Behind the Meaning and History of the Band Name: Kings of Leon

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Family. For many, it’s a blessing and a curse.

But it’s also the stuff that often makes great music. Think of The Jackson 5 and The Staples Singers. Another standout group comprised of family members is the Nashville, Tennessee-born band, Kings of Leon. Started in 1999, the band includes brothers Caleb, Nathan, and Jared Followill, and their cousin Matthew. (See here for our digital cover story with Kings of Leon.)

In the early days, as the band was emerging from its deeply religious roots, which included tent revivals, their sound was more southern rock or garage rock. But as the years passed and the band earned more and more acclaim, their sound grew into something more befitting of arenas and giant venues they’d pack.

Early on, Kings of Leon earned fame in the U.K. But by 2008, the group was garnering fame in the United States, as well, with songs like “Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire.” To date, the band has 12 Grammy nominations and four trophies.

History

Speaking about the band’s early years and their inspiration to work together, Caleb told American Songwriter, “I think I had a little bit of the music bug early on. I wanted to do something but I didn’t know what it was. I think we all looked at each other and said, ‘Wait, this could be more than making music.’ We could get out of the small town feeling that we have and maybe we could see our music video on MTV.” 

In the beginning, the family grew up in Oklahoma and Tennessee. Their father Ivan was a United Pentecostal Church preacher. They spent some time here and there settled down, but more often than not, they were driving from small town to small town, wherever Ivan was slated to preach. But in some of those gatherings, the boys would play rudimentary music with church groups. The wheels were starting to turn, aided, in part, by watching their father address a room.

The Name

In 1997, the boy’s parents divorced and their father quit preaching. That’s when Nathan and Caleb moved near Nashville and started to play and dive deep into country music. There, they met the songwriter Angelo Petraglia, who helped teach them how to write tunes. He also introduced them to new bands like Thin Lizzy, The Rolling Stones, and more.

Later, when Jared and their cousin Matthew moved to Nashville in 1999, the band was fully formed and Kings of Leon was born. The name of the group comes from their grandfather, who was named Leon. He was a unifying force in the family. Leon died in January 2014.

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