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Thank you for visiting the   Website of Ellis Nassour's
Patsy Cline :

Honky Tonk Angel

For information about Patsy Cline or to E-mail comments:
PatsyHTA@aol.com
 
 
 




Les speaks of the magic of the hallowed Ryman Auditorium,
home of the Grand Ole Opry until 1974; of one of the highlights
of his career: photographing the November 1961 Grand Ole
Opry at Carnegie Hall; his times with Johnny Cash; Porter
Wagoner’s “pretty good” Christmas present for Dolly Parton;
photographing them for RCA Records; recalling how despondent
Porter was when they split; his great friend, Bluegrass master
Bill Monroe; and so much more.


 









































Les Leverett was born Laslie Bryan on April 23, 1927 in Montgomery, Alabama. His father was a Baptist evangelist. He eventually simplified his name to "Les." Les and his two sisters were reared in various Alabama towns. Following his father’s death, he dropped out of school, working as a welder at Mobile’s Alabama Dry Dock & Shipbuilding, where he put together Liberty Ships for the war effort.

“I discovered later Hank Williams was in the same training program,” recalls Les, “but, neither of us knew the other.”
 

 

He was drafted into the Army in 1945 at age 18. After Basic, he was sent to Denver’s for surgical technician training. Next, he was assigned to troop ship Haverford Victory at the Brooklyn Army Base which transported replacement troops to Europe, and returned war-weary vets. He traveled throughout Europe and Asia. Upon his discharge, Les attended San Antonio’s Texas College of Photographic Art. He became a big fan of Ernest Tubb, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, and Western Swing.


From
1952-1956, he worked for Nashville-based Associated Photographers.

Thankfully, we didn’t lose him to welding or medicine. His interest in photography was fired up by a pair of Civil War binoculars owned by his father. Much to his father’s chagrin, Les "borrowed" the lenses and projected self-drawn comic strips onto shades from his home-made projector onto the shades.

Les has been taking pictures with his ever-faithful Nikons for over 65 years, anywhere and everywhere.

For 32 years, Les was backstage Saturday nights capturing Grand Ole Opry greats. "I felt a kinship with the folks at the Ryman,” he says. “They were nice. ┬áThat kind of shocked me. I had this feeling there had to be a lot of ego going around. I doubted they’d even speak to me. But that’s not the way it was.”

He’s shot not only at the Opry, but throughout the industry. His many honors include a Grammy for Best Album Cover Photography {Porter Wagoner’s Confessions of a Broken Man}; and Billboard s Best Country Cover {Dolly Parton’s Bubblin’ Over}. He was inducted in 1994 to the Opryland’s Star Walk of Fame.


Les’ work has been featured on hundreds of albums and Time-Life collections. There’ve been exhibitions, magazines, posters, and TV specials featuring Les’ photos. Among his books are Blue Moon of Kentucky: A Journey Into the World of Bluegrass and Country Music, The Outlaws: Revolution in Country Music, photos in Brian Mansfield’s Ring of Fire: A Tribute to Johnny Cash, American Music Legends, andas contributing photographer in The Grand Ole Opry Picture-Book series.

Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Minnie Pearl, and Roy Acuff to Kitty Wells, Faron Young, Porter Wagoner, Bill Monroe, Dottie West, Loretta, Patsy, Marty Robbins, Barbara Mandrell, Tom. T. Hall, Waylon Jennings, Garth Brooks, and Emmylou Harris -- Les has photographed the Who’s Who of Country in studio, at home, on the road, and outside. And each time is different.

"Barbara moved so fast," says Les, "I had to open my way up and shoot at high speed. Garth always had a microphone blocking his face. I'd tell myself 'Now, don't make a picture of a microphone with ears. Wait until he gets that microphone away from his face.'"


"There's Les Leverett, and then there's everybody else," says Opry member and photographer Marty Stuart. "He is to country music what Matthew Brady was to Abraham Lincoln and the War Between the States."

Legendary Les Leverett, Photgrapher of Country’s Legendary Artists

Les Leverett and I have known each other since 1979. I was in Nashville researching my first Patsy Cline biography. Having worked as artist relations manager for MCA/Universal Studios/MCA Music, I had been coming to Nashville regularly for 10 years, originally to organize more publicity for the country artists. I met with renown country music producer Owen Bradley and MCA artists Kitty Wells, Conway Twitty, Jan Howard, Brenda Lee, Jack Greene, and Jeannie Seeley. And Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline.

I had also known Tammy Wynette, like me a Mississippi native. That led to an introduction to George Jones, who was a friend of Patsy’s. Every artist I met either knew Patsy or knew someone who did. Of course, I needed photos.

My first run-in with Les was at the Grand Ole Opry. I had chatted with a few folks, including Charlie Dick, Dolly Parton, Minnie Pearl, Porter Wagoner, Faron Young, the Wilburn Brothers, and Roy Acuff. Les was busy taking pictures. A while later, he was relaxing in the “Green Room” with wife Dot. I went over to say hello. He wondered what I was doing. I replied, “Writing a biography of Patsy Cline.”

As it turned out, he and Dot were friends of Patsy and Charlie and Les had photographed Patsy many times. I asked if by chance he ever took a photo of Patsy in her bathroom with the gold-studded marble. He hadn’t, but he had one of Loretta Lynn in there. That was the beginning of a very long and cherished friendship.

When I had an opportunity to go to Dottie West’s home for the first of several interviews for the book, she showed me the scrapbook Patsy had given her. I asked if I could get a photo of her with it. I called Les and asked if he could come snap a photo. He was delighted. It turned out he and Dottie were friends. Les was there for me the next afternoon.

Les is not only a master photographer but also one of the most honorable persons anyone could ever meet. We have long chatted by phone and visited. I have had the pleasure of being invited to the Leverett home for several of Dot’s wonderful meals and marvel at Les’ vast collection of photos and memorabilia.

What a joy to know him and be educated by his vast knowledge of the industry and tales of his friendships with the stars - including Tex Ritter, Grandpa Jones,Johnny Cash, and Bill Monroe. He became friends with Hank Williams’ daughter and country artist, Jet. In fact, Les is responsible for giving Jet a long-lost and amazing legacy of her father’s work. When he had his studio at WSM Radio, he passed a storeroom that was being cleaned out. He was asked, “Do you want some of this stuff?” He said, “Yes.” Had he said no, stacks of Hank Williams radio transmissions would have been destroyed [after their rescue, Time-Life released the remastered multi-disc Hank Williams box set].

I am immensely honored that Les gave of his time and photos - many on an exclusive basis, for Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline. He is walking history box of decades of Country Music and always eager to share. And, to me, a cherished friend.

                                                                    
Ellis Nassour, April 23, 2021
                                                                    
=== Oh, Happy Birthday today,Brother Les! ===


 

 

For more Les Leverett photos, order
Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline by Ellis Nassour