Blues, R&B, soul and rock n’ roll powerhouse “Rockin’ George” Leh is a force of nature in New England’s musical weather system. And that’s been the case for over 50 years, since he first exploded on the scene like a Molotov cocktail strapped to a microphone.
Since 1967, the singer-songwriter-guitarist-keyboardist has intoxicated audiences in his solo shows like few before him ever have and few after him ever will with an irresistible cocktail of heart-rending blues, timeless R&B, inspired soul and no-holds-barred rock n’ roll while contributing his singular blend of passion and presence to performances and recordings with top-tier New England artists and bands plus a who’s who of internationally celebrated acts.
Born in Boston 1938, unlike early-20th-Century blues legends before him such as Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Boy Fuller, Leh has never advertised his own blindness in his stage name. In fact, until the mid-‘70s he was billed and credited simply as “George Leh,” his birth name, before some fans in Maine tagged him with the moniker “Rockin’ George” and it stuck.
Before that, he’d spent 1967 working with garage bands The Street Choir and CC and the Chasers in addition to The J. Geils Blues Band, then joined the 11-piece blues-R&B band Swallow from 1968-73 along with Vern Miller of The Remains and blues harpist Parker Wheeler, writing or co-writing most of the material and appearing on the two albums the group made for Warner Bros. including 1972’s Out of the Nest, which features Jeff “Skunk” Baxter on the track “Come Home Woman.” From there, Leh joined Boston-based blues-rock bands Skyhook (from 1973-75) and Powerhouse (from 1975-77). Very cleverly maximizing the marketing power of his snappy new nickname, from 1978-81 he fronted Rockin’ George and The Thrillers, then opened for The Thrillers regularly as a solo act from 1982-83 before forming George Leh & Rockin’ Shoes.
In addition to his consistently knock-em-dead solo appearances, Leh’s performed with an impressive assortment of major talent from New England including James Montgomery, Taj Mahal, Danny Klein’s Full House, Ernie and the Automatics, Jon Butcher and Roomful of Blues, and he’s appeared at a variety of notable Boston and Boston-area venues both large and small such as the House of Blues, the Hard Rock Café and the Fairmount Grill in Boston, Sandy’s Jazz Revival in Beverly, B.B. Kings at Foxwoods Resort Casino, the Somerville City Club, The Grogg in Newburyport, Pete’s Bar and Grill in Quincy and The Village Trestle in Goffstown, New Hampshire.
Over his five-plus decades thrilling audiences solo and alongside his New England compatriots, Leh’s also shared the stage with a bevy of iconic blues, R&B, soul and rock acts such as Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall, Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, Ike and Tina Turner, Bob Seger, Grand Funk Railroad, Alice Cooper, Jefferson Airplane, Queen, Sly and the Family Stone, The James Gang, Albert King, James Cotton, Joe Turner, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and “Big Mama” Thornton.
While primarily a live performer, Leh hasn’t stayed away from the studio. His first appearance on a record was in 1967 when CC and The Chasers released the single “Two and Twenty” b/w “Put the Clock Back on the Wall” and he went on to record three albums with Swallow and one with Skyhook before playing on Geoff Muldaur’s Blues Boy in 1979. In 1981, Leh released two original tracks, “I Ain’t Lyin’” and “Ya Ya,” on a single and in 1990 he released the album Bo-town Does Mo-town with George Leh and Rockin Shoes while also contributing to the West End Blues Band’s LP Beantown Drive.
In 2002, he released a solo album, Danger Zone, and in 2006 he appeared on the live album Music for Middlesex with James Montgomery and singer-songwriter Johnny A., a Malden, Massachusetts, native. In 2011, Leh worked with Wild Bill & Chris Fury on their record Good Groove: American Roots Music and in 2014 he played on Waltham-based blues and Americana artist Alan Arena’s record Fortune Wheel.
As well-known and respected for his soft-spoken gregariousness off stage as he is for his all-consuming energy and showmanship on stage – in 2011, one reviewer called Leh “as feisty as a circus barker” when he’s performing – Leh is famous for playing impromptu performances for passersby around Faneuil Hall Marketplace and commuters at MBTA stations. In 2008, the Boston City Council declared him an official “Blues Legend.”
“I like to give people the best show I can give, and hopefully my music will inspire them,” Leh said in a 2004 interview. “This is my calling, to play and write music. This is what I do the best.”
(by D.S. Monahan)