Busking

Leon Bridges Surprises a Busking Ryan Forbes by Playing His Guitar in Deep Ellum

Leon Bridges
Leon Bridges courtesy Ryan Forbes

Ryan Forbes, a Dallas singer-songwriter, does not believe in superstition. But he says that is the best way to explain the turn of events that led him to play for Leon Bridges while busking on the streets of Deep Ellum.

Normally, Forbes sets up in front of B4, a thrift store off Main Street. He tries to busk at least once a week. He plugs in an amp, a looper pedal and a couple of mics for him and his saxophone player to jam on. They construct beats and write songs about what people are wearing as they pass by.

One night though, they realized there was not any power coming from the outlets in front of B4. The owner, Sam Thompson, had moved out of the space not long before.

They decided to keep on trucking. At High & Tight, a Deep Ellum barbershop, they knew they would be welcome to plug in. They hit another bump in the road when they realized their extension cable was not long enough for them to play outside.

“The manager there is such a sweet lady,” Forbes says. “She was like, ‘I know this bar down the road called Select Start. You can plug in there.’”

On other nights of busking, Forbes had not been allowed to play outside of Select Start, a bar and arcade in Deep Ellum. But he was able to that night. The duo set up and began to play.

They were "Damn Your Eyes" by Etta James when a man stopped to put some money in Forbes’ tip case. They kept playing. Forbes asked what his name was. He said Leon Bridges.

“I was like, ‘No it’s not.’ I feel so stupid,” Forbes says. “I did that to him like twice. He started singing, and I just knew.”

Bridges asked if he could play Forbes’ guitar, saying that when he sees a guitar, he has to play it. He and Forbes’ saxophonist played a song before Bridges handed the guitar over. He stuck around for a couple more tunes and eventually went on his way.

“He said, ‘Thank you for letting me play your guitar quite shittily,’” Forbes says.

“He said, ‘Thank you for letting me play your guitar quite shittily.'" – Ryan Forbes

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This all came at an interesting time in Forbes’ life. He recently got engaged to his fiancée, Annalie Catherine. His day job is teaching music at Guitar Center and serving occasional divorce papers or restraining orders, often in sketchy parts of town, as a process server. Most relevant, however, is the recent release of his new six-song album, Introduction.

Forbes has written 75 songs. These six most accurately represent his life, he says. His new album is about love, accepting others and himself, and coming to grips with his flaws. Although he wrote a lot of these songs when he was in high school, he feels their meanings coincide with the resent step he took in his relationship.

The album was recorded at Elmwood Studios in Dallas, where Forbes worked with some of his idols, he says. Adam Pickrell, who has played keys for St. Vincent, helped produce the album.

Like the songs, the album art for Introduction represents and is symbolic to Forbes’ life. Pictures were taken of items around his home, which were later inserted onto a digitized painting created by his mom.

Forbes says being in a committed relationship sometimes makes it hard for him to write new material. But he is still dishing out songs right and left and trying his hand at them at open mics in the area. Forbes’ next show will be July 28 at Deep Ellum Art Co. 
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn