Phil Leadbetterhas certainly made a name for himself in the world of bluegrass music. His love of picking traces back to Cades Cove, where his father grew up.
Phil's talent for playing the dobro is a gift he treasures now more than ever. Two years ago, he gave up music to fight Hodgkins Lymphoma. Today, he is cancer free and working on a new album.
From Earl Scruggs and Ricky Skaggs to Allison Krauss, Phil Leadbetter has shared the stage with bluegrass legends and country music greats. And, whether it's performing or recording, Phil's happiest with strings in hand. You could say he inherited his strumming ability.
"My dad was a banjo player," he said.
And, growing up, his family had a Saturday night ritual.
"We'd all sit down and watch a "Flatt & Scruggs" TV show. And, I heard this instrument. I didn't know what it was, but I liked it."
That stringed instrument was the dobro. For Phil, life would never be the same.
"I'd practice in the afternoon, I'd practice in the morning. I'd go to school and I'd take my picks with me and I'd pick at my desk."
By age 12, Phil was in a band called the "New Grass Boys."
"The very first place I ever played was Market Square Mall at a contest and I knew then I wanted to play."
The band "New Dawn" followed.
"We played during the entire World's Fair in 1982 for Budweiser and Buddy's BBQ."
When the fair finished, Phil went into the nursing field for a more stable career, but missed his music.
"I decided I was going to go to Nashville. It looked like it was easy enough."
After 2 years, he finally got a gig with former "Hee Haw" star Grandpa Jones at the Grand Ole Opry. And then, he called up J.D. Crowe, a bluegrass banjo player and band leader.
"J.D. Crowe was my dad's favorite banjo player."
Phil spent the next 11 years touring the world with J.D. Crowe.
"My very favorite was the first time we got to play the Grand Ole Opry."
He played on two records with Crowe- one of which received a Grammy nomination. Then, Phil started the Bluegrass band "Wild Fire" and ventured out with a solo record called "Slide Effects."
"That album won 'Instrumental Album of the Year' and then, I won 'Dobro Player of the Year.' That was 2005."
And, the Gibson Guitar Corporation built a dobro series with Phil's name on it.
While on tour with "The Whites", Phil's health started deteriorating.
"I about died. I try to play it down a lot with where I was."
Phil went to the doctor. Two days later he was in the hospital diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. Phil needed chemotherapy.
"The doctor said it's probably going to take away all the feeling in your hands... you may not be able to play anymore."
Phil was ready to bow out of bluegrass.
"I've been blessed and got to do more than I ever dreamed I'd get to."
After 6 months of intense treatment, the cancer didn't go away. So, he turned to Facebook for support.
"Somebody said, 'Why do you want to tell everybody what's going on?' And I said, 'I need all the prayers I can get.'"
Support posted from all over the world.
"I'm getting prayers 24 hours a day."
On and offline, Phil's cancer fighting army carried him forward. After another failed medicine,
"The cancer had spread. It was in both sides of my legs, my pelvis… base of my brain, everywhere."
Phil finally received a stem cell transplant September 10, 2012.
"It's been a year and a half now and I'm completely clear with no sign."
And it gets better.
"I hadn't played for two years, I quit."
Phil cannot only play, he's back in the recording studio working on a new album and even touring.
"I run into so many cancer patients out on the road. Maybe that's God's plan to spread the message."
A message of hope, survival and song.
"I don't take it for granted."
Phil Leadbetter, born in Knoxville.
"A lot of good musicians out of East Tennessee."
HomeGrown in Tennessee.
Phil's new album is titled "The Next Move." It will be released by Pinecastle Records. It's a collaboration with many talented artists and musicians from Marty Raybon to Joe Diffie.