“From the very beginning, my dad always said he knew I was musical.” For those that know Levi Riggs, have heard his music, or have seen him perform, there’s a clear and seemingly effortless talent innate to the Indiana native. Despite that talent, it’s taken the singer several years and a number of fortuitous occasions to find his place in music. Now, with several releases and hundreds of show under his belt, the singer’s path has never been more clear.
With a transient childhood that included homes in Indiana, Minnesota and Texas, Levi’s love for music started young. “I always stood next to my Grandma in church. She’d follow the tenor line in the hymnal with her finger, and that’s how I learned to read music. Everything’s more contemporary now. Back then, it was all about parts. We all had our parts.” It wasn’t until a relocation to Amarillo that Levi fully tapped into music. “My first concert was Shenandoah. From that point on, I was hooked.”
His new-found love transitioned through a family move back to Indiana, where Levi - now in fifth grade - quickly found a place for his talents. “I came back with a bit of an accent - and several hats and pairs of boots. There were some girls that wanted to do a line dance for their school convocation, so I learned John Michael Montgomery’s ‘Sold’ to accompany them.” But it was at the encouragement of his father that Levi’s true talents for performance shined. “Dad said, ‘you’ve gotta ham it up, take this up into the stands’ - so I did. I found a blue eyed, blonde haired teacher and sang to her. It stole the show.”
Though music had become a big part of Levi’s life, he found himself torn between that and sports. “I had a middle school teacher that really wanted me to get into country music, but I didn’t want to be another Billy Gilman. I was so focused on sports, lifting, going to state - music was just something fun to do.” Peppered between high school games were lead performances in productions of Damn Yankee, Guys and Dolls, and Bye Bye Birdy. “Bye Bye Birdy was the one where people were like, ‘damn - this kid could do this.’ I had a teacher tell me they felt I was taking all my musical talent for granted… That’s when I really started to sink my teeth into music a bit more.”
The summer after his senior year, he auditioned for the Purdue Glee Club - a nationally recognized group that both his father and uncles took part in - and found an opportunity to exercise the harmonies taught by his grandma that Levi loved so much. His audition proved successful, and he soon found himself balancing school and 100 shows per year with Purdue Varsity Glee Club. “We sang at Carnegie Hall, Crystal Cathedral, the second Bush inauguration… It was really cool. Of course, there was no special treatment when it came to school. I basically did college with a laptop on a tour bus.”
Levi’s junior year saw the singer’s path refine even more. “A friend of mine had just seen Walk the Line, so I went to check it out. There were so many things about the music industry I didn’t know prior to seeing that movie. I didn’t know Nashville’s music scene really even existed. But as I watched, I thought, ‘I can do that. I can put a band together, record music, and tour…’” And Levi did just that. “My senior year, I front-loaded all my classes. I wrote constantly, and in the afternoons I recorded what I’d written at a local studio.”
From then on, the wheels were in motion. After promoting his music on campus at Purdue, Levi found a champion in a friend named Chuck Aaron. “He just wanted to help me out, so he started introducing me to people he felt could help.” The introductions that followed delivered Levi’s career into the guidance of veteran radio promoters Jerry Duncan and Nancy Tunick, song plugger Rod Parkin, former Decca Records Senior Vice President Shelia Shipley Biddy and publishing guru Paul Compton, who helped him pick songs for his upcoming projects. “It’s all about the song. As much as I like to write, I always feel the best song should win - whether I write it or not.” He released debut single “My Best Friend’s a Girl,” produced by Compton, followed by “I’m Good,” produced by Matt McClure in 2011 and 2012. “Both singles helped me build great relationships with Billboard and Media Base radio stations.”
The release of single “Tailgate Time” really kicked off Levi’s live show career - starting with a performance at a Super Bowl party hosted by the president of the American Tailgaters Association. “I was getting ready to take the stage, looked over, and I was shoulder-to-shoulder with Randy Travis. That was a moment. I got to thank him personally for all he’d done for country and gospel music.” The Super Bowl party was followed by performances with Justin Moore, Brett Eldredge, the Band Perry, Josh Turner, Colt Ford, Travis Tritt, Alabama, and more.
In 2018, Levi released his latest project - EP “She’s Everything” - under the creative direction of Matt McClure. “Matt’s attention to detail in the mix is extraordinary. He has definitely helped my reach a new level with my music.” Those original songs lead Levi to the finals in the nationwide NashNext Competition.
In addition, Levi’s found a great songwriting team with Eddie Gore and Justyna Kelly at Historic RCA Studios. “Eddie and Justyna have taken a lot of creative liberty with me. We write together and they give me the chance to take control of the overall sound.” That sound, a modern blend of the traditional country and gospel sounds Levi grew up on, is one he works hard to ensure translates from stage to studio. “I’m expressive when I perform for a live audience. But I need to be expressive in sound, as well, because people won’t always get to see you perform.”
With all his success to-date, Levi continues his career in country music with a drive and talent both innate and seemingly effortless. “I’ve worked hard to get to this point, no doubt. In the end, if I’m releasing and performing music that truly resonates for listeners, I’m doing my job. There’s nothing more rewarding than that.”