For today’s Music Monday, we bring you a legendary local country singer. Have you ever heard the twangy tunes of Leon Ashley? Leon Ashley was a country western musician and innovator who found success as both a singer and songwriter. Born on May 18th, 1936 in our lovely town of Covington Georgia, Leon Walter first performed at age nine on a local radio show. By age 11, Leon changed his surname to Ashley and began composing his own material and performing across the state of Georgia.
By 1960, he released his first single on Goldband Records. While this first single wasn’t as successful as later works, it did open doors for the burgeoning artist. Ashley would also meet his wife, Margie Singleton, while recording with Goldband.
In 1967, Ashley founded his own label, Ashley Records. The label's releases proved more successful than his releases on Goldband, with one Ashley Records release — Laura (What's He Got That I Ain't Got) — becoming his only number 1 country hit that year. This song made him the first country music artist to write, record, release, distribute and publish his own material. The album, also entitled Laura (What's He Got That I Ain't Got), reached No. 10 on the Top Country Albums chart.
Ashley had several more hit singles soon afterward, including more duets with Singleton. The duo even recorded a duet album together in 1968. Another hit single, While Your Lover Sleeps, reached No. 1 on the Canadian country charts. His chart success waned by 1969, however, and he shifted his focus to songwriting for other artists.
But, the success of Laura never left Leon Ashley. Brook Benton and Frankie Laine both recorded versions of the hit. The single would reach the pop charts in 1969. Marty Robbins would also claim a chart spot in 1973 with the song, and Kenny Rogers sent a cover to No. 19, just three years later. While he would eventually leave the spotlight to pursue a vibrant songwriting career, it is obvious that Leon Ashley remains a groundbreaking figure of innovation for country music.
Ashley died in Hendersonville, Tennessee on October 20, 2013 after a lengthy illness, but his legacy still lives in Newton County and in country music today!