Danni Leigh Is Off to a Second Start

After an abortive start at Decca Records, Danni Leigh is making another try, this time under the Monument logo. “Honey, I Do,” her first single for the new label, went for radio adds March 20, and her album, A Shot of Whiskey and a Prayer, is scheduled for release June 27. Emory Gordy Jr. and Richard Bennett produced it.

On May 3, Leigh will be a presenter on the Academy Of Country Music awards show. She will perform in Brazil later in May and return to Nashville for a Fan Fair appearance on June 12. From June 21-26, she will be working a country music festival in Interlaken, Switzerland. During the remainder of the summer, she is scheduled to play various clubs and festivals. In October, Leigh will participate in “Thunder Across Dixie,” a ride and series of shows, whose sponsors include Harley-Davidson and Ford.

Leigh has been developing an international following through earlier performances in Korea and Japan, as well as in Switzerland and Brazil.

The Strasburg, Va., native — whose uniform of choice continues to be torn jeans and a rolled-brim cowboy hat — is now managed by Shelia Shipley Biddy, the former head of Decca.

By Shipley Biddy’s count, Leigh had “one and a half singles” during her year-plus on Decca. “We had ’If the Jukebox Took Teardrops,'” she explains, “which shipped in August of ’98, and we worked it through October. It just kind of ran into a wall. A lot of people thought it was just too country. ’29 Nights’ was always going to be the second single. We shot the video [for it] while all the rumors [about closing] were going on about Decca.

“I went to Bruce [Hinton, CEO of Decca’s parent company, MCA/Nashville] and said, ’Do you want me to go ahead and shoot this video or postpone it to the first of the year?’ He said, ’No. Go ahead and shoot it. So we shot ’29 Nights’ in November of ’98, serviced it at the first of January and serviced the single. We were going for adds [at radio] on January 28. And they closed the label on January 21. So the video got serviced to CMT, and some stations played [the single]. But it was never officially worked at radio.” Decca had released Leigh’s album — also called 29 Nights — in October, 1998, a month after she made her debut on the Grand Ole Opry. But without a label to keep backing it, the album went nowhere.

Although Decca artists Mark Chesnutt, Lee Ann Womack and Gary Allan were all welcomed to the MCA roster, Leigh was not. This left both her and Shipley Biddy at loose ends. Since Leigh was under other management at the time, Shipley Biddy initially acted as her consultant. Finally, at Leigh’s urging, she agreed to become her manager. She signed Leigh to Monument last April.

Shipley Biddy says she’s quite in tune with Leigh’s Yoakam-like hard-country image. “It’s intrinsically her,” she maintains. “Danni walked into us looking like that. She is an artist who has a tremendous sense of self. I got a lot of grief from our artist development department on the MCA side — the art department. They said, ’Don’t you think she wears too many rings? Don’t you think we ought to talk her out of the scarves and chokers? Don’t you think we should get the photos without the hat? Aren’t you concerned that people are going to think this is contrived?’ I said, ’Frankly, I don’t care what people say. I’m not about changing artists. I’m about enhancing artists and enhancing who they are.'”

Image came up again, Shipley Biddy admits, when she took Leigh to Monument: “There were certain people there who thought, ’What if she doesn’t stick with this image? Maybe we should lose the hat.’ I said, ’No. This is who she is.’ She’s worn hats all her life. If you don’t see her in a hat, you’re going to see her in a baseball cap. She’s still got the hat that her dad gave her when she was 11 or 12 years old. It hangs on her wall in her house.”

To re-introduce Leigh to radio programmers, Monument held private showcases in Boston (March 25) and Austin (Feb. 12). Leigh also sang at Country Radio Seminar in March. “We never did a major radio tour with Danni [at Decca],” Shipley Biddy says. “She had such energy and was so dynamic live that we never took her out on the individual meet-and-greet type thing … Monument kind of continued that theme, [even though] Danni wanted to go out and meet radio. She wanted to visit every single radio station in the country. She was prepared to get in the car and go.”

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.