Phil Leadbetter: Local musician with international reputation

Sandra ClarkHalls, Obits

Phil Leadbetter died October 14, 2021. He was just 59. He grew up in the Gibbs community, graduating from Gibbs High School. He was a world-renowned resonator guitar player. He was awarded “Dobro Player of the Year” by the International Bluegrass Musician Association three times and was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1994. The family will receive friends from 4-7 p.m. today (10/20) at New Beverly Baptist Church with the funeral to follow at 7. Full obituary is here.


“Phil Leadbetter was so nice and unassuming, but he was one of the best dobro players in the world, no joke,” said Halls guy Jake Mabe. “Gibson even created a Phil Leadbetter signature resonator guitar in 2009.”

Mabe said Phil’s early group was New Dawn – a staple at the original Buddy’s Bar-B-Q in the 1970s. “When I met him, he was a member of one of the genre’s best groups, J.D. Crowe and the New South.

“I never will forget attending a party somewhere 15-20 years ago. The host had the TV’s music station on classic country/bluegrass. I looked up, and there was Phil’s face on the screen. One of his instrumentals, a bluegrass No. 1 hit cover of “California Cottonfields,” started playing. He had an international reputation.

“One of the funniest stories he ever told was from his Gibbs High School days. He was playing drums, and the band director, S.L. Valentine, asked for a drum roll. So, Phil took a drum and rolled it on the floor toward him. Mr. Valentine was not amused, but the class sure was.

“He soon traded the drum for the dobro. Good decision. His picking reminded me of the late Mike Auldridge, one of bluegrass’s top players and a member of the band Seldom Scene (sic). Come to find out, Mike was one of Phil’s idols.

“For all his accomplishments as a musician, Phil was a true inspiration on a personal level. He fought Hodgkin’s lymphoma at least five times, yet was still hosting a weekly Facebook interview with musician friends until he became too ill earlier this summer. He would write inspirational Facebook posts at the hospital while undergoing chemotherapy.

“Phil was funny, easygoing, and had a great sense of humor. He earned his popularity, both as a musician and as a human being.”

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