Not every country story starts back in Texas or Tennessee. This one actually begins in Central America, of all places. Long before asserting himself as a GRAMMY® Award-winning collaborator for the likes of Pitbull, Lauryn Hill, Rick Ross, and many more, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, and Miami-born artist Leo Brooks vividly recalls visiting his family on the Honduran island of Roatán and witnessing the most unexpected sight for a South Florida native to possibly see…
“Man, these fool are all line dancing to George Strait in little bars on this Caribbean Island,” he laughs. “You’d never believe it! That’s how deep my connection runs to country though. This kind of music was really in my blood.”
At four-years-old, dad handed him an acoustic guitar and introduced him to the classics a la George Jones, Hank Williams, and many more. Growing up of Honduran descent in Miami, he spoke English and Spanish fluently and developed his songwriting chops at a young age. Eventually, he learned bass and auditioned for the legendary Ms. Lauryn Hill right out of high school in 2002. He got the gig and went from handling low end and backing vocals on tour to serving as her Musical Director until 2011.
At the suggestion of drummer Omar Tavarez, he linked up with Pitbull in 2012 and not only toured with “Mr. Worldwide” as a bassist, but affirmed himself as a trusted collaborator in the studio. He co-wrote “Echa Pa’lla (Manos Pa’ribba),” taking home the Latin GRAMMY® Award for “Best Urban Performance.” Kicking off a prolific run as part of “Team Pitbull,” his other credits included “Happy Mama Day” [feat. Chacal & Sky Monroe], “We Are Strong” [feat. Kiesza], “Que Lo Que” (Sensato feat. Pitbull, Papayo, & El Chevo) from the 2015 blockbuster Dale—which garnered a GRAMMY® Award in the category of “Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album.” He also lent his talents to Jennifer Lopez, Fat Joe, Lloyd, and Rick Ross. For the latter, he put down bass for tracks featuring legends such as Mary J. Blige, Nas, Cee Lo Green, and John Legend.
Over the years both Pitbull and Lauryn Hill urged him to do his own “solo thing,” but it would be Leo’s late older brother who had initially planted the idea many years before…
“He was my best friend and my biggest inspiration,” Leo goes on. “He had to work on an oil rig off Staten Island. He didn’t want to go. I was going to New Jersey, and I remember he went out to Staten. One morning, I got a call, and I thought it was a joke at first. Somebody was smoking on the oil tanker, and it exploded. I still can’t believe it. He was always the person who told me I’d be singing for everyone.”
In early 2020, Leo headed to Nashville with Pitbull and Jim Jonsin and finally brought that dream to life. In between trips back and forth to Music City, he developed his own brand of “Miami country,” bringing “booty-shaking kick drums and 808s” to a traditional twang. He introduces this style with his debut single for Mr. 305 Records entitled “Thank You.” Threaded together by breezy acoustic guitar and harmonica courtesy of Leo’s dad, the track echoes gratitude with a hummable hook and personal verses dedicated to everyone who helped him along the way.
“I took the chord progression and started thanking everyone who was there for me,” he elaborates. “I’m always grateful each day for life and everything I have. I needed to say this first. We’ll get to the parties on the next songs,” he chuckles.
Giving the genre a new face and origin story, Leo presents something different and necessary for country as “a proud bilingual black man from Miami.”
“I want my music to bring people together,” he leaves off. “This style can be for everybody. I have a good feeling about it. It’s different, and it’s who I am. I’m just your average country boy in the city who can hang anywhere. I’m a farmer, a fisherman, a party guy, and a family guy.”