Motown's Musical Masseur
Some guys get all the best album sleeve sessions! With his "Musical Massage" set, Leon Ware has come to the fore of Motown's influx on new recording talent, to follow his success as a songwriter and producer with many of Soul's favourite sons and daughters…
IN THEIR efforts to broaden their own musical horizon in the past eighteen months, Motown have certainly unearthed some dynamic new talent. Via his debut album for the company, Leon Ware has certainly proven to be one of them and although the "Musical Massage" album hasn't exactly set the charts on fire, the critics have favourably reviewed it and that usually suggests that a new star is in its ascendency.
Despite this being Leon's first actual recording success, it is neither his first recording experience and nor is it his first taste of actual success because he has been a prominent songwriter and record producer for the past decade.
"I've been involved in music for all but three of my thirty six years," Leon points out. "Admittedly, it wasn't until I was twenty three that I really became involved."
The story really begins in 1954 when, in his home town of Detroit, he formed a little vocal group called the Romeos — and the group included Lamont Dozier and Ty Hunter, who is now one of the Originals of "Down To Love Town" and "Baby I'm For Real" fame. It seems that the trio had been at the same school together — along with, apparently, Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson. However, after three years, the group split up — with Lamont going more into songwriting/producing and Ty into solo work.
Having finished school — and having met and turned down Berry Gordy — Leon signed with ABC and stayed there for almost four fruitless years. It left a sour taste in his mouth and he returned to regular commerce until 1964 when he finally accepted a post with the growing Motown company.
And it was during that one year stay that he had his first taste of success — as a songwriter for the Isley Brothers' "Got To Have You Back" hit.
In 1965, he joined Groovesville Music in an independent production capacity and worked with the Holidays, Pat Lewis and Terri Bryant during a two year stretch. From there, he moved on to another disappointing spell — three years with Bell and many of the projects simply were not released.
It was at the end of 1969 that he started working with the Righteous Brothers — just before their split. He also was involved in some of the things on the MGM distributed Venture label on acts such as Johnny Nash and Kim Weston.
The year between summer of '69 and mid-'70, Leon concentrated on writing and in 1970 he started to write with Bob Hilliard — until the latter's untimely death in 1972. However, one of the songs that they wrote together was "Come L'Amore", a song that did some business for Bobby Womack and that, incidentally, Leon is currently recording on an Italian artiste, Laura St. Paul.
Leon moved on to work with Ike & Tina Turner and wrote most of the material on their '"Nuff Said" album It was during this era that he recorded his own first album for U.A.
1973 saw him working for A&M and trams involved with Quincy Jones. Leon was involved in the "Body Heat" album, writing such songs as "If I Ever Lose This Heaven" and "Body Heat" itself. Leon considers that "If I Ever Lose This Heaven" is one of his best compositions yet and is especially proud of the way Donny Hathaway handled it on his "Extensions Of A Man" album for Atco.
But it wasn't until 1975 that Leon came home to Motown and that's really where it has all happened for him. His main claim to recent fame comes via his involvement in the Marvin Gaye album, "I Want You".
"Some of the songs had been recorded for my own solo album but when Marvin Gaye heard it, he wanted them and I was more than pleased to turn it over to him completely," Leon explains. "That's really why there is such a similarity between the sound of my "Musical Massage" album and the "I Want You" album.
"It's similar because it is my concept that was turned over to Marvin — and I couldn't have been more thrilled about it, I can tell you. I think I respect Marvin as a man and a talent more than anybody else in the business. It's certainly enhanced my career and I'm proud to add that it's been the biggest album in Marvin's career, too.
"It's funny, too, because I was also heavily involved with Quincy Jones' biggest album. I have just completed an album on Syreeta and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the trick can work for her, too."
Although the "Musical Massage" album was begun in 1975, it wasn't until the spring of 1976 that it was completed.
"I had recorded "I Want You" and "All The Way Around" for my own album and they were among the first ones we did. The co-producer, by the way, was T-Boy Ross, who is Diana's brother and whose real name is Arthur. Anyway, at the same session, we cut "Instant Love" (a song that Leon had written in earlier years with Bob Hilliard and which had been recorded by the Main Ingredient earlier on), "Share Your Love" and "Body Heat"."
One of the more interesting aspects of the album is its provocative sleeve — and you can see the full photo on this page and you'll better understand my choice of words!
"Yes, it is a sensual concept," Leon admitted gently. "But it says it all, doesn't it? Love, hate, sex, religion. One reviewer called it the most motivated sleeve in a while.
"The model's name is Azerzee Houri and she's been on several other album sleeves in the past. She was a centrefold in "Playboy" last year, you know. And that's me there, too — they are my hands! Yes, I guess they could persuade me to do a centrefold for "Playgirl" — I'm not the inhibited kind, you see!"
However, one of the lesser broadcast facts about the "Musical Massage" album is that it features guest spots by Marvin Gaye and Bobby Womack.
Currently, Leon is heavily involved in two projects. Firstly, there is the album that he has been recording in Milan, Italy on Laura St. Paul and that's what will bring him to London during February. And he is just completing his own second album.
"It's going to be called "The Whole World Is My Home" and it deals with the same basic realities," he enthuses. "It should be out in April and by that time, "Musical Massage" should have died down."
But his forthcoming trip to London will be his first and he is thrilled about the way that he has been accepted over here already. Given the breaks, Leon could certainly develop into being another of Motown's new-wave superstars.