Veteran Quad Cities Bassist/Guitarist Shines With New Solo Album - The Echo
Randy Leasman of Davenport has written songs since he was 12, but the veteran bassist and guitar player hasn’t been able to sing his own material on a record or in concert over the years.

That changed recently for the 37-year-old Davenport West alum, with the release of his second solo album, “Forever Loving Living Fantasy,” recorded both in his home studio and at Joy Avenue Media in Bettendorf, mixed and mastered by Dustin Cobb.

“He’s amazing – his ear and his attention to detail and frequencies are incredible,” Leasman said of Cobb in a recent interview. 

Leasman previously played steadily in The Candymakers and The Low Down. Since 2017, Leasman has been the bassist for the Avey Grouws Band (AGB), a popular blues outfit that released its second full-length disc, “Tell Tale Heart,” in September.

 

“Although Randy is best known in our community for his rock-solid bass playing, I believe he is truly one of our finest songwriters,” Nick Vasquez, AGB keyboard player, who’s also on the new solo disc, said. “He has a deep love for the craft and writes more than anyone I know. As a bass player, he always has a great feel and makes sure that the foundation of the song is strong. He is never flashy but constantly musical and always makes sure the groove comes first. All of these admirable qualities carry over in his songwriting as well as his guitar playing.”

Vasquez described his friend’s new CD as “a wonderful mixture of soulful ballads and thoughtful rock tunes.”

Leasman first wanted to play drums at age 11, and his parents suggested a bass, where he could plug in headphones (and they wouldn’t have to hear it). His first show was playing an Eagles club at 12, with a friend on drums. Leasman played a neighbor’s Girl Scout party (paid $20 and Girl Scout cookies). 

“That was good money,” Leasman recalled. “That was a good gig; from that, I was pretty sure I’m gonna do this the rest of my life.”

Don Gustofson, another veteran Q-C bassist and guitar teacher, first met Leasman when Randy was in junior high and took bass lessons at Griggs Music.

“He was really fun to work with,” Gustofson recalled. “After working on basics with him for a few months, I told him to bring a CD of his favorite band to his next lesson. The following week he brought in a Stone Temple Pilots CD. We worked up his favorite song on the CD. By the end of the lesson, he learned the song and was able to play along with the recording. I have never seen a student so happy in a lesson. He was beaming, grinning from ear to ear.”

“The look of sheer joy from this sweet young kid is always how I see Randy,” Gustofson said. “He has grown up to be such a great player/songwriter/ teacher. It makes me proud. To this day, I always see Randy Leasman as that young smiling kid who just learned a song from his favorite band. I’m so blessed to know this amazing human being.”

His biggest influences growing up were The Beatles, the bassist for Stone Temple Pilots, Motown (particularly bassist James Jamerson), and the Stax era. Two legends Leasman was obsessed with were Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley. 

“If I learned one song from them, I’d have to learn them all,” Leasman said, calling Gustofson “my musical guardian angel.”

Leasman played with The Candymakers from the beginning to the end (roughly 2009-2020), including writing half the songs on their first album. “I’ve always been like, ‘you need original material? I’ve got 20 in my back pocket’,” Leasman said. “They collect dust.”

His new solo album stemmed from that as well, using songs he’d had over the years but not yet recorded. His first solo album was released in 2009, titled “The Magic of Mellovision.” 

Leasman became a sideman for various groups, including The Low Down (an instrumental fusion group including Nick Vasquez from Candymakers). He pushed for them to record as well, called “Seven” in 2016.

“I don’t like when music goes unused; I need something to give to my grandkids – even if I’ve got 500 copies in the garage,” Leasman said. “Every time I play with somebody, I want to bring Nick Vasquez with me. You gotta have that organ, the keys in there…When the keys are there, it’s so much better.”

AGB on the road to Memphis and Nashville

Avey Grouws Band formed Jan. 1, 2017, after a New Year’s Eve party in Decorah, Iowa, where lead singer Jeni Grouws lives, three hours from the Q-C. Grouws ran a radio station for years and first met Avey and West at a Bettendorf blues jam in 2015, hosted by Leasman at the old Muddy Waters downtown (the current Harley Corin’s).

Within a year of forming, the AGB won the Iowa Blues Challenge and played its first International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn., in January 2018. It also was back for the worldwide competition in January 2020, both times earning a semi-finalist spot – in the top 40 of 250 bands.

