Bill Leverty looks to the past for new grooves
By Naughty Mickie  notymickie@earthlink.net

Bill Leverty is the guitarist for Firehouse and has also stretched his own wings with a solo project that is very different in sound. His latest effort, "Deep South," is an offering of covers of traditional American music modernized with a blues and southern rock sound. Here, Leverty also takes on the lead vocals and turns things up a notch by adding in roots instruments, such as guitaralele and dobro. I talked to him about his past, present and the future.

Leverty grew up in Richmond, Virginia. He was the Virginia Sate Diving Champion at age 10, then went to ice hockey and back to guitar at 14.

"I had a guitar under the tree at the age of three," Leverty recalls. "It was one of those little plastic ones, not really a guitar. I actually didn't really start playing guitar at 14. From eight until about 10 I was doing the diving team in the summer. But the guitar, I took lessons when I was about 10 or 11 and they taught me the standard Mel Bay approach which is teaching you to read music and playing 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat' on the guitar and it just kind of bored me, it didn't excite me. When I was about 14 or so I took a class where a guy taught a group of us how to play using chords. When he taught me a G, C and D chord I could play 100 songs right there, so at that point I was hooked."

He attended Virginia Tech for one year studying engineering: "I took my guitar so I was probably studying more guitar, beer and that sort of thing." Leverty made decent grades, but decided to take time off to pursue a career as a musician.

"Up until that point I worked a lot of weird jobs, working in restaurants. I started off as a paperboy, I bought my first guitar with my paper route." Leverty shares, "I bussed tables and worked in a grocery store for a long time and did everything from cleaning the Dumpsters to bagging groceries up to working in the produce department, I actually wound up working full time for a while and then I decided to try to get both feet in the musical water and that's what I did.

"I quit the job in the grocery store and started working in a music store full time, where I was teaching and selling guitars. That was much more to my liking and my schedule too. The store didn't open up until 10 o'clock, so I didn't have to be there until 9:30 or so, as opposed to the grocery store where I had to be at there at 5 in the morning, which is more like it is now for me because for example tomorrow I have to wake up at 4:30 to catch a flight to fly out to Salt Lake and then drive four hours to get up to Idaho Falls, Idaho. It's a lot more difficult now," laughs Leverty. "It's a gorgeous drive, but the lack of sleep is very much like what it was when I was working in the grocery store and playing gigs at night."

Leverty still plays ice hockey occasionally, but he's not the diving demon at the local pool any more. Instead he is working to get his seven year old daughter to jump off the diving board. He won't push her, but will give her lots of encouragement.

"Deep South" is Leverty's third solo effort.

"I have a studio and I might as well use it." Leverty explains, "I record other bands and do stuff, not as much as I like, but I stay pretty busy. This winter I came to the realization that I wasn't going to be making a Firehouse record this year, we just couldn't get our scheduling together, I thought I should do one. My first one was a vocal southern hard rock album, my second was an instrumental record, which took me a long time to write the songs and then record them. And I thought, well gosh, this winter before the touring schedule gets busy I could record an album, but writing an album will take a lot of time, so I ought to do some cover tunes. There was a couple I wanted to do and I was sure which direction to go. My first initial reaction was to do a record of my influences which are Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin and Van Halen and stuff like that. Then I thought a lot of people have done that so I should do something different and something that would help me grow as an artist.

"I wanted to learn something completely out of my comfort zone, so I decided to go way, way back, like all the rock and roll influences lead back to Elvis, well what were the songs he was influenced by? And then, what were those people influenced by? That took me back to the late 1800s, early 1900s. I found eight songs that seemed to suit my style and really enjoyed digging into them."

We discuss the difference in writing for yourself and a band.

"With my solo thing it's a different vocalist. Firehouse's vocalist is a tenor one, he sings high and strong, that's his range. I'm a tenor two or a baritone two, I sing a higher baritone. I can sing the low stuff too, but my comfortable range is a baritone two or a tenor two. I have to write songs that are melodically in my range, that's the first thing," says Leverty. "The second thing that's really different, when I'm writing a song for me on a solo album opposed to me on a Firehouse album, I have total freedom to do whatever I want and it doesn't go through the ending process of the rest of the band. There's good things that happen in that process, but when I do it on my records, whatever I come up with, that's the way it is."

Leverty is one of the main writers for Firehouse. Lyrics and music come together, as well as separately for him.

"I'll sometimes come up with music and sing along and try to come up with a melody and mumble words into a mic and hear what they sound like." Leverty goes on, "Another way is to keep what I call a 'hook book,' a book of titles where you can have phrases or ideas and keep writing them down. Even if it's a junkie idea I try to write it down because I let myself remember that I'm the only one reading this book so no matter how stupid it is I know that if I go back and read it, it might spark a new idea."

Firehouse has been around for a long time, so I have to ask Leverty about the key to their success.

"The reason that Firehouse is still able to go, there's several reasons. The fans still come out and see us, that's the number one reason. We're really thankful for that," replies Leverty. "Another one is that we're still together. We're able to stay together because we respect each other, we're headed in the same direction musically and in our personal lives. We're a democracy where we don't have just one person calling the shots and everybody else like a second class citizen. That keeps us all engaged in the decision making in the business, as well as the music. I think that one this is persistence. I've got my lazy butt off the chair and gone down and kept working. It's gets boring sometimes, sometimes I don't want to do it, sometimes I don't, but I know that the times I don't do anything I'm not getting anything done. I really want to try to continue to put out music so that people can hear not just how they perceive me, which is probably for two or three Firehouse songs with which they're familiar, but I want people to know a little more about myself as an artist and the only way to do that is to get into the studio and work."

Leverty is doing a solo tour and will also be touring with Firehouse throughout the United States this year. In between, he keeps working on more material.

"I try to write a little bit every day," Leverty says. "I try to open myself up to writing for the song and not any particular audience and not any particular band or market. If I have a collection or songs that all seem to go together, then I'll put them out as a record. If they go into the Firehouse pile, then when it's time for a Firehouse record then I'll have something to contribute."

Before we part, Leverty shares one other interesting story behind the making of "Deep South."

"After I was done recording this album I didn't have a title for it," Leverty shares. "My studio's in my basement and I was walking up the stairs and I have some old pictures on each side of the staircase as you walk up and one of them was a piece of artwork my grandfather had created. He was an artist, he actually did wood block print art where you carve a picture out of a block of wood and you roll ink on it and you put a piece on it and you peel the paper back and there's your artwork. I have one of his old pieces in the staircase and I was trying to think of a title for the album and I looked at it and it was entitled 'Deep South' and I thought, wow, what a great title for this album. I started thinking about it and I realized that all of the songs on this album had come from the Deep South of the United States. I think it was his way of saying that would be a cool title for you album, why don't you use that? I just think the artwork (his grandfather's print graces the cover) is so cool and it's a fun listen. Definitely the album is a new place for me to go, it's not a new musical direction or anything, but it was just something I wanted to do, to have fun doing it. And it was fun."


For more on Bill Leverty and to check out "Deep South," visit www.leverty.com

Also visit my blogs Http://mickieszoo.blogspot.com and www.insidesocal.doodah

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