aka: Leon Ashley Peek and Making Music, written July 6, 2010
Leon’s first words when an infant was to sing a verse of “Rock of Ages.” His pronunciation was off: “Wok ov agez queft for me.” It was either music or the revival circuit for him after that start.
At age 4 Leon was weepy when they fired him from the Children’s Choir, and told him he was going to be in the “Junior Children’s Choir.” However, he was glad not to have to hit the “D” to start “Once in Royal David’s City” the following Christmas. The organ prelude comes to an end. The celebrant gives the antiphon; the congregation makes the response, and then the boy soprano begins a solo, a cappella, with High-D.
At age 5 Leon did a solo of “I’m a Little Teapot” at Ms Reynolds’ Kindergarten. Later in that year he played a turtle who stepped into a big cast iron pot. Leon was not short, but, compared to other kids age 5, he was squat.
At age 12 Leon was singing the soprano solos for the Children’s Choir at Holy Trinity. That summer, in 6 weeks, his voice went from soprano to basso. When he opened his mouth he never knew in which octave he would sound. This was the second time he was fired from the Children’s Choir.
Accordion was so cool. Too bad I never practiced.
The Second Great Folk Scare in 20th Century North America started when the Kingston Trio hit the Top 40 Charts with “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley” in 1958. Leon was age 13. He had to learn to play guitar. Mel Bay Publishers had a great method, “Amaze Your Friends; You Can Play Guitar.” The first song was “Go Tell Aunt Roadie” in D-major.
The First Great Folk Scare was in the 1930’s with Leadbelly, Woodie Guthrie, and the Weavers. The Third Great Folk Scare was in the early 1970’s with folk-rock. The “scares” were always the fear that pop music would get stuck in the folk idiom. Grumpy Ol’Pete Seeger coined the phrase, “Singer song-writer,” so he could out politically-correct those performers who wrote their own folk songs.
During the Second Great Folk Scare, in about 1964, Leon started playing banjo in coffee houses and in a jug band. They all wanted to be beatniks, wore black jeans, and navy watch caps. Leon’s friends learned to do cough medicine and diet pills from Jack Kerouac (Leon never swallowed; spitting it out on the ground instead). This was exactly when beatnik coffee houses were closing left and right, and churches were opening their coffee houses to provide clean fun for teens singing about Michael rowing to church on Sunday. It wasn’t until 1965 that we learned we were “hippies.” Leon, as usual, was right on the trailing edge of being hip by trying to be a beatnik when the leading edge was becoming hippies (Leon did not swallow acid either; he spat out those bits of blotter paper).
Nineteen sixty-five was the year of living through music. Leon attempted to support himself by being a musician. There were still enough people on the tail end of the Second Great Folk Scare who wanted to take lessons on guitar and banjo. Wednesday afternoon and absolutely all day Saturday in the Riviera Music Store. It was kids. It was The Monkeys. It was gigs at the Elbow Room and the Flamingo Lounge. The Elbow and the Flamingo were drinkers’ bars; the patrons all sat at the bar and got drunk. Leon’s role was to provide wallpaper music and fulfill the claim for “live music.” He was paid $20 plus all the beer he could drink ($20 in today’s money would be about $200). If the patrons gave him a tip, he would do “Michael Row,” “Kumbiya,” or “Tom Dooly.” Doing his books at the end of being a real musician, Leon discovered that he had made just under minimum wage by being a musician ($1.25 per hour); since he wanted to have a family, Leon went back to college.
Leon’s second midlife crisis was when he started playing open mic at bars when he turned 40. This lead to the Fry Street Guitar Army, Kerrville, SSWG’s, and other deviant behaviors. After the Flamingo Lounge, his musical interests remained in folk and bluegrass, but he picked up some jazz and blues after Stan Getz made his album with Jobim.
It was Leon’s friend, Dave Coulter, that got him into the first “Potato Band” with Gary Washmon. This band was New Potatoes; they all had potato names: Leon was “Vicious Swaz, the Punk Potato.” Steve Horn, not knowing any better, joined the New Potato Band before it ended. There have been subsequent Potato Bands in which Leon and Steve have played. During an Irish music scare, they played Dallas Irish Fest in the band, Tuberville.
Ouis Bis represents a turn to the dark side for Leon playing folk-dance music. So many of the songs are inspired by forces that are very wrong for any folk scare.
Leon is also playing in two other bands: the Not So Hot Klub du Denton (Not France) and Strictly Dixie. The Not So Not Klub plays hot jazz, swing and Django music. If you have to ask what kind of music Strictly Dixie plays, you would not understand the answer.