It's been no less than half a century since skinny British rockers started taking raw American Blues music, infusing it with sex and distortion, and exporting it back to us at triple the cost. It was a damn good business model and for a long time, it worked. Today, when you hear "guitar hero," however, you're most likely going to think of the pale, 14-year-old asthmatic boy down the street tapping away on a guitar-shaped video-game controller to songs he's never heard of.
Well, London-based rock trio Leogun is trying to change all of that.
"I think the consensus is that we're all getting sick of dubstep and Justin Bieber; let's bring the guitars back, please," said frontman and guitarist Tommy Smith.
British rockers will open for Lynyrd Skynyrd at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St. For more information about the band, visit www.leogunband.com.
Leogun's story is inarguably rock 'n' roll. Smith and bassist Matt Johnson met at school in Kent and have been writing and playing together since they were 13 years old. The band worked with various drummers before finding the right chemistry with hard-hitting Michael Lloyd. They played bars and clubs throughout London, slowly building their fan-base as well as their reputation for putting on an incredible show.
"Every time we played, it tended to feel like a big party," said Smith, who, it turns out, supported himself by working at the same London guitar shop where Elton John was employed before he came over to the United States. The infatuation with guitars is something that has never left Smith; a quick browse through Youtube finds him holding a different guitar in each video.
When asked if there was a guitar that saw more use than the others, he didn't hesitate: "I've got a 1964 Gretsch that is my absolute darling."
When record executives began to show interest, an American tour seemed inevitable. For Smith, playing in America was only natural.
"Guys like Robert Johnson, obviously, 'Blind' Willie Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf - they are the stuff of legend for me," he said. "There's something really honest about blues music; it's shameless in its approach and I absolutely love that."
Smith said the connection linking blues giants to '60s rock legends and contemporary and unapologetic artists like Jack White or the Queens of the Stone Age is simple.
"If I trace it back, I can see it [the blues] is where all the greats really came from," he said.
As a performer, Smith takes as much inspiration from Elvis Presley as he does Led Zeppelin.
"There's just something about being a frontman, about wearing your heart on your sleeve," he said.
Before coming to the United States, Leogun finished recording their first full-length album, "By the Reins," which will be released early this year.
"I think the thing I'm most excited about is the fact that it's so dynamic," Smith said, "It's definitely a rock album, but there are a lot of colors and shades to it that I'm particularly proud of."
When asked about his inspiration for the songs, Smith brought up the uninhibited nature of the blues and had a sort of "use-it-or-lose-it" mentality.
"The more you leave it alone, the sloppier it gets," he said.
He added that seeing the open spaces, complete with all the pick-up trucks and trains criss-crossing the United States has really strengthened his connection to American music. Smith isn't the only band member with a love of Americana, either; bassist Matt Johnson apparently loves Motown and hip-hop when he isn't playing rock 'n' roll. Drummer Michael Lloyd is a fan of the late (and British) Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, and tends to like heavier music - something that is often American, and that Smith said lends Leogun's sound some of its edge.
While their sound is an amalgamation of old and new, blues and rock, American and British, there is no doubt that Leogun has a profound respect for the place where their heroes came from.
Leogun is currently on their American tour and will be performing at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18 with Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St.