Who the F* is Arthur Digby Sellers?

The Arthur Digby Sellers Orchestra

When you hear the name “Arthur Digby Sellers,” does it mean something to you? If so, you’re probably a fan of the Coen Brothers film, The Big Lebowski. If you have no idea what I’m talking about — but you’re a Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Captain Beefheart, or Gypsy Kings fan —  then I have a suggestion for your live-music plans in June. I spoke with composer, arranger,  RI Philharmonic Music School teacher, and Geo Trio band member George Leonard III,  who shared why playing this movie’s soundtrack with a 13 piece-band is something he and his fellow musicians commit to so much that they play it in costume.   


Can you tell me about your musical background?

I’ve been playing guitar for about 35 years… and the thing that I spend the most time on is my band Geo Trio which is an instrumental project heavily based on jazz vocabulary that meanders into funk/prog rock/video game music and occasionally country. I was also a wedding band leader for 14 years (for the band The Free Downloads).  

And what is the “why” behind creating this event?

The initial idea for The Arthur Digby Sellers Orchestra was something that we brainstormed at a Geo Trio practice in 2017. Our old drummer Austin Andrews brought the idea up and then we all kind of started riffing on it.  We knew it would be pretty easy to get a few friends together and play the Bob Dylan and CCR songs, but we just kind of kept saying “What if?” and before we knew it, we were talking about adding strings, a horn section, backup vocals, enlisting local A-list vocal talent (Katie Kleyla will be with us this time), and even adding some interpretive dance. This involved an incredible amount of work — I’ve spent at least 200 hours sitting in front of my computer arranging these songs for a 13-piece band. So yes, why do this? Obviously I must really enjoy the film, ha! But I suspect most people in bands will tell you that in the end It’s really an excuse to spend time with your friends and work on a project together. I also think Jeff Bridges’ character in The Big Lebowski represents a certain vibe, a way of looking at things that can be grounding for a lot of people, especially when it feels like the world is falling apart. I think for a lot of us, putting together this musical experience is a way of trying to keep that feeling going.

How did you choose the musicians that make up the band of 13?

It’s been a bit of a revolving door cast — the short answer is it’s all people that we’ve met through the local music scene. My father, Rhode Island music Hall of famer George Leonard II is in the band playing Sam Elliott’s character from the film, wearing a very obviously plastic mustache. A lot of the band members used to be in the Free Downloads too — some of the musical relationships go back 30 years! I’ve been playing with our percussionist Ricardo Pearlman since high school, and John Birt (of  Paper Moon Jazz Band) was one of my students when I taught at RIC!

If you’re finding yourself picturing what this must sound and look like, then you should go and experience The Arthur Digby Sellers Orchestra playing the “Big Lebowski” soundtrack on June 15 at Nick-a-Nees. I can’t really think of a better backdrop than this favorite local spot — can you?