If this North Star State native learned anything from his impressionable years of listening to Bruce Springsteen, it would be summed up in this lyric from Jungleland, “Poets down here don’t write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be.” Learning to “let it be” by expanding both his musical boundaries and trust for his team was probably the biggest career hurdle to tackle when he went into his latest project.
“I’ve recorded and played a lot of shows over the years, but the hardest part was learning to give a little up to get to where I needed to go. I had found a great manager in Rusty Harmon [Average Joes President behind Hootie and the Blowfish] and producer Tommy Harden [drummer for Reba McEntire], but I had to give them the freedom to pitch songs and bring in musicians that truly got me. I’ve been through too much to sing songs about dirt roads and corn fields.”
He definitely has lived a life destined for its own three minute storyboard. He has reared two talented boys in what he calls God country where he and his family enjoy carving out new paths in the snow each winter. “Thank God for supportive parents. They are right across the street from me and have been a pivotal part in both pushing my goals forward and ensuring that we have a great place for my boys.” While his reputation for a phenomenal live show is anchored in the Midwest, Leighton has proved to be no stranger to Nashville as well. Music City has served as his destination for studio recordings since the mid 90s, but it was a scare with testicular cancer that put his career aspirations and personal goals on hold.
“I was a fit guy, but I lost 30 pounds going through that and I needed to take what I call ‘kid time’ to make sure my boys understood what was going on and that I was going to be fine.” Now Leighton devotes his spare time to the Randy Shaver Cancer Foundation and the Angel Foundation of Minnesota. “Bruce [Springsteen] always had a song for every moment in my life and I hope to do the same with my music. If I can help others by playing or sharing my experience, then I’m honored to do so.”
Leighton’s music has clearly left a lasting impression in his region as fans have inked themselves with his lyrics and even children were named after him on more than one occasion when the parents met each other at one of his shows. One would expect to find his “heartland country” on iPod menus, but he is truly serving up a taste of country at GB Leighton’s Pickle Park in Fridley, MN. “It was a bar that I had played for years and when it fell into the current owner’s hands, he told me he was going to name it after me and my songs. How cool is it to walk into restaurant and see food named after your tunes! And I’ve even got my face on a lottery pull tab. Pretty lucky for a guy who hasn’t had what one would call a commercial hit.”
Securing a spot on the Nashville music scene, however, has been a goal ever since he was rocking Van Halen and Scorpions at high school parties. For this road warrior, there’s no place that feels more like home than traveling with his band. “I’ve had some memorable performances over the years like when I played shows with Brad Paisley and Huey Lewis, but I couldn’t pick a better time than right now with my current band. These guys make me laugh and I wouldn’t want to share the stage with anyone else.”