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A couple of years ago, Leland Martin was enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with his family when his young niece offered a suggestion. "Why don't you write a song," she asked, "about all the country hunks that us girls like?"
Leland laughed - but a couple of days later, he started taking that idea seriously. He sat down and wrote "If I Had Long Legs (Like Alan Jackson)," a jokingly envious ode to the chick-magnet power of Alan, George Strait, Billy Ray Cyrus and other male country stars. "I'm curious to know what Alan thinks of it," admits Leland. "I hope it brings him a smile."
He may not have legs like Alan, but Leland is earning new fans every day anyway, thanks to his commanding voice and stone-country sound. It's a style that formed when he was a boy in southern Missouri.
"I started hearing Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and George Jones on the radio," he recalls. "When I heard that steel guitar cry, I'd think, 'Man, that is music!' "
By age 17, Leland was playing in nightclubs several nights a week. He committed himself to the road, touring practically nonstop for nearly three decades - including a one-year stint as guitarist for '70s hitmaker Freddie Hart. "He was a very big help to me," testifies Leland. "He taught me to value your fans."
Leland also had the support of his wife of 29 years, Pamela. "I've been with her most of my life," he observes. "It's had its ups and downs, but man, what a great woman. She's been tough enough to stick with me through my crazy, stupid times."
Still, Leland eventually tired of the nightclub circuit. So in 1995 he began making the regular seven-hour trek from his home in Houston, Mo., to Nashville to try to get his music heard. Now all that work has paid off with a record deal and his new album - the aptly named Simply Traditional, which proudly draws on country's old-fashioned sound.
"I think when you listen to it," says Leland, "what you'll hear is a ghost from the past coming back to say, 'Hey, I'm still here floating around, and I'm gonna be heard again!' "
-- Chris Neal