Leonard Longmire is surrounded by music.
In his small Tower District apartment it’s there playing as background. A mix of vintage soul and funk streams through unseen speakers. It seems at place among the Miles Davis posters and art displayed on the walls.
“Music is coming to me all the time,” says Longmire, a local DJ who goes by the name Mr. Leonard. The name is a throwback to his days as a local radio disc jockey playing jazz records in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
“I’m wallowing in music on a 24/7 basis,” he says.
Longmire has long been a go-to DJ in town, known for having a deep knowledge of music – not just the funk, soul, jazz and hip-hop he mostly plays – and his ability to play to (and with) diverse crowds. If you run in certain hip circles, you’ve no doubt seen him performing at nightclubs, after parties and street gatherings. He co-created and co-curates Fresno’ Monthly Motown Night and has shared the stage with artists like Little Dragon, Bilal, Denetia and Sene and Ghostface.
Last week, the DJ released “The Soul Freedom Lounge,” a 19-track mix of ’70s and ’80s soul, R&B and funk, on British music streaming service Mixcloud. The 55-minute mix came at the direct request of London’s Soul Cool Records and features the kind of deep cuts Longmire is know for playing; Al Green’s “I’m So Glad You’re Mine” and Bo Diddley’s “Hit Or Miss,” for example. The songs are interspersed with spoken word bits from Richard Pryor and Common. The mix is earning Longmire a new, international fanbase. It quickly ranked No. 1 on the service’s funk, soul, and old school charts and has close to 5,000 plays.
The popularity of the mix was a shock for Longmire, who talks about becoming a DJ almost philosophically, recounting his journey with a series of vignettes, each a small epiphany.
There’s his cousin from New York, playing host at a dinner party; he switches out records from an old stereo on the floor while eating pasta and salad and never breaking the conversation. Longmire says he later recognized that his cousin had displayed the art of the DJ in its truest form.
There’s a phone call Longmire made to the same cousin years later: “How do I arrive at the art of rocking the party?”
“You’ll figure it out,” his cousin says. Then, he hung up.
There’s the twins, friends of Longmire’s sister, who DJed together. He was impressed the first time he saw them perform. He told them as much.
“They said, ‘You can do it. It’s easy.’ ”
The final epiphany came from seeing one of his favorite DJs, Rich Medina, at a show in San Francisco.
“Ninety percent of what he played, I have every track.”
That’s when he knew he was a DJ.
If there is a “hidden secret” to the craft, it’s having a knowledge of music, knowing the history. Longmire can hear a sample of a track and know who originally recorded it, in what year and for what release. The stuff that people tend to associate with DJs – the tricky mixing and scratching – is just a small part of the art.
So, Longmire steers clear of the “vinyl debate.” He uses a Pioneer DDJ-SB, an ultra-light digital turntable that links to his laptop and allows him to manipulate tracks as they play. It’s easy to transport, especially compared to the old-school analog turntables some DJs use and think create more authentic sounds.
The way he see it, both are just tools. In the end, the tools aren’t what matters.
“We will never be bigger than the music,” he says.
How you weave that music together, that’s what matters.
“The presentation is …” Longmire pauses to raise an index finger. He leaves the sentence unfinished, but the idea is clear.
Even when things are quiet, when there isn’t music playing in the apartment, you get the scene there is music playing in Longmire’s head. That he’s working on that next mix, which he will present as a response with the audience.
“As a DJ, that is what you’re doing. Musically, and rhythmically representing life as it is happening,” he says.
It’s that ability to be one with his audience that makes Longmire such a great DJ, says Johnny Quiroz, a local promoter and friend:
“Leonard is madly in love with two things … people and music. His passion to connect the two is remarkable.”