(BRUCE, MS) — It seems incredible that Leo “Bud” Welch has, until now, remained unknown to the wider musical world.
A casual call from Bud to the Oxford, Mississippi record label, Big Legal Mess began a chain of events that would lead to the debut album of the blues and gospel man at the young age of eighty one.
Born in 1932 in Sabougla, Mississippi, Welch has lived his entire life in the area. Raised with four brothers and seven sisters, Welch’s musical ability was first noticed by his family when he and his cousin took to an older cousin’s guitar quicker than it’s owner, R.C. Welch.
Soon, Leo and R.C. were picking out tunes from the radio and playing them for family and friends. Welch also picked up the harmonica and fiddle along the way.
As the years passed, Bud continued to entertain at picnics and parties in the area. His repertoire consisted of many of the blues and radio standards and favorites of the day.
On several occasions, Welch came to the attention of professional musicians, but planned auditions or jam sessions never materialized. When the Mondays rolled around, Welch was back at work, logging with his chainsaw or working on a local farm.
Yet Bud played on, absorbing songs from the radio. Gospel music was a particular favorite and he learned from his church and the Fairfield Four on Nashville’s WLAC. Even the name of Welch’s then current group, Leo Welch and the Rising Souls, suggests a belief in spiritual redemption anticipating the direction the Mississippi native would take.
One possible reason Welch flew under the radar for so long was his move into the church around 1975. The vast network of churches in Mississippi and the South offered consistent, safe venues to perform. Welch’s brand of blues was becoming old fashioned and gigs were harder to come by. The churches offered a place where a musician like Leo could still play his style, just slightly modified for the gospel. To this day, these music programs and services often pass unnoticed to even lifetime residents in the local communities.
Outside music enthusiasts who have obsessively canvased places like the Mississippi Delta and Hill Country over the last 75 years have largely overlooked the churches in their ceaseless attempts to discover a juke joint out of time. It wouldn’t be that far from overstatement to say that any single county in Mississippi probably has more churches than the all-time sum total of juke houses.
But Welch never let the blues go. He has never seen any reason to:”“I believe in the Lord, but the blues speaks to life, too. Blues has a feeling just like gospel; they just don’t have a [bible].” Welch continues to sing with two local gospel groups in the Bruce, Mississippi area; The Spiritualaires and Leo Welch and the Sabougla Voices, as well as hosting The Black Gospel Express TV show every 1st and 5th Sunday on WO7BN-TV.
“So don’t go looking over your shoulder when listening to Bud’s music,” says the liner notes. “Come on into this church, there won’t be any old church ladies staring you down from the self-righteous section of the pews. Despite what some folk might insist, church isn’t always under the steepled roof. Where ever you are, have a sip, tap your foot, stomp it even fellowship with your friends and rejoice with the Lord and Leo ‘Bud’ Welch. Crank it.”
Sabougla Voices will be released on January 7th on CD and vinyl.