Mountain Melodies: Dixie’s Daughter

May 27, 2015 in Summer 2015 Issue by Michelle McAnelly

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Leah Seawright has mastered both the artistic and business sides of the music world without leaving the place that gave root to her country and gospel tunes.

story by ANITA STIEFEL | photos by STEVEN STIEFEL and courtesy Leah Seawright

Leah Seawright’s musical  foundation is so firm, she can’t remember when she w a s n’t singing. “I was raised on music – it was always a central part of my life,” she says. “My mom and dad are incredible musicians who introduced me to music and instilled a love for it growing up. It was a constant in my life. We didn’t have much money, but we definitely had music all the time.”[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]The daughter of Joyce Pope and William Bus-by, Seawright grew up in Fort Payne’s Dogtown community atop Lookout Mountain. The gospel music that surrounded her during her early years influenced her career.

“I was brought up singing in tent revivals,” she recalls. “It was a little rowdy, so it’s not that big a leap to country music. They just sort of go together.”

Seawright first started writing and recording original gospel music in her early 20s and signed a recording deal with Skytone Records in 2004. She released her first album, “Surren-der,” in 2005 and her second, “Because of My Faith,” in 2006

“I traveled around, singing at churches and camp meetings, and that’s where I would sell my CDs,” she explains. “I stayed really busy with it, but I didn’t understand the business side of music or how to get my songs on the radio.”

She learned quickly, though, and by 2009 had composed a collection of country songs she was ready to share with the world. While working on the album, she met Country Music Hall of Fame drummer Mark Herndon, who came out of retirement to work with her.

Seawright started her own record label and production company, which she named Atta Baby. She made a music video to support her first release, the song “Country Girl 101,” which garnered airplay on Country Music Television.

“‘Country Girl 101’ topped out in the high 40s on the charts, which is pretty good for a brand-new, independent artist,” Seawright says. Her second single, “On the Backroads,” charted to 31 on Music Row, and the music video featured appearances by NASCAR drivers Richard Petty and A.J. Allmendinger. “Meeting them is probably in the top three of my fondest memories,” she says. “It was an amazing experience.” Both videos are posted on CMT’s website as well as iTunes, YouTube and Seawright’s website, leahseawright.com.

“I have a lot of talent backing me up,” she says. “I have my touring band and a home band, which just does weekend gigs, because they have wives and kids and jobs and can’t go on the road.” Her home band consists of Mark Estes on lead guitar and background vocals, Kevin Jenne on guitar, Chris Patterson on bass, Jamie Bell on keyboard and Herndon on drums.

On the road, she and Herndon are joined by Jack “Chopper” Wilson on lead guitar, Truman Virden on bass and Steve-O Johnson on keyboard.

Seawright draws influence from a range of musical styles. “First and foremost, my parents were the greatest influence, and all the great gospel songs,” she explains. “In my teenage years, I loved listening to Lor-rie Morgan and Tanya Tucker and older iconic performers like Loretta Lynn. I’m also drawn to the bluesy style of artists like Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin.”

In 2013, Seawright released an EP (ex-tended play), which is the new trend in digital music. “Instead of making an entire album, it’s a six-pack of songs,” she explains. “People have stopped buying CDs and started downloading just the songs they want off the Internet.

”Three of the songs, including “Set It On Fire,” “Till Your Boots Are Dirty” and “Dixie Daughter,” have received radio play. “Dixie Daughter” also rose to No. 31 on the charts.

“My next single to be released, “Mama Prayed,” is appropriate to be played on country or gospel radio,” Seawright says. “I’m currently tweaking it for radio play, and it will be released this summer. The song is real special to me because it’s so personal. It’s about a loved one’s struggle with drugs and alcohol and how we prayed for him every day. It’s about the power of a mother’s prayer. Sometimes when I would give up hope, she wouldn’t. She was convinced that her prayers would be heard, and she kept on praying until he turned his life around.”

Music isn’t Seawright’s only foray into the spotlight. She’s the celebrity spokesmodel for western buckle and jewelry company Montana Silver-smiths, and in 2013, she hosted eight episodes of “Trophy Quest,” a hunting show that aired on The Outdoor Channel and Fox Sports South.

Seawright also is a doting mother who is very active in her children’s lives. Her daughter, Kadi Jo, studies nursing at Northeast Alabama Community College, and both her sons, J.T. and Sam, are making names for themselves as dirt-track racers. “They are amazing, out there racing with grown men. Last year, when Sam was 10, he set a record at Fort Payne Motor Speedway for the youngest driver to win a feature race,” she says proudly.

A resident of Rainsville, Ala., Seawright chose to stay in the area where she was raised rather than move to pursue her career. “I love Alabama, and it’s an easy commute to Nashville,” she says. “I drive it so much, it seems like I’m there in no time. At the end of the day, Alabama is home, and so much of my family is here – my mom and grandma, the kids’ cousins. I didn’t want to take that experience away from my kids.”

These days Seawright stays busy performing her music around the Southeast. “I play a lot of outdoor festivals and events instead of focusing on nightclubs, although I do some of that,” she says. “I’ve played in big arenas as well as small venues like fishing tournaments. It’s all good to me; it’s about doing what I love and sharing that with other people.”

Seawright has opened for big-name performers including Luke Bryan, Darius Rucker, the Charlie Daniels Band, Restless Heart and Bad Company. “We do a lot of ’80s cover rock at the live performances,” she says. “We can do country or rock – we country up the rock and rock up the country.”

For her next album, Seawright envisions returning to gospel. “I’m lean-ing back toward writing gospel music because that’s what’s coming to me lately,” she says. “I’ve had a rough couple of years, going through a divorce and financial hardship and how the world is today, and I just jot down what comes to me. Lately it’s definitely been inspirational. These are the songs that are giving me the most fulfillment and purpose. The country stuff is fun, but the more spiritual stuff gets to who I am at the core.” [/s2If]