When Leroy Virgil heard a Hank Williams Sr. album as a child growing up in Washington state, his lifelong love of country music began. That love only deepened when he heard the voice of Waylon Jennings.
“I developed this obsession with Hank Williams Sr.,” Virgil said from his home near Reno, Nev. “And the moment I heard Waylon Jennings’ voice, it just grabbed me.”
For the last 11 years, he has been the frontman of Hellbound Glory, a band that sounds more like Jennings in his prime than radio-friendly country. Band members have come and gone, but Virgil has been a constant with a voice that often sounds as rough and whiskey-tinged as Jennings but with songs influenced by everything from the country greats to Nirvana.
Virgil grew up on a farm in a small town, but not the sort of farm where cattle was punched and herded. He grew up on an oyster farm near Aberdeen, Wash., the hometown of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Rather than a cool Pacific Northwest town crawling with grunge musicians and coffee shops, Virgil said it was as rural a town as any he has visited in the Deep South.
“My upbringing was country,” he said.
Virgil wrote his first song when he was 12, visited Nashville as a young man and learned to play the guitar and harmonica. He formed the band in Reno and has spent more than a decade singing his brand of country (with an occasional Nirvana cover) in venues large and small around the United States. Last year, he spent time on the road as the opening act for Kid Rock. This year, he played seven dates as the opener for Oklahoma’s own Leon Russell.
Staying true to country, but also to his roots, Virgil does not sing about places he isn’t from.
“Everyone’s singing about Tennessee or singing about Texas,” he said. “I’m not from Texas, and I’m not from Tennessee.”
Hellbound Glory has three studio albums, and Virgil is at work on new material.
In the last few years, Virgil has spent the majority of his time on the road. The current tour will take the band to about 30 stops in the United States and Canada between February and May.
“I really spent the last three or four years playing every dive bar and weird honky-tonk around the country,” Virgil said. “But it’s been fun. We’ve had a lot of adventures.”
Virgil said he is excited to return to Oklahoma to see some old friends, including Meghan McCoy and Jarod Tracy, who he met in Reno and who lined up the band’s first Oklahoma show. Hopefully they will introduce more people to his brand of country, whether they listen to mainstream country, outlaw country or don’t listen to country music at all.
“When the people who listen to pop country hear us, they like it,” he said. “That also has happened with a lot of people who are into rock and metal. I want to make music people like.”