.
One year ago, Bridges was not exchanging texts with Andre 3000. He had just released his debut single, “Coming Home,” and was still washing dishes at a chain restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas.
Now he’s on his first headlining tour and is making some major noise. The old-school soul singer, who channels singers like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding in style, look and sound, released his debut album in June and looks poised to make a big splash when this year’s Grammy nominees are announced in December.
“I’ve definitely come a long way,” says Bridges, who plays a sold-out Majestic Theatre on Saturday. “I don’t know if I’m ready or not, but I really don’t have any other choice.”
Bridges was born in Atlanta, but raised in Fort Worth. The 26-year-old says he’s been making up songs his whole life, and grew up in a household where his parents listened to artists such as Anita Baker, Sade, Stevie Wonder and Bobby Womack.
Bridges was a fan of modern R&B artists such as 112 and Ginuwine, and didn’t take particular notice of soul music until he saw “Remember the Titans,” which featured artists such as Bobby “Blue” Bland, the Temptations and Leon Russell on its soundtrack. Later, a friend turned him on to 1950s gospel music. “The only thing I knew about gospel music was Kirk Franklin,” he says. “It totally blew me away.”
He went to college to study choreography and dance, and while there he met a friend who was always toting around a keyboard. They made songs together, and at 21, Bridges taught himself to play the guitar.
“That was the beginning,” he says. “I was determined to write my own songs. I just loved how the guitar was so portable, I’d go out and sit in front of Starbucks and just play. I wasn’t trying to show off or anything, I just loved being around people.”
A friend heard his music and asked if Sam Cooke was an influence. Bridges had an awareness of Cooke, but had never dug deep into his catalog. Once he did, a switch went off.
“I fell in love,” Bridges says. “I looked at black music today, and I was like, why isn’t there anybody doing this? So I felt like as a black musician, I wanted to carry on that tradition. Not to say I’m going to fill anybody’s shoes, but just carry it on.”
Now Bridges is all-in on the retro wave; he dresses in vintage clothing, his album artwork is stylized to look like a 1950s record sleeve and even his Instagram pictures are black-and-white. “I figured out early on that aesthetic is very important,” he says.
And now he’s reaping the benefits. As his profile grows, he plans to stay true to the style.
“I like to keep everything very classic and to the time,” he says. Going forward, “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I think a lot more people will know who I am, which is cool, but I’ll be doing the same thing: writing songs under the umbrella of classic R&B music.”
Andre 3000 will be listening, and so will many others.
with Kali Uchis
7:30 p.m. Saturday
Majestic Theatre, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit
Tickets sold out
(313) 833-9700 or majesticdetroit.com