Alex City Arts will present The Heart Behind the Music, which will showcase three singers and songwriters who will share insights into the meaning and music behind their hit songs. Teddy Gentry, John Ford Coley and Lenny LeBlanc will take the stage at 7 p.m. Jan. 24 at the Benjamin Russell High School Auditorium.
“If you like music, you’ll love this,” said Jack Landham, co-owner of The Heart Behind the Music.
This traveling showcase began in 2010 and provides an up-close-and-personal vision into some of the nation’s greatest musical minds.
“I love these showcases because it’s an opportunity to hear different music and different styles,” said Coley. “And we laugh a lot, and we joke a lot with banter back and forth.”
Having spent so many years on the road and in the industry, the musicians have some intriguing stories to tell.
“We’ve discovered people really enjoy the stories. So many things take place on the road, including some insanely funny things that go on. I spend most of my time laughing,” Coley said.
Since the program focuses on songwriters, often the music that’s heard takes on a new meaning because the artist with whom people are familiar is not necessarily the one singing it.
“People have never really heard the songwriter’s versions, so they get to hear the story behind the songs and the dynamic behind the stories behind the songs,” said LeBlanc.
The show is done all acoustically, LeBlanc said, making it a more intimate experience. Including the element of artists that are also songwriters adds another dimension to the evening, he said.
“A lot of us have done these shows together before. We’re familiar with each other’s songs, so sometimes we jump in. It’s all very spontaneous,” said LeBlanc.
The artists will take the stage for a 90-minute show and talk about music and the industry. They will harmonize with one another, back each other up and sing their own songs.
While many new songs may be heard for the first time, the artists also play the older, more well known ones.
“We’ve found people really like going down memory lane,” said Coley. “The sad thing about it is people think when they no longer hear your name that you’re not writing anymore. That’s not the case, so when they find out you’re still writing and playing, it takes them back.”
After the show, all three musicians will be available in the high school lobby for a meet-and-greet and the chance to take photos or receive autographs.
“We have the chance to actually entertain and not have to get up and be rock stars. People walk out with an experience, and we get to meet people who tell us their experiences with our music and what it’s done for them,” said Coley.
Each of the three artists playing Jan. 24 have done about a dozen of these shows with rotating musicians, typically coming from different backgrounds and genres.
Landham and business partner, LeBlanc, founded The Heart Behind the Music based on a similar format done in Muscle Shoals. Now, they perform all over the nation at performing arts centers and corporate events. With 60 different rotating musicians, they group artists together based on the venue’s requests, budgets and artists’ availabilities. This is the group’s first visit to Alexander City.
“It’s such an interesting thing what music does; it’s such an international language. Everyone has music around them – it’s ubiquitous,” said Landham.
LeBlanc said that if the tour is taken to a new city, he typically is one of the artists on that first show, but if they return, he may be a part of it only every three years.
While these artists may be well known for their influence in the earlier decades, both Coley and LeBlanc said they prefer things the way they are now.
“For me, it’s the best it’s ever been. I have more opportunity now than I even did 35 years ago,” said LeBlanc.
There will be an extra surprise guest that will sing a few songs that night as well. Kirk Jay, a 2018 finalist on the popular NBC show, The Voice will perform at some point during the show. Jay met Gentry in 2014, who has agreed to produce his CD. Originally from Bay Minette, Alabama, Jay has gone from a small town start to up-and-coming country star.
“Alex City Arts is doing a great job supporting Alabama musicians. It’s such an important thing to do,” Landham said. “It’s a great night, a good experience. It’s something for the whole family to enjoy.”
John Ford Coley: John Ford Coley is half of the Grammy-nominated duo with England Dan, who passed away from cancer in 2009. Coley continues to perform the platinum and gold record hits for audiences around the world. Classically trained on the piano and an avid guitarist, Coley’s musical talents are evident with his success.
When younger, Coley played with a band in Dallas, Texas, and realized they were going to get rid of him. He thought, “I gave you the gift, what you do with it is up to you. If you don’t use it, I will take it away and give it to someone who will.”
That’s when he got serious about music. He spent decades touring, writing, recording and producing. In the mid-1980s, Coley began acting and appeared in several films and television shows. Most recently, Coley released a new CD titled Eclectic with new material.
He currently plays in casinos and theaters and travels internationally to perform. He lives in Nashville, along with Charleston, with his family and released a book about his years in the music industry titled Backstage Pass.
Lenny LeBlanc: Migrating strictly to Christian music, LeBlanc used to be part of a pop duo with Peter Carr in the ’70s and ’80s. He’s written No. 1 songs for bands such as Sawyer Brown and Michael Brown. The song, Above All, really put LeBlanc on the maps. It’s currently in hymnals and is licensed in more than 100 countries. His name appears on dozens of church songs after his transition to worship.
When LeBlanc was 15, he was at a friend’s house whose brother was playing around with a band. They essentially dared LeBlanc to sing with them and were amazed when he opened his mouth. LeBlanc and the band entered a talent show that year and won. After, he got a job, saved his money and bought a bass.
Before Billy Graham’s death, he had chosen five songs to be sung at his funeral and one of them was LeBlanc’s.
“I felt so honored that he chose to use one of mine. It has since then reached around the world,” LeBlanc said.
Teddy Gentry: Gentry is a member of the band Alabama that is celebrating its 50th anniversary tour this year. He has written hundreds of songs and co-written 16 of the 43 No. 1 hits by Alabama.
Playing by ear is Gentry’s musical forte, which enables him to be flexible when creating songs. He’s also the founder of Creative Café.
Along with the band, Gentry has been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and received American Country Music Awards’ Entertainer of the Year. When not playing music, Gentry relishes time with family and directing operations at Bent Tree Farms.
Originally belonging to his grandfather, Bent Tree Farms is where Gentry grew up with his “Paw Paw”, and he used his first record check to buy the 60-acre land. After purchasing the neighboring farm, his land grew to 140 acres where he now raises cattle.