Minutes before stepping onstage at New York’s Beacon Theatre, Leon Bridges is feeling good. He’s just taken his usual pre-show shot of Laphroaig whiskey (“Well, a couple of them,” he says), and he’s pacing backstage in a new custom suit, belting out a freshly written New Orleans-style shuffle about cruising home into the arms of a Mexican girl. “Being from Texas, I love my Mexican women,” he says with a laugh. “It’s just about, like, being home and excited about life.”
Bridges has a lot to be excited about. In March, his debut, Coming Home, climbed more than 100 spots to the Top 20 on the iTunes chart after he appeared on the Today show, and he’s selling out historic venues like Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. “It’s mind-blowing,” says Bridges, who is touring in the U.S. and abroad through October. “There’s still a sense of ‘These people are here for me?'”
Just a couple of years ago, Bridges was a college dropout (he studied choreography at a Fort Worth community college), busing tables at two restaurants to help his single mother pay her bills. That’s when Austin Jenkins, then a guitarist for psych-rock band White Denim, noticed Bridges playing at a local bar one Tuesday night. “I thought he was playing covers,” says Jenkins. “The writing was very, very deep.” Soon, Bridges and Jenkins were holed up in a Fort Worth warehouse, recording Coming Home, which heavily channels the gospel soul of Sam Cooke.
The Beacon set veers between hushed gospel and blazing R&B, with Bridges inciting shrieks when he shuffles to the front of the stage while busting moves inspired by his hero Fred Astaire. But unlike the character in his new song, Bridges isn’t keeping a girl waiting at home while he tours. “I’m still a single man,” he says. “Of course, I meet a lot of beautiful ladies on the road. But I don’t see myself committing any time soon.” He laughs. “I’m just waiting to get into that celebrity status, so I can start dating all the fine celebrity women, you know.”