Cherokee's beloved troubadour, born with an uncanny ability to make magical music with his fingers and vocal chords, has one fine Christmas stocking stuffer available for his many area fans.
Not only is Leissler a superb guitarist and singer, his collection of songs also reveal what an incredible, thought-provoking poet he is, with striking lyrics nailing song after song.
Charlie had often considered cutting a CD of his own music and after creating enough memorable songs to justify a CD of pure Charlie, the apt name "Over The Dam," was chosen to signify that all the songs in the CD were already written before the project began.
A self-taught guitarist at age 12 in his parents' humble home in West Caldwell, N.J., Charlie learned his craft using a Mel Bay guitar book to learn the chords, and strived to perfect his incredible vocal harmonies under the total influence of the Beach Boys, at the time the youthful rage of American music.
"My first real musical work was singing in the Caldwell Methodist Church children's choir," explained Leissler. "My mom was in the adult choir, just as I am in the adult choir now at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Cherokee."
Charlie also plays in the St. Paul's UMC Praise Band "To give back the gift I was given."
Leissler attended Morningside College in Sioux City to play football in 1971, after excelling in football, wrestling, and baseball as a prep. He was drafted in the U.S. Army in the spring of 1972 but failed his physical and was declared 4F. He became further injured in the fall of 1972 playing football for Morningside and his football career was over.
While in college, Charlie continued perfecting the guitar and vocals and began to write his own songs, influenced mostly by Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, The Allman Brothers, Cat Stevens, The Moody Blues, Pure Prairie League, and James Taylor.
At this time, Leissler became friends with Morningside running back Doug Hines from Sac City, who also played keyboards. "He was one of the best blues/jazz keyboard players I'd ever heard," said Charlie. The pair then teamed to form "Hines & Henry" and they played in and around Sioux City for several years, including the storied Miles Inn in Morningside, before Hines left for a job in Houston, Texas.
Hines is now back farming near Sac City and the pair gets together from time to time to reminisce and play music.
Charlie married his college sweetheart Marilyn and they moved to Cherokee where Charlie ran a fast-food restaurant before going to work for Holzhauer Motors in Cherokee, where he is employed to this day. He and Marilyn are the parents of son Charles V born in 1986, and daughter Marissa, born in 1990. It's Marissa's artwork that graces the "Over The Dam" cover.
With family and work the main focus in his life at this time, Charlie resigned himself to playing and writing music for his own enjoyment. He played in "Relay For Life" ceremonies for the American Cancer Society at Koser Spring Lake Park, often teaming with another noted Cherokee guitarist, Steve Thomas.
"Then, Steve, Jimmy Davis (another exquisitely talented guitarist/vocalist who had returned to his home town), and music afficiondo Brian Fulton had the vision to provide all of us with a venue called The Gathering Place," explained Charlie.
"I went to some of the jams there. And then Randy Martin (two time Iowa Rock & Roll Hall of Famer from Sioux City who relocated near Quimby) had a project he wanted to do - a tribute to Crosby, Stills & Nash, with history and a visual presentation to complement the music."
As Leissler explains the dynamics of this magical meeting, at the suggestion of Davis, Randy, Charlie and he got together at The Gathering Place one night, sat in the middle of the historically restored, ambience-laced Great Room, and played a CS&N classic "Teach Your Children."
"I think this is going to work," said Martin, a supremely skilled musician in his own right.
"It was supposed to be a one-night show, but we just did our 10th show and it's been the most fun I've ever had on stage," said Leissler. "The audiences have been fantastic."
Always wanting to record his own songs, Leissler finally leaped after Dr. David Klee opened the Cherokee Recording Studio on West Main Street in conjunction with The Spice Rack, operated by Judy Klee.
In a nine-month saga, Leissler and Klee, a music professor at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, met and worked laboriously twice a week to record the CD because this was going to be a Cherokee exclusive project.
"First, we did the guitar tracks, then the melody, and finally the harmony," explained Leissler about the repeated trips to the Klee's state-of-the-art recording studio.
"it was a very humbling experience. As in sports, the tape doesn't lie. I was a better guitar player than I thought, but not as good a singer. I could not have done this without David Klee's keen ear and production abilities."
Charlie's "Over The Dam" CD will ring familiar with many listeners, as many songs are about and include the Cherokee community.
"River Bottom" is about the horrific Little Sioux River and Central U.S. flooding in 1993. "Current Events" is about growing up and playing army as a kid, the JFK assassination, Kent State, and being drafted. "We Are One Now" is Charlie's 9-11 tribute. "Cherokee" was written for the Cherokee Sesquicentennial in 2006 and pays tribute to his beloved, adopted community that he so loves and appreciates.
And, perhaps paramount to Charlie Leissler's great skills, "On The Stage," written in the late 1970s, references those who are blessed with the creativity and ability to perform, but don't spend enough time or effort working on their incredible gift.
Make no mistake, Charlie Leissler has worked on his incredible gift and the proof's in the pudding.
It's called "Over The Dam."
The CD is available in Cherokee at the Book Vine, The Copper Cup, The Spice Rack, the Cherokee General Store. the Upper Cut in Holstein, and online.