Not much more than a year ago, Leon Bridges was washing dishes in a Texas restaurant, playing shows to 10 or 15 people at a time. Now, the soulful crooner is one of the most buzzworthy musicians on the planet. And for good reason. Bridges returns to Toronto on Oct. 23 for a show at the Danforth Music Hall.
“I can go back to my first gig at the Live Oaks in Fort Worth, on a Sunday,” says Bridges, 26, on the phone from his Texas home.
“There was like three people in the crowd, and I was a little heartbroken.”
Since then, outside the world of pop music machinations, it would be hard to find a more talked about singer who imbibes the soulful sounds and style of Sam Cooke with a fresh, modern appeal. Bridges signed with Columbia Records in 2014, and his debut album, Coming Home, was released this past summer, and he’s been selling out increasingly larger venues for months.
Bridges’ first single, “Coming Home,” was also used in an Apple iPhone commercial, a clear indicator of serious hipster cred.
“It’s definitely a blessing,” he says. “I wasn’t prepared for it. There’s no classes on it. I look at it like it’s all about just appreciating what I have, giving everything 100 per cent.”
There’s no mistaking the style and substance at work with Bridges, who stumbled upon a career in music while studying dance at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth. And once it happen, it had to be soul music.
“Yeah, it was always soul and R & B,” says Bridges. “I didn’t go make any metal records before this. It’s just that very smooth singing is something I’ve always loved as a kid. It’s the delivery and the way the singer executes a certain word or whatever. It’s something I’ve always been drawn to.”
Bridges isn’t the first to dabble with the recreation of vintage soul and R & B sounds.
His sound and his own retro style are similar to other artists from recent years such as old school R & B crooner Raphael Saadiq. But there has been little of the groundswell of support for Saadiq that Bridges has enjoyed in just a year of work. To find Saadiq one had to look for him and, once found, marvel at the level of talent. Bridges is everywhere.
The highlight for Bridges remains performing at a recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony where he dedicated a song to the late great soul singer Percy Sledge, who had died the previous week. And family is central to Bridges and comes through in his writing, as evidenced by the beautiful song “Lisa Sawyer,” a slightly off-kilter and silky sweet warble about his mother.
“It’s great that their lives can, you know, easily translate into a soul song,” he says.
“I think that it’s just good to continue to have songs about family, love and truth prevalent in my music — something that anybody can relate to.”