The Heart Behind the Music
Singer-songwriters launch this week's Jimmie Rodgers Festival
Meridian's Temple Theater will be the setting Wednesday for a songwriter's night as part of this year's Jimmie Rodgers Festival.
The Heart Behind the Music tour starts at 7:30 p.m. Three men, Lenny LeBlanc, Teddy Gentry, and Mac McAnally, will toss out the familiar songs they've crafted, along with stories about their inspiration in the tradition of Nashville's songwriter shows.
"It's a celebration of the creative arts among close friends and longtime co-workers," McAnally said in a recent telephone interview. "There's some heart to the songwriter's art that only comes out that way, and with the Jimmie Rodgers Festival, there's no better time to do that."
McAnally is a Mississippi native, and a four-time Country Music Association Musician of the Year recipient. Gentry is a member of the group Alabama, and writer of 16 of the group's 43 number one songs. LeBlanc is an international singer-songwriter who crossed over from pop to gospel in the 1980s.
McAnally says his songwriting style evolved rather organically. He wasn't trying to do it in the beginning while growing up in Belmont, Mississippi, and jamming with neighbors.
"Somebody in my family decided that's what I should be doing," McAnally said of his music. "Neighbors brought over mandolins and saxophones, instruments that don't normally go together."
One day he sat down at the piano in Belmont's First Baptist Church, and a song came out of him as if it was already written.
"I romanticized that maybe that's how people write songs," McAnally said. Soon he would learn sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's hard. Always, however, Mississippi is very much a part of everything he does.
"Belmont is where I either figured things out, or thought I figured things out," McAnally said. "I try to write songs with insight. My basic method has been to live my life, and draw conclusions."
What McAnally has learned along the way is what he passes on to others in his music.
"It's an honor to be included in the Jimmie Rodgers Festival. He certainly is a role model for anyone creative," McAnally said. "If there was a Mount Rushmore to creativity he'd be sitting on it."
For Teddy Gentry his interest in music really began to flourish when he was in junior high school.
"I would run home from school so I could practice the new licks I heard on the new Beatles' song," Gentry said, also in a recent interview. "I listened to everything from country to bluegrass to rock 'n' roll."
He said that when he writes songs, it has to be about something that moves him. He wants those songs to move others.
"I try to think about different things, and feelings, and then write about them. I jot down ideas all the time for song titles," Gentry said.
As a 10-year-old Lenny LeBlanc had a desire to play piano but his family couldn't afford one. When he was 15 years old he was hanging out with friends who were playing guitars, and he sang with them on a dare.
"One of them said 'you sound really good,'" LeBlanc said. "I didn't have any idea I could sing."
In the beginning LeBlanc said he was terrified, and shy. He would shove his hands in his pockets, and sing to the band with his back to the audience. By the time he was 18 years old, however, he was getting his musical career started in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and started making records in the 1970s.
In the 1980s LeBlanc experienced a profound change in his life.
"I encountered God in my house, and felt his awesome presence," LeBlanc said.
He would read the Bible with a whole different frame of mind, and frame of spirit. He also began writing worship songs rather than pop.
"The process is different when a songwriter writes out of your experience," LeBlanc said. "I was so excited and blown away by this experience."
Tickets for Wednesday's show range from $15-$25, and are available at the Temple box office, 2320 Eighth St., at the Jimmie Rodgers Museum, 1725 Jimmie Rodgers Drive in Highland Park, or online through itickets.com.
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