Locals Only: : Eric Leyton

Former WLW traffic reporter pays the bills with cover gigs, but his heart is in his originals

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Eric Leyton

Eric Leyton

Eric Leyton works hard at his musical endeavors. The former WLW traffic reporter self-released Waiting for the Sun, his solo singer/songwriter CD, earlier this year and he wants to move toward a point where he does nothing but original music.

For the time being, however, he earns a living doing lunch hour/weekend/wedding gigs where the bulk of his set is comprised of other people's music.

"It takes a lot of work to learn five, six, eight hours of music, and to be able to take on a wedding gig and learn these 20 songs," Leyton says. "There's a snobbery against cover musicians. The original community on a whole seems to think that because I play covers I can't write music or don't have a soul. I'd rather play music 40 hours a week than work a 9-to-5."

Leyton will occasionally pepper his cover sets with an original or two, but generally he sticks to songs and artists that have inspired his original songwriting — James Taylor, Paul Simon, John Prine and a host of other singer/songwriters. He enjoys playing "listening rooms," where people will pay attention to what he's doing, but he understands the reality of being in the background at a lunch gig.

Leyton's musical path has been a winding one, to say the least.

Born in Hamilton, Leyton's military family moved extensively — Texas, South Carolina, England, Nebraska and eventually back to Cincinnati after his father's retirement. He learned to sing as a child, wrote poetry and began playing guitar at age 19. Leyton hit the road after high school, visiting family in North Carolina and spending time as a musician in Nashville, where he roomed with sidemen for Country superstars Johnny Paycheck and Dick Curless.

Leyton returned to Cincinnati and began exploring a variety of gig options, one of which was Leyton's steady gigs as a regular at Habits Cafe's open mic nights, run by Johnny Schott, where he received a great deal of support and encouragement.

"The first time I played, I'd only written one three-chord song and I only played two of the chords," Leyton says, laughing. "Johnny said, 'You need to stick with this. Don't stop doing this, keep writing music, you've got some talent.' "

Eventually a stint in broadcasting school led Leyton to an internship with WLW and eventually a position with the station as a traffic reporter and frequent musical appearances on Gary Burbank's show.

"I loved working for WLW, and all the guys on the Burbank show," Leyton says. "Those are all fantastic guys."

Leyton, along with a number of other employees, lost his position in a mass purge last December. He immediately set to work on bulking up his musical gigs.

"At the time I was crushed," he says, "but I wasn't able to play as much as I wanted to, and now I can."

While the bulk of his shows are solo acoustic, Leyton has plenty of band experience, first with Smokehouse and more recently with the Incredible Medicine Show and the Great Divide. He's assembled a band that he's christened the Bandits and is working hard to get more dates and more exposure for his group.

"I've got a great band," Leyton says. "They're into doing the original thing. They're ready."

Leyton is trying to expand his range by exploring the region — Indianapolis, Columbus, Northern Kentucky — but he sees his greatest opportunities closer to home. He's working on getting wider distribution for Waiting for the Sun and is generally happy with the niche he's carved for himself, always with a thought for how to get to the next level.

"I'm really proud of the CD," he says. "We did it in (a) basement in Kenwood and I think it sounds fantastic for what it is. We tried not to use too many bells and whistles on it. I wanted it to keep it simple. I've been selling it really well at shows and I've been going down to Nashville and pounding the pavement with it. And I've been shopping it around to see if someone will pick it up and I'm confident that someone will.

"My goal is to try to get the originals out there and get a job opening up for someone on the B or C level, a singer/songwriter that's out there touring regionally. It's just trying to find the balance."

For more on ERIC LEYTON, go to myspace.com/ericleyton.

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