Leo Lyons hails from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England, and over the years his musical career has taken him all over the world including Nashville. He has played in a number of bands and is currently touring with Hundred Seventy Split.
Here we talk exclusively to Leo Lyons about his music career, time in Nashville, musical influences and lots more.
You’re originally from Nottinghamshire so how did you end up in Nashville?
It was a fifty year plus journey. I left my hometown Mansfield, Nottinghamshire in 1960 and moved to London with my band to seek fame and fortune as a professional musician. After two failed attempts, finally in 1966 we grabbed enough of a foothold to stay in the city. In 1968 when my band TYA became a success worldwide I moved out of town and lived for twenty five years on a farm in Oxfordshire with my wife and two sons. As well as being a musician I produced records and wrote songs but the UK music scene in 1990’s was not to my taste so I followed my early musical influences and moved to Nashville. In 1998 I became a staff songwriter with Hayes Street Music, Nashville. I lived there for fifteen years before moving to Cardiff.
You have toured all over the world, what would you say was your favourite country to perform in?
I love playing everywhere. The USA and Germany, in particular, have always been supportive but I’ve been lucky to have been given a great from audiences all over the world.
You are now on the road with your new band Hundred Seventy Split, how much fun are you having being in the group?
I love playing with Hundred Seventy Split. The guys are really good musicians and most important for me they’re nice people. When I left TYA I knew it would be like starting all over again but I felt I was in a comfortable rut and needed a musical challenge.
What first influenced you to get into music?
My Aunt and Uncle had a windup gramophone and I was allowed to play the records from their collection. My great uncle Morgan Kingston was a successful opera singer in the 1900’s and his recordings were probably the first records I heard. There were also some Jimmy Rogers and Leadbelly records. Those two artistes made me aware of country and blues and first introduced me to the guitar. I was influenced by the Skiffle music craze that briefly swept the UK in 1955. Lonnie Donegan , the ‘King Of Skiffle’ was responsible for a lot of musicians from my era, like The Beatles, The Who, The Stones, Led Zeppelin and many more, forming bands and making our own music.
When you were growing up which artists inspired you?
Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Elvis, Little Richard and Eddie Cochran are just a few. From there I listened to the blues. Muddy Waters, Freddy King, Bill Broonzy. I loved Hank Williams and traditional country music. I also immersed myself in jazz for a while.
Which artists are you currently listening to at the moment?
I listen to a whole variety of music. I like ‘Alabama Shakes’, ‘Jack White’, ‘The Cadillac Three’- that kind of thing. One good thing about Spotify etc. is that it’s easy to check out any new music that’s available. I also like to revisit my roots and listen to lots of old country, rock and blues. One thing I enjoy doing is thinking of a band or song, find it on the internet, and then play along with it. It could be anything from current music to something sixty years old.
How do you feel streaming has influenced the music industry?
It’s something that’s here to stay and we have to accept it. I think for new artistes it really helps with promotion but it would help musicians much more if the royalty payments were made fairer for the smaller labels and artistes .
You have worked with many key artists over the years, do you have a particular favourite?
It would be impossible to pick one out. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with so many great musicians particularly in the mid sixties/early seventies.
What would you say is your personal favourtie song you have ever written is?
It would be a song called ‘A Little Piece Of Life’. It’s never been recorded by anyone to date but I like it. ‘King Of The Blues’ would be another song that has been recorded a few times. I could probably add another ten songs I’m proud of.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
It’s quite silly but it’s something I read on the back of a Captain Webb matchbox when I was about sixteen years old. It said “A successful man is one who stands up one more time than he falls down’.
You have a wealth of musical experience so what advice would you give to anyone starting out?
If you decide to make music your career don’t put any restrictions on what you will and won’t do. Be prepared to give up everything for your music. Some people are lucky but most musicians even the successful ones have struggled for years. Make music because it’s a joy and a passion you cannot live without. Don’t make fame or fortune your main motivation.
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