It may be a little deeper these days, but for anyone who’s listened to WDVX-FM for the past two decades, Alex Leach’s voice is instantly recognizable.
It was in 1999 when, as a young boy, his grandfather took him to a nondescript camper up in Norris, Tennessee, where a chance meeting with WDVX General Manager Tony Lawson, who had launched the nonprofit roots music station a couple of years earlier, landed Leach his own radio show, he told The Daily Times recently.
“WDVX started in the fall of ’97, and I had been aware of bluegrass music for a couple of years, but when I started hearing it on WDVX, I became obsessed with the radio,” Leach said. “My papaw helped me build a little studio in their basement, and I would play CDs and pretend I was talking on the radio all the time. One day he took me down to the camper to meet Tony, and Tony invited me to be a guest deejay one Sunday afternoon. I ended up doing that, and then he ended up giving me my own show on Tuesday nights, ‘The Bluegrass Special.’”
Over the next 20 years, Leach’s interest in the genre he discovered at 5 years old deepened and expanded, and when he was 11, he picked up the guitar and mandolin for the first time. Again, it was bluegrass that captivated him, just as it did when his grandparents got a new desktop computer with Windows 95 preloaded onto it.
“Back then, it came with Encarta 95, which was like an encyclopedia on CD rom, and I was on that one day, clicking on different things and learning about this and that, when I came across bluegrass music,” he said. “It played a clip of Bill Monroe singing ‘White House Blues,’ and that pretty much did it for me. I remember thinking, ‘I definitely want to be a part of this style of music,’ and ever since, I’ve loved the traditional style.”
Bluegrass isn’t the only style he enjoys, but his tastes definitely lean toward more classic sounds, from country to rock ‘n’ roll to R&B. He remembers fondly trips to downtown Maryville on Saturdays, where his grandparents took him to Roy’s Record Shop, which existed on the site occupied by Bluetick Tavern today. Owner Roy Garrett and his late wife, Alma, took a shine to young Leach and sent him home with stacks of vinyl, all of which played a role in shaping his sound.
Tonight (Sept. 2), Leach will return to Blount County with the band that bears his name. The Alex Leach Band is on the bill at the “Songs By the Brook” concert series in Alcoa’s Springbrook Park, and after working his way up in the East Tennessee scene and playing for 7½ years as one of Ralph Stanley II’s Clinch Mountain Boys, his own project (which includes his wife, Miranda) is every bit a source of pride as his long involvement in cultivating bluegrass with the WDVX team is.
“It was in 2019 when we started, and I got ahold of (roots music veteran) Jim Lauderdale and asked him if he would be interested in producing our first album,” Leach said. “I was really pleased and honored when he said yes, and he also helped get us signed with Mountain Home Music over in Asheville. We cut our album (“I’m the Happiest When I’m Moving”) in March 2020, about a week before the pandemic hit.
“We were lucky enough to get everything finished and completed, but the record company decided to hold it back, and it was released in March of this year. Now, we’re just excited to be getting the music out there, and stay busy on the road, and we’re really looking forward to getting new music out and writing new songs.”
And, he added, playing back home in East Tennessee, where the voice that’s been a constant presence on local radio now belongs to a man who sings and picks like the legends he fell in love with as a boy.
“It’s been really neat, all through the years, talking to folks and filling them in on how I got started in the music business,” he said. “I’m still going right after it, and we’ll be ready to have us a good time in Alcoa.”