Black and white photos, a felt hat, and that smooth, soulful sound-- born and raised in Texas, Leon Bridges is classic American soul. There's no ignoring the vintage sound Bridges has embraced and mastered; he has been compared to greats like Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Nat King Cole, and Marvin Gaye. The New York Times calls Bridges the “second coming of Sam Cooke” but Bridges says that sometimes the fame feels like a very heavy weight for the introverted guy he is. Leon says of hearing claims such as that made by The New York Times: Sam Cooke and other artists from the 50s that were doing the same thing, I wasn’t even aware of it I saw how soul music was created by black people, and not to say that ‘we’re the only ones entitled to it”, but I saw, the music, black music of today and I saw that nobody was really carrying it on, and so I felt as a young black man I needed to go back to the roots. It was just a sound I fell in love with and I wanted to make it for myself.
So how did it start? Bridges grew up in Fort Worth, Texas listing to Donnie McClurkin and Anita Baker with his mother and Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder with his father. However, he says, none of that music made him want to pursue soul, the genre was just something that he liked and appreciated as a kid. Bridges says that he was a “plain jane high school kid” and just like any other 90s kid he listened to whatever came on the radio, and found himself particularly drawn to Ginuwine, Usher, 112, Dru Hill, and Silk. Bridges’ first experience with the legendary Sam Cooke was in Spike Lee’s 1992 film: “Malcolm X”, then a few years later, Bridges’ experienced Cooke again when he listened to a record of his.
Bridges did not start to seriously pursue songwriting until college but he says that he first realized that he could really sing in high school when he and his friends would walk through the hallways singing songs by popular artists of the time. In college, Bridges pursued dance in the hopes of becoming a choreographer. He found himself hanging out at a coffee shop with a few older men who would sit around and play Crosby Stills & Nash songs. Bridges says that he would sing with them and try to harmonize. The men seemed to see Bridges’ talent and urged him to go out and buy a guitar.
Eventually, L. Bridges grew tired of other people making music and creating the sounds, so he saved up, went out, and bought a guitar and started writing his own songs. Bridges says that “Just A Song” by Crosby Still and Nash is the song that made him go out and buy a guitar;
it was special for me because I was very hungry to play and learn and sing. and the fact that these guys just kinda opened the door and let me hang out with them it was just great just hearing those harmonies, it was kind of a new world for me-- I didn’t know anything about that style of music. [...] What drew me to [the guitar] was the fact that it was so portable, and I was just so hungry to play and the thought of going out on the street and playing in front of people was something that really drew me to it.