NASHVILLE Few people get a second chance in the rough-and-tumble music business.
Singer Danni Leigh is in that fortunate minority, having made a catlike landing at Monument Records following the demise of her first label, Decca.
Now she has a different challenge: how to make her Monument debut, A Shot of Whiskey & a Prayer scheduled for a fall release stand out in a market increasingly clogged with beauteous female singers.
"I've always believed the way to market artists is to take the strengths and personality of the artist and make a plan for that," said Sheila Shipley Biddy, formerly head of Decca and now Leigh's manager.
Leigh describes her own personality as "feminine, but a strong woman and sexy. You gotta go there if you can, you know?"
It's more "Thelma & Louise" than, say, Tammy and Loretta a distinction made clear in her "Honey I Do" video, which included a freewheeling, "Thelma and Louise"style convertible car ride across the California desert.
The Best Of Times
A Shot of Whiskey & a Prayer takes its name from a nightly ritual Leigh and her band engage in before each concert.
"My band and I get together a half-hour before every show and put on the song 'It Just Don't Get Any Better Than This.' It's got Willie [Nelson], Merle [Haggard], George Jones, all those cats singing the song," said Leigh. "We'll scream this song at the top of our lungs and toast each other with a little shot of whiskey. And then every night before I walk on stage I say a prayer to God for giving me another shot at it, to do what I know He put me here to do."
The new album was produced by Emory Gordy Jr. and , a creative team who last worked together on Steve Earle's landmark Guitar Town release. Leigh's project showcases her whiskey-soaked honky-tonk style, though there are a few weepers, particularly the Jamie Hartfordpenned "Back in Your Arms Again."
Mostly, though, Leigh likes to mix some rock with her country. "I mean, you just look at me and know that it's not gonna be a bunch of ballads, you know. It's just not gonna happen," Leigh said.
With this rough-and-tumble image in mind, Biddy has come up with some creative marketing tie-ins.
Yoakam And Leigh: Meant To Be
Weighing in on the logical side are upcoming tour dates with Dwight Yoakam, the artist with whom Leigh is most often compared, visually, in stage presence, and musically. Proving the old adage that some things are meant to be, Biddy says they tried to get Leigh booked on the Yoakam tour last fall, but Leigh's then-booking agency was unable to pull it off. That changed when Leigh and Yoakam were in Los Angeles in April co-presenting at the Academy of Country Music Awards.
"While we were backstage he asked me if I was doing any dates with him this summer," Leigh recalled. "And I said, 'Well, we've got one!' And he was like, 'What do you mean, one? We need to change that!' It took a while but we got a lot of them together."
Biddy went straight to Yoakam's manager to try to get Leigh on as many dates as possible. Currently she's on about a dozen shows, most of them in August and September, but they're big ones: the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, on Aug. 17, the Colorado and Nebraska State Fairs, and an ideological favorite, the Kern County Fair in Bakersfield in September, Bakersfield being the home of California country music.
"It's going to be killer," Leigh said of the tour. "Because of the visual, there's a comparison to Dwight, but musically I'm influenced by Dwight and Buck Owens and Merle. I really hope to get to his fans; he's got such loyal fans, and I think they'll really like my music. I think it will really let people know that musically I am my own personality. My live show is different; we're real energetic on stage. So it will be great opening for him."
On a more conventional front, but still in keeping with Leigh's tough-chick image, is her participation in "We the People," an anthem to working men and women. The vocal event will appear on Billy Ray Cyrus' new album. Leigh was the only female artist asked to participate, and she's in good company: Others on the project are Cyrus, Waylon Jennings, Montgomery Gentry, John Anderson and Yankee Gray.