Landon Heights wins big award at Grand Ole Opry in Nashville
DAVID STONE | OUR TOWN TEMPLE
Troy’s Landon Heights stepped to center stage at The Grand Ole Opry on Sunday and walked off with Country Vocalist of the Year honors at the Josie Music Awards.
Heights, who grew up and went to school in Bruceville-Eddy, was one of 10 country crooners — men and women — nominated for the traditional country vocalist award.
“This was a huge honor,” he said this week. “I really haven’t been playing country music that long. I got my start in Christian gospel.”
While making the Christian music circuits, Landon performed under his given name — Whitlee Casey.
When he began writing and performing country music — he wrote his first country song in 2016 but dove in head first during the pandemic — Whitlee decided on the name change.
“I wanted to keep my Christian gospel and country careers separate, so I switched to Landon and I use that name when playing country music,” he said. “Landon is my middle name.”
When the decision was made to go country, Landon set some lofty goals, leading to “Heights” as a stage surname.
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Whitlee was born into a musical environment, and he began playing the guitar at age 11.
“Back in the 1980s, my dad played Southern rock all over Texas. I grew up watching him practice. When I entered middle school he started teaching me, and I got started in church doing Christian gospel when I was 15. I had started writing gospel songs when I was 13, so I had a few songs to sing.”
After graduation from Bruceville-Eddy, Whitlee went full time with his music and moved to Troy in 2009.
“I met Ashley, my future wife, and we got married in 2016. For a while, back in 2017 and 2018, I was traveling all over the country performing Christian gospel. I wanted to be in Troy with Ashley. Now, she travels with me on weekends. We travel all over the state.”
Although “Landon” technically plays Texas country music, many songs reflect his Christian background and have a gospel “feel” to them. But others — since he performs in dance halls — have more of a honky-tonk vibe.
“At some point in every concert, I perform a song I wrote called Thank You Lord,” he said. “It’s about giving God glory for the life I have … it’s a chance to share my story. The band leaves the stage, and it’s just me pouring my heart out. I tie it end with How Great Thou Art at the end.”
“There are a lot of Christians involved with Texas country music,” he said, “and I’ve become close with other performers because we share a belief.”
While Landon and his country music are a big deal in the Red Dirt country world, Whitlee is still involved with Christian music.
“I work full time at Temple Bible Church as co-worship leader,” he said. “I help plan the musical portion of the service and often perform.”
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Whitlee made his first gospel recording in 2013, and released his first full album in 2019.
“We had a big release for that album at the Cultural Activities Center,” he said. “That was a great night.”
Two years later, with the name change in effect, his first recorded country songs debuted.
This year marked Landon’s second nomination for a Josie Award.
“I was nominated in 2021 as well,” he said. “It’s a real honor. The Josie’s are the largest independent awards show in the country and it celebrates all genres of music. I believe performers from 13 countries and more than 52,000 musicians were nominated this year.”
“I wasn’t gone all that long, but it is good to be home. I’ll be playing back-to-back shows over this weekend at the Lumberyard in Troy. Originally, I was going to do one show, but it sold out fast. I agreed to add a second night.”
Landon often performs at venues around Central Texas such as Schoepf’s in Belton, Treno’s in Temple, Barrow Brewing in Salado and the Troy Lumberyard.
His music also is getting extensive air time on stations such as Shooter FM 92.9 and an internet station in McGregor.
“I’m mainly on Texas country stations, but this music isn’t just a Texas thing anymore,” he said. “Texas Red Dirt is now a whole new world in country music.”