WILLCOX — Award-winning songwriter Steve Leslie took his show, “How Sweet It Is! Steve Leslie Sings James Taylor!” to Willcox for an entertaining tribute to the hall-of-fame singer.
Leslie, accompanied by Kyle Tupper and Shane Hurtado, played at the Elks Lodge on Sunday, Nov. 6, to a packed house.
Leslie has won a Grammy and multiple BMI awards over the three decades of his songwriting career, working along music greats like Kenny Rogers, George Strait, Ricky Skaggs, Darius Rucker and many others.
As an accomplished guitarist, performing since his teen years, he’s released several albums under his own name. He partnered with some of the best players in the Nashville scene to present the touring show “How Sweet It Is,” named after the Taylor hit record released in 1975.
Leslie is a music educator as well, having taught jazz history and songwriting at the college/university level, and written music courses. “The Fine Art of Songwriting” and Guitar Method & Music Theory for Songwriters” are available at indiemusicacademy.com.
Before coming to Willcox the show played in Elgin, Illinois, in late October and before that in Oklahoma. He’s crisscrossed the country the past few years playing his James Taylor repertoire.
Tupper is one of Steve’s Nashville recruits. The keyboard player and vocalist is a for-hire studio pro and producer.
Guitarist Shane Hurtado is the son of Dr. Paul Hurtado, a singer/songwriter and veterinarian with an active practice based in Tucson. Paul Hurtado was raised on a cattle ranch near Willcox, in the Dos Cabezas Mountains, and maintains close relationships in the area.
Dr. Hurtado and Leslie are old friends. The vet was a student of Steve’s, meeting at Boston’s Berklee College of Music a few years ago.
“I met Paul at that music workshop in Berklee, he came up to me afterward and he said, ‘man, I love what you’re talking about, I’d like to know more,’ ” Leslie recalled. He said the two struck up a friendship and eventually, along with Shane, worked on recording an album together in Nashville.
It was through Dr. Hurtado that the show in Willcox began to be organized. He worked with Thomas “Scooter” George, a manager at Stotz Equipment in Willcox, and Michele Wilson of the Elks Lodge.
The Elks Lodge put on a pre-show barbecue dinner unrelated to the music event consisting of pulled pork and sides, but the aroma enhanced the lodge’s festive atmosphere, and gave the audience a chance at dinner and a show all in one place.
Stotz Equipment, Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative, DC Carriers, Nutrien AG, Valley Telecom, Stronghold Feeds, Willcox Wine Country Partnership, Willcox Elks Lodge 2131 and Maid Rite Feeds were among the local businesses that helped sponsor the event.
Scooter and Dr. Hurtado introduced the artists and thanked a long list of volunteers who helped promote and put on the show, including Danny Gilman on the soundboard and lighting, and the Dubtown Baggers, the local cornhole club that set up the seating and tables for the show.
Leslie started his show with jovial dialog and stories of meeting Paul, and starting his musical career as a teen, then began a series of Taylor classics. Each familiar song was preceded by commentary for Leslie on the origins of the music and his relationship with each song.
What started as a “side hustle,” just for fun started to take off, before he knew it, “an agent called me from New York and said, ‘I heard you’re doing this thing,’ I said ‘yeah,’ and he started representing us, and man we, I mean it just blew up,” he said.
“What I like about it mostly is that it’s not just James Taylor songs, I do my own, and so you kind of get both sides, which is nice,” Leslie added.
A noticeable aspect of the show is that Leslie is a bit of a doppelganger for Taylor, like a lot, and it really adds to the show.
“Ever since, and you’ll hear me talk about it on stage, but ever since I was 15 friends have always said, ‘you know who you remind me of?’ “
He’s remained a Taylor look-alike as he’s aged.
Leslie said he does variations of this show, a duo with Tupper, this trio, and a full band version. He just completed a 24-city tour in 30 days through the Midwest, and has another 30-city tour planned for spring.