LEO BUD WELCH: Sabougla Voices reviewed

Leo "Bud" Welch and Billy Howell at Red's Blues Lounge in Clarksdale

Leo “Bud” Welch and Billy Howell (Poor William) at Red’s Blues Lounge in Clarksdale. Photo credit: Clay Motley

By Poor William

“I believe in the Lord, but the blues speaks to life, too. Blues has a feeling just like gospel; they just don’t have a book (a Bible).”  — Leo Bud Welch

The duality that is the Delta is the very human duality found in Leo “Bud” Welch. The blues and the gospel are not as antithetical as some folks might think! If there is a thin line between gospel and blues, then Leo is walking it.

It is possible Leo’s not being discovered until now has allowed for an innocent and pure manifestation of gospel and blues, beautifully protected from the oxidation of time and culture. Hell, I literally get chill bumps just thinking about it.

I have spent over 30 years looking for an opportunity for this white boy to do me some John-Belushi-inspired back flips down the aisle, just like Jake did in the movie the Blues Brothers.

Well, now that I have finally found the man, the message and the music, I sadly cannot perform the act, given a girth wider than the aisles and a back that gets all “stove up” when I just bend a little. But, don’t let this white boy fool ya; if Leo is playin’ I am swayin’!


Cover of Sabougla Voices by Leo Bud Welch

Cover of Sabougla Voices by Leo Bud Welch

Sabougla Voices is Leo’s first album; they call that a debut album in the marketing world. (Leo is 81 years old!) Available in CD and vinyl, the record is an honest, real, undefiled, gospel compilation blending the easy driving simplicity of hill country blues with Leo’s recognized need for a Savior.

Welch was born in Sabougla, MS in 1932 to a household with five sons and seven sisters. He operated a chainsaw for over thirty years and did farm labor in the tiny community east of Grenada and south of Oxford. His musical abilities were recognized early on, but having to make a living and lacking a “champion” kept him from being recognized on a grand scale.

Leo has developed a swirling mixture of deeply marbled gospel and blues, one feeding the other. Only an extremist would find his musical expression unacceptable in either church or juke joint.

According to Kevin Nutt, WFMU/Sinner’s Crossroads, who wrote the excellent liner notes for the album, Welch remained under the radar for so long primarily due to playing gospel music starting around 1975. He made slight modifications to his style of blues and played mainly in churches.

Welch told Nutt, “I believe in the Lord, but the blues speaks to life, too. Blues has a feeling just like gospel; they just don’t have a book (a Bible).”

Nutt seems to catch red-handed the thinning of the membrane between gospel and blues:

Preacher’s kids and individual exiles from Baptist and Pentecostal churches who still quietly respect and follow the teachings of Jesus but suffocated under the dogmas of the physical churches have quietly set up shop in the cultural nooks and crannies of America…So don’t go looking over your shoulder when you are listening to these songs. Come on into this church. There won’t be any old church ladies staring you down from the self-righteous section of the pews. It’s all right. Despite what some folks might insist, church isn’t always under the steepled roof…

Sabougla Voices was produced by Big Legal Mess Records in Oxford, MS and is distributed by Fat Possum Records, who produced blues greats such as R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford, The Black Keys, Cedell Davis, Robert Belfour and Kenny Brown.

Leo is one of the Delta Bohemian’s favorite artists. Madge and I drove to the tiny town of Pittsboro, MS, just south of Bruce a couple weeks ago for Leo’s album release party. His manager, Vencie Vernado, is a fine man, Bruce-area native and retired military, plus, he loves some Ole Miss football.

Leo "Bud" Welch and his Manager Vencie Vernado at Red's Blues Lounge in Clarksdale

Leo “Bud” Welch and his Manager Vencie Vernado at Red’s Blues Lounge in Clarksdale

If Leo and Vencie are in town, we can always be found ready to hear song one on Side A, “Praise His Name.” Leo begins every performance on time with the question/statement, “I don’t know what you came to do, but I came to praise his name…” Madge and I literally “lose/loose ourselves” when Leo gets excited and starts to play standing up. When it gets good to Leo, it gets good to us!

Every song on Leo’s gospel album is spot-on meaningful and capable of producing movement among the most stoic. Leo’s rendition of gospel greats: “Praise His Name,” “You Can’t Hurry God,” “Me and My Lord,” Take Care of Me Lord,” “Mother Loves Her Children,” “Praying Time,” “Somebody Touched Me,” “A Long Journey” Vencie’s favorite, “His Holy Name,” and “The Lord Will Make a Way” will bless the believer and the non-believer alike.

After hearing Leo at Red’s Lounge, Ground Zero Blues Club, Hambone Art & Music Gallery or the Shack Up Inn, whether he sings blues or gospel, I always feel like I have been to church. Even when I dance like a fool with Madge or by myself with a cold beer in hand; it’s all good.

Leo’s joy, faith, sweet spirit and humble acceptance of his late-life recognition without any bitterness for opportunities lost, fused with his voice and the guitar skills of a nimble-fingered octogenarian, never fail to produce one of the most incredible, intimate, uplifting musical adventures to be found among the quick and the dead!

Leo’s album, Sabougla Voices, can be purchased from Amazon.com. You might even check with Roger Stolle at Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art if you find yourself in Clarksdale, birthplace and maintainer of the Blues!

Get it, Leo! Much love and God speed on your long journey, hopefully full of many more milestones, a straight path and few obstacles! You have blessed me and mine! pw


Billy "Poor William" Howell and Leo "Bud" Welch at GZBC. Photo credit: Clay Motley

Billy “Poor William” Howell and Leo “Bud” Welch at GZBC. Photo credit: Clay Motley

Billy "Poor William" Howell and Leo "Bud" Welch at GZBC in Clarksdale

Billy “Poor William” Howell and Leo “Bud” Welch at GZBC in Clarksdale


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