Their debut album, “The Devil May Care,” was recorded in fall 2019 at Catamount Studio in Cedar Falls by Travis Huisman. 

“I’ve been fortunate enough to play with different drummers over the years, and Bryan West, he’s a timepiece,” Leasman said. “He’s a rock; makes it really easy to groove with. They felt the same way about me. I like to play to the song – don’t overdo it, don’t undersell it. Keep it right.”

AGB titled their first EP “The Road to Memphis,” recorded at a small studio near Fort Dodge, Iowa, as a prize for winning Iowa Blues Challenge. They had the CD shipped to their Airbnb in Memphis, Leasman said.

In early October, their new album “Tell Tale Heart” debuted at #7 on the Billboard Blues Album Chart, higher than the latest from Van Morrison and Lucinda Williams.

“I can’t wait ’til we get it on vinyl,” Leasman said. “I’m a collector.” 

It was recorded this past spring in Nashville, over just three days, and he said the band has always been quick in the studio. “For the rhythm section, me and Bryan are natural, always in the pocket,” Leasman said. 

“It’s good; I really like the sonic value of this album,” Leasman said of “Tell Tale Heart.” “To me, it sounds like Nashville.”

Coming back to live audiences this summer was nerve-wracking at first, Leasman said. “Once we were all vaccinated, we felt a lot more comfortable about it. This winter, we may go back to doing some live streams. We made fans overseas, too, so they appreciated those live streams.”

Avey, Grouws, and West did a lot of live streams during the pandemic. Leasman was asked to join some, but they played for tips, and he didn’t want to take away from that but did join for some full-band streams at Joy Avenue Media.

 

Staying positive on the new record

The new record’s title was meant to evoke one of his heroes, John Lennon.

“I try to stay on the positive side of my writing,” Leasman said, noting growing up, many other bands were heavy metal. “At the time, it was too much. I pulled back to the mellower stuff; I had the affinity for Bob Marley and Lennon. I was fantasizing about a utopia.”

A guitarist, singer/songwriter friend from 8th-grade (Jamey Cummins) now lives in Austin, Tex., and he played on the first track of his new disc, recorded remotely. They played throughout high school, and Cummins plays a variety of genres. With lockdown in 2020, Leasman acquired everything he needed for a home studio.

“The timing couldn’t have been better for me,” Leasman said. “All of a sudden, I had time, the equipment and software. I told my wife I’m gonna be in the back room. Let me know if you need anything. I’m sure it drove her 100 percent crazy.” (Leasman’s wife is also a multi-instrumentalist and played violin for the new album.) 

Another 8th-grade friend (in Iowa City) added drums to the same track that Cummins played for. “It was a junior high band reunion,” Leasman said, noting the song is one of his oldest, called “Zen for Sarah,” about an old roommate of his in Iowa City. At that time, he could play in bars at 19 in Iowa City.

“This record, I did all the vocals, all the guitar, and bass, but for two or three tracks,” Leasman said, noting he sang in The Mental Notes and some harmonies for Candymakers. “This is really just going back to my roots. When I get out there again, hopefully, things will get better.”

Of the new record, nearly half the songs were written in the last two years. Contributing musicians include Nick Vasquez (keys), Kellen Myers (keys), Logan Myers (percussion), Jamie Hopkins (percussion), Bryan West (percussion), Melinda Leasman (violin), Zac Tatum (percussion), Ryan Summers (percussion), Tony Logan (percussion), Al Sweet (bass), Jamey Cummins (guitar), Evan White (sax), Dustin Cobb (producer, guitar, tambourins, keys), and the man himself Randy Leasman (all vocals, guitar, bass, keys). 

To hear and buy a copy of “Forever Loving Living Fantasy,” visit https://randyleasmanii.bandcamp.com/album/forever-loving-living-fantasy-3.

Jonathan Turner loves music and loves writing, so The Echo is a harmonious marriage of his twin passions. A pianist for 50 years, his undergrad and grad degrees are in music from Oberlin and Indiana, and he’s an accompanist for Zion Lutheran Church, Davenport. Turner has covered the Q-C arts and culture scene since 1995, including for the Dispatch-Argus and Quad-City Times, and for QuadCities.com and WVIK since March 2020.

